I will never forget the day God opened my eyes to the understanding that the Gospel is not just for the lost; it is for the found too! When those scales fell from my eyes, what I saw overwhelmed me. For years, including many of my years in seminary, I thought the Gospel was simply a truth that was essential for getting the lost saved. How wrong I was! It is needed as much by the Christian as it is by the unbeliever.
Dr. Kennedy first introduced me to this radical concept nearly 10 years ago. He asked, “The Gospel saved you then; is it saving you now?” How, I wondered, could I need the Gospel to save me now if I was already saved? Clearly, I did not grasp the full meaning of this profound statement. Yet God was so gracious to me in this discovery process! He introduced me to a number of God-centered, Gospel-saturated teachers of grace, people like Steve Brown, Jerry Bridges, Tim Keller, Scotty Smith, Bryan Chapell, Paul Tripp, and Tullian Tchividjian, who is now my pastor.
Sanctification and justification
When we limit the Gospel to getting the lost saved, we forfeit its power in the lifelong process of sanctification – growing in Christ-likeness. “The gospel not only saves us from the penalty of sin (justification),” Tullian wrote in his newest book, Surprised by Grace, “but it also saves us from the power of sin (sanctification) day after day.” Before this radical reorientation of my understanding of the good News of the Gospel, I was convinced that sinners were saved by God’s grace, but were sanctified by their own good works. I believed getting into heaven was all of God, but staying there was all of my goodness and grit. Sadly, many Christians labor under this same misunderstanding. They run on the performance treadmill day by day, believing that they must work to secure the affection and acceptance of the Almighty. In the process, they grow into only a fraction of the person God is calling them to be.
But this is not for you! The reason the Gospel is as much for the saved as it is for the lost is that both are sinners! The Gospel is for those who are sinners by nature and by habit. We need God’s grace to rescue our nature through the one-time work of justification. We also need God’s grace to redirect our habits through the ongoing work of sanctification. The grace that saves is the same grace that sanctifies us. When this Gospel truth seizes us, it will enlarge our hearts, empower our steps and enlighten our souls to keep pressing on, regardless of how many times we stumble and fall.
God’s grace every day
The psalmist affirmed this truth. After confessing a season of sinfulness, foolishness and ignorance, Asaph declared, “Nevertheless I am continually with you” (Psalm 73:23). Here is the deepest understanding of the Gospel message, welling up out of a heart overflowing with thanksgiving and love for God. Fully conscious of his depravity, deceitfulness and utter desperation, “nevertheless” he knew that God was still with him.
This is why it is so important to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. Has there ever been a day where you did not need God’s grace? I can assure you, I have never lived one of those days! Jerry Bridges wrote, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” We all continually fall short of the mark set before us by Scripture (see Matthew 5:48 and Romans 3:10-12), and yet, in spite of our failings, we are fully accepted and approved by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God’s favor toward us never wavers, and it is only the Gospel that gives us this blessed assurance.
Freed from the performance treadmill, we are liberated by the Gospel to run our race with freedom, joy and faithfulness, knowing that we never need to earn our acceptance or approval in the eyes of God. As a dear friend of mine likes to say, how cool is that? God’s acceptance is not dependent upon our performance. His grace never ceases because we have faltered, fallen short or utterly failed: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). To be sure, this glorious truth is counterintuitive to our performance-driven society, but it is reality nonetheless, and that is why we must continually keep the truth of the Gospel before us. The world accepts you based on your performance; God accepts you based on your position in Christ. That is a message every Christian needs to hear every day.
Remember, we are saved by grace and we are sanctified by grace. The strength and courage to persevere on the path God has set before us is rooted in our understanding of the Gospel. To be sure, we will strain ourselves in the race marked out before us, but gaining our Lord’s affection and approval is never a strain. The Gospel offers us unconditional acceptance and love, and that is the fuel we need, to keep us going when the going gets tough. Regardless how much our effort leaves us wanting, His love never does.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. Never forget that. Amen!
Rev. Tommy Boland is the men’s minister and sports minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He also teaches adult Sunday school. For more information, including Bible study resource materials, please e-mail [email protected] or visit www.tommyboland.wordpress.com.