Mobilizing the Church. Transforming the World.

The Gospel is Neither Religion Nor Irreligion

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I’m enjoying The Gospel in Life by Tim Keller. Here’s what I’m learning today.

The Gospel is neither religion nor irreligion. It is something else altogether. Religion makes law and moral obedience a means of salvation, while irreligion makes the individual a law to him- or herself. The gospel, however, is that Jesus takes the law of God so seriously that he paid the penalty of disobedience, so we can be saved by sheer grace.

Because of this I can appreciate God’s law much more! Since Jesus has paid the penalty for me being a law-breaker, I am freed from the moral law as a system of salvation. I’m secure in my relationship with God because Jesus has paid the penalty and given me his righteousness.

I also appreciate the law because it reveals to me the nature and heart of God. It shows me what is important to God, the things he loves and hates, the things that are good and evil.

The Gospel is not religion – I don’t have to do anything to earn anything. And it is not irreligion. I love God, therefore I love and respect his law!

This makes Psalm 119 even more meaningful to me. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” (Ps 119:18)
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Doesn’t Deserve to be Called a Religion

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Imagine early Christians talking to their neighbors in the Roman Empire. “Ah,” the neighbor says, “I hear you are religious! Great! Religion is a good thing. Where is your temple or holy place?” “We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our temple.”

“No temple? But where do your priests work and do their rituals?” “We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our priest.”

“No priests? But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?” “We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our sacrifice.”

“What kind of religion IS this?” sputters the pagan neighbor. And the answer is, this Christian faith is so utterly different than how every other religion works that it doesn’t really deserve to be called a “religion.” [from Gospel in Life by Tim Keller]
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The Gospel Centered Life

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The leaders I am working with are captured by the vision of “every man, woman, and child having repeated opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel.” I share that vision. However, this past year I’ve been thinking more deeply about what the gospel is. I fear that my generation of baby boomers has tended to reduce the gospel to a verbal commitment or a prayer, missing the deep and rich implications of it. I have come to believe that we are not only saved by the gospel but we are sanctified by it as well.

A resource that has helped me is “The Gospel Centered Life” curriculum published by World Harvest Mission. I have also enjoyed working the larger study they published entitled “Gospel Transformation.” One more resource that has blessed me this year is Milton Vincent’s devotional book “A Gospel Primer for Christians.”

For any united city reaching effort to take root, I think we must be in agreement about the gospel. As we understand and apply the gospel more deeply we are truly able to become “partners in the gospel” as Paul writes about in Philippians 1:3.

Living and working with the great ministry leaders in Houston over the past 16 years has been an enriching educational experience for me. What brings transformation to a city? We have studied the work of George Otis and followed transformation stories from around the world. I have been deeply impacted by Tim Keller and the work that Redeemer Presbyterian Church is catalyzing in New York City. I’m very encouraged by what I see in cities like Austin, TX and Columbia, SC.

But what will it take for us to move to a new level? How can Christian leaders become more effective at engaging and impacting a city for Christ? I think it begins with a deep and passionate understanding of and appreciation for the gospel. That’s the good news. That’s the power of God released through us (Romans 1:16).

I close for now with this verse: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3)

What would it look like for us to embrace the gospel more deeply and more fully become partners in the gospel?
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A Cure for Distrust

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I want to highly recommend that you read A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent. Every Christ-follower should be preaching the gospel to themself. This is a powerful resource. Let me share one excerpt:

Every time I deliberately disobey a command of God, it is because I am in that moment doubtful as to God’s true intentions in giving me that command. Does He really have my best interests at heart? Or is He withholding something from me that I would be better off having? Such questions, whether consciously asked or not, lie underneath every act of disobedience.

However, the gospel changes my view of God’s commandments, in that it helps me to see the heart of the Person from whom those commandments come. When I begin my train of thought with the gospel, I realize that if God loved me enough to sacrifice His Son’s life for me, then He must be guided by that same love when He speaks His commandments to me. Viewing God’s commands and prohibitions in this light, I can see them for what they really are: friendly signposts from a heavenly Father who is seeking to love me through each directive, so that I might experience His very fullness forever.

When controlling my thoughts as described above, the gospel cures me of my suspicion of God, thereby disposing me to walk more trustingly on the path of obedience to His commands.
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The Gospel Gives Us Boldness Before God

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I’ve been thinking a lot these days about what it means to live a gospel-centerd life. The essence of the gospel is that God does not give me what I deserve (which is His wrath), but instead overwhelms me with His love and grace.

The truth is that I do not always believe that He is so generous. I don’t fully appreciate His kindness and grace.

There are moments when I seem to get it (at least a little.) In those moments I pray with more boldness. I trust God for bigger things. I am not hesitant to ask Him for something significant. I don’t deserve any of this. But the gospel is the good news that says I can approach my Heavenly Father with boldness and confidence (Heb 4:16).

Milton Vincent says it this way:

With greater boldness in prayer comes an increased enjoyment of God and the bounty that He gives, due simply to the fact that I was daring enough to ask for what was needed. Preaching the gospel to myself each day nourishes within me a holy brazenness to believe what God says, enjoy what He offers, and do what He commands.

Though I’ve been a Christ-follower for many years, I still long to live in the Gospel more each day. I have yet a long way to go.
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