Gospel 3D

By Dr. Tom Wood
President of CMM

One of the most common questions among Christians (not just church going Christians but the theologians, pastors, and Bible teachers) is “How do we live the Christian life?” You would think that after 2,000 years we would have come to some common ground on what it means to “Keep in Step with the Spirit.”

Perhaps when you became a Christian you were taught that the way the Christian life was to be lived was basically, “Trust and Obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to Trust and Obey and obey and obey.” You prayed the "Jesus prayer" and were told, “Now it’s up to you to just try harder to obey God’s way.” You became a Christian by faith in Jesus, but now it’s up to you.

Some were not taught that way. Instead they were told, “You are under grace alone. Once you believe in Jesus, there are no rules. It’s not about obedience. It’s a one step. Faith.” Anything about obedience was “works righteousness”.
Others of another tribe teach that the Christian life is believing in Jesus, but since we we fail so often you need a double step of believing and repenting. That's basically how you stay in step with the Spirit. We fail and repent of the failure/sin. There are other versions as well. We need to surrender more, deny yourself your desires, or get a second work of the Spirit, to get His work going in our lives.
So, what about it? Is "keeping in step with the Spirit" two steps we take — Faith and Obedience? Or our two steps of Faith and Repentance? Surrender? Self-denial?

How you view this is vital to your view of life transformation. It really is at the heart of your belief as to how people change. We suggest that movement of the gospel is really 3-D.

Consider the Apostles words to Titus, one of the men with whom he had formed a pastoral coaching friendship. In Titus 2:11-14, he writes, “The [gospel] teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions/desires and say yes to living self-controlled (controlled by a higher affection or new desire), upright, godly lives (Distress: joyful repentance) while we wait for…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us (Delight: ongoing faith), …and to purify for himself a people that are his very own eager to do what is good (Direction: generous obedience).”
Distress: Joyful repentance = Metanoia: change of mind.
“…in the Gospel the purpose of repentance is to repeatedly tap into the joy of our union with Christ in order to weaken our need to do anything contrary to God’s heart…" (Tim Keller, All of Life is Repentance). We do not despair because, in the gospel, we will get distressed over our failure, but never are we to despair of our failure because we are united with Christ.
Delighting: Ongoing Faith = We put on faith in Christ alone who redeemed/rescued us.
A man I was coaching once answered a question I had asked, “How has God saved me? These last 5 years there has been great loss. Job loss, financial security, and marriage issues. I was unjustly ruined professionally. I suffered pain and doubted myself. Questions like ‘Am I good enough, strong enough, smart enough?’ Yes, Christ saved me from losing my faith. He saved me from believing in materialism. He saved me from losing my marriage in pursuit of love elsewhere. In rescuing me, he gave me a deeper sense of joy and of his love for me. Christ really is enough for me, everything I need.”

Direction: Generous Obedience = My obedience is not a way to earn God’s approval.
It's a generous response to his obedience for me to renew me. The love of God for us is the beauty of the gospel and the motivational pull of the Spirit. Obedience flows from the freedom of the gospel. We now obey out of love and gratitude rather than fear. “Obedience doesn’t lead to freedom. Freedom leads to obedience. If you get that backwards you lose both your freedom and eventually your obedience” (Steve Brown).

The Apostle Paul opens his letter to Romans, “Through [Jesus Christ our Lord] we received grace…to call all gentiles…to the obedience that comes from faith…” and ends the letter, “to him who is able to establish you in…the gospel…so that the gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith..(1:5;16:26).
“…the admonitions and commands of the Bible are not arbitrary directives…they are carefully chosen directions to lead me back to the past from which sin has beguiled me…When I seek to obey God’s commandments, I am not working against myself, but for myself. I am acting in accordance with my nature as the image of God. As I do what is right I establish my true identity. I free myself”  (Ranald Macaulay & Jerram Barrs, Being Human).

Engaging the Gospel in Life

How do we work out the Gospel daily? How does it become less of a doctrine and more of a lifestyle?

The Gospel is not so much a truth as it is the fabric of our relationship with God. How does it affect fear and jealousy and worry and envy and discouragement? How does it connect to how we view the hardships of life? At the same time, how does it instruct our joy? How does it connect to the things that give us contentment and satisfaction? Those are the real questions of a Gospel Life.

In these next paragraphs, Martin Luther, one of the fathers of what we now refer to as the Reformation, relates the Gospel to fear, depression (at least that which is not caused by physiological reasons), and what he calls a “troubled conscience”:

“There is a righteousness that the apostle Paul calls ‘the righteousness of faith.’ God imputes it to us apart from our works--in other words, it is passive righteousness...So then, have we nothing to do to obtain this righteousness? No, nothing at all! For this righteousness comes by doing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing, but rather in knowing and believing this only — that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation! Now God sees no sin in us, for in this heavenly righteousness sin has no place.

“So now we may certainly think, ‘Although I still sin, I don't despair, because Christ lives, who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.’ In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God.

“Christians never completely understand [this] themselves, and thus do not take advantage of it when they are troubled and tempted. So we have to constantly teach it, repeat it, and work it out in practice. Anyone who does not understand this righteousness or cherish it in the heart and conscience will continually be buffeted by fears and depression. Nothing gives peace like this passive righteousness.

“The troubled conscience has no cure for its desperation and feeling of unworthiness unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, offered free of charge in Jesus Christ, which is this passive or Christian righteousness… Once you are in Christ, the Law is the greatest guide for your life, but until you have Christian righteousness, all the law can do is to show you how sinful and condemned you are. But if we first receive Christian righteousness, then we can use the law, not for our salvation, but for his honor and glory, and to lovingly show our gratitude” (Martin Luther, Preface Commentary on Galatians).

The Basis for our Work as Leaders Operating by the Gospel

Too often we base our justification (made right with God) on our sanctification (ongoing transformation), and not the other way around. In other words, we judge our relationship with God, and the stability and even certainty of that relationship, based on our actions, behaviors, and emotions. This is especially easy to do when you are leading others! The internal and external voices in your life tell you, “It’s up to me to do this.” We subconsciously obey God and follow him, in order to please him and remain in his good standing so he will bless our lives. Or perhaps we do so out of fear of rejection or loss of his protection.

We must base our sanctification (how much we are changing) on our justification, especially as leaders operating by the Gospel. We must live confidently based on the truth of our salvation. In reality, the Christian life is nothing more, and nothing less, than a lifetime of living out the implications of the cross. We are cross-shaped leaders. The truest thing about us is the fact that we are created by a personal God who loved, adopted, forgave us, making us His child, and has given us the Holy Spirit. For the Gospel shaped leader, all of life, ministry or work is based on that fact.

Only the Gospel, only the truth of the cross, can give us an accurate identity. Want to know more about Gospel 3D?

At CMM, we believe every leader is created to thrive. We suggest getting a C.R.O.S.S. Gospel Coach to help walk with you through the challenges you’ve never faced before. A Gospel Coach will help encourage and equip you every step along the way. Learn more today!

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