I have thought a lot of things over the years when I have heard the word “gospel” from a lot of different sources. “Gospel-centered” has become something of a buzzword that requires constant clarifying. This isn’t bad. It’s good that we are talking about the gospel.
But there have been times when I’ve heard the word “gospel” or “gospel-centered” and been left wondering, “what comes to your mind when you say that word?”
More often than not I have been left with the impression that the word “gospel” meant primarily the death of Jesus for sinners. If they were pressed maybe it was communicated a bit better to include the resurrection of Jesus as well. If they really wanted to be “gospel-centered” they might throw in the the return of Jesus and our resurrection and renewal of all things as well. I know because I’ve communicated it like that.
Other times “gospel-centered” is communicated in terms of reminding yourself of your sinfulness and of forgiveness of sins through Jesus. For those really wanting to be “gospel-centered” they may remember that God’s forgiveness has been granted to hell-deserving sinners under God’s wrath.
Sometimes “gospel-centered” has been used to talk of the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit given to believers in Jesus and uniting us to Christ. For some it’s being thankful for the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Before you check out don’t get me wrong. These are all true–and wonderfully so. All of these are biblical truths that make up the good news story of Jesus. We should think in some measure of all these truths when we use the short-hand word “gospel.”
But I’m convinced you can believe all these things and still not be “gospel-centered” or really amazed by the gospel in such a way that it truly transforms your life if you miss one glaring reality that we forget so quickly.
Maybe this sounds crazy but I think you can totally affirm that Jesus died for sinners and forget he did so in love for you.
You can believe that you’re a sinner and miss that he came in love for you.
You can be doctrinally precise in your ability to define substitutionary atonement to remove God’s judgment but not give a second thought to his motive behind it–a personal motive of love.
You can be thankful for the resurrection of Jesus and still think he hates you.
You can believe in the truth of God’s presence in his people through the Spirit and not connect the dots of why he desires to dwell among us.
I think there are thousands of “gospel-centered” Christians who miss out on joy and freedom because for all the correct aspects of biblical truth–change doesn’t come until we realize we are loved.
I was reminded this morning by the Apostle Paul’s summary of the gospel.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ESV)
Paul said the summary of his life of faith could be described by looking at the love of Christ for him personally. He’s not embarrassed by it. He’s not concerned that people will think he’s making himself the center. He doesn’t care. He knows what transforms him. Note the words “loved me”…”and gave himself for me.”
Paul’s burden to spread the gospel and plant churches was a burden to see as many people as possible hear the good news–the gospel of God’s love. He wanted the maximum number of people possible to be able to say with him, “I live by on ongoing trust in the resurrected Son of God, who loved me to such an extent that he gave himself up in death to bring me into a relationship with him.” The incarnation; life; death; resurrection; and ascension of Jesus was the extraordinary and unbelievable extent of the way and the means by which he demonstrates it (Rom 5:8-9).
It’s this motivation of God’s love that I find lacking in a lot of the phraseology surrounding “gospel-centered” speech and in my own descriptions of the gospel.
There is more to say about this…but let’s try an experiment today. Let’s be really gospel-centered. Let’s remind ourselves over and over today of God’s personal love for us in as many ways possible. Not some distant doctrine carefully reserved in historical narrative but not accessible. Not the mushy language of teethy televangelists with no thought to the gravity of it. Rather, let it run loose and sink down into our souls. This unashamed, free, radical, and crazy love for us (us….right now) in Jesus.
Because only this changes us.