Like that terribly cheesy Toby Keith country song, sometimes I feel, “I’m not as good as I once was.”…spiritually speaking of course.
On a personal level, I feel less passionate, less bold, less “holy” than what I used to be as a freshmen in college. I hope that’s a sign of God’s grace. I’m encouraged by the testimony of older saints who confess a greater brokenness over sin as age advances. I’m encouraged by the testimony of the Apostle Paul who was the self-professed “least of all the apostles” early in ministry (1 Cor 15:9), then was the “least of all God’s people” in mid ministry (Eph 3:8), and finally claimed the “Chief of sinners” title as a broken old man writing to his spiritual son, Timothy (1 Tim 1:16).
It seems in the upside down paradoxical Kingdom of Heaven: The more one progresses in maturity, the more acutely aware of sin they become. Victory looks like a broken sinner, wholeness like a maimed saint (Matt 5:29-30). The greatest ones in the Kingdom will think the least of themselves.
This spurns two questions. The first is a simple one for most of my dear astute readers:
In one word what is the most important message UNbelievers need to hear?
I think we can agree what the apparent answer is: Gospel. (Gospel of JESUS to be specific, but that is three words)
The follow up question seems to lie under a veil of ambiguity for us.
In one word what is the most important message believers need to hear?
A diversity of answers may ensue here. Common ones may be discipleship, prayer, holiness, fellowship, evangelism, and missions. I say these are important, but cursory issues that flow out of one fundamental source.
Rather, the most important message believers need to hear is this: Gospel.
Believers desperately need to continue to saturate their hearts and minds in the shocking truth that God has crushed His own Son on behalf of sinners. The gospel of Jesus Christ is A. the message that sinful undeserving men and women had to be saved by the perfect work and person of Jesus Christ AND B. the message that those saved imperfect men and women are also kept by the perfect work and person of Jesus Christ. Where we began our Christian walk (the cross and resurrection), is where we are to continue it, and that’s where we will remain awestruck for all eternity (Rev 5).
If the cross of Christ and our unworthiness to deserve one ounce of God’s grace are not continually on the forefront of our minds we will fall into a perilous trap; the performance trap. This dangerous place is where all of our serving, discipling, worshipping, evangelizing and holy living merely become ways we perform our duty to God. And when we fail (which we inevitably will) to do those things rightly we believe we have failed to please God. But gospel freedom is found in this: We can’t please God. The Son has already pleased Father decisively and perfectly for us (Mark 1:11).
God’s generous standing towards you has not changed one iota because of failure on your part to witness better, live holier, and love people more deeply (Hebrews 13:8). We are “in Christ” so God no longer sees an enemy but His own beloved Son when looking at us.
And to the confident one who believes they are innocent on most all accounts, the gospel reminds us even on our best days we deserve hell (Romans 3:11-18). The blood of Jesus has a unique way of lifting up the humbled and humbling those who are lifted up.
That’s why we should preach the gospel to ourselves everyday. Because that continues to be exceedingly good, er, great news for the rest of our lives.
The believer must keep believing the gospel for every day life until their dying day. Simply put, the religious performance mentality says “I do the work, now I am accepted by God.” The gospel of Grace says, “I am accepted by God in Christ, now I will do work.” All pure expressions of sacrifice and service are driven by and centered around an understanding of the grace given to us in the gospel. As Paul put succinctly, “If you began in the Spirit, why do you continue in the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
This is probably just a character flaw of my own but I feel it most when singing certain types of worship songs. Are the song lyrics about “my love” “my devotion” “my sacrifice” and how much “I want” God? I’ll be honest: Many (most) times I don’t experience any of those glorified emotions. My love unto God is pitiful most days.
But thank God, there is another type of hymn/praise/worship song out there. Are the song lyrics about “God’s love” “God’s devotion” “God’s sacrifice” and how much “God wants” us as His bride? God’s love is manifestly excellent in all of its perfect beauty. My love for Him isn’t worth singing about, His love for me is and will be for all eternity (1 John 3:1).
Is our worship God centered or man centered? The answer to that may be more subtle than what we first think.
Let’s not pretend we can graduate from the gospel of Jesus and on to deeper things. The gospel is the deep thing. There is an ocean of grace here we will never plumb the depths of. And it is a ocean we need to be diligent to dive our hearts and minds into on a daily basis. As Jerry Bridges says,
“Your best days are never so good you are beyond the need of the gospel. Your worst days are never so bad you are beyond the reach of the gospel.”
Believer, let’s keep believing the gospel of grace and shun the performance mentality of our former lives. And please, for the sake of all things good, don’t make me quote another Toby Keith song.