Paul's Passing Thoughts

Let’s be Honest: Does God Really Want Christians to “Live by the Gospel” Every Day?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 21, 2011

“The application of the gospel in regard to the saints is clearly stated here. It is a ministry of reconciliation that we preach to the world, not to ourselves. We are already reconciled. This would seem evident.”

It was maybe a year ago in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I showed up for morning service to find a huge cross assembled at the altar with a couple of hundred white ribbons draped across the horizontals. At the beginning of the service, red ribbons were passed out to all those in attendance. The message was on Isaiah 1:18;

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.”

As the pastor preached a gospel-centered message on “Though Your Sins are as Scarlet,” everyone  was holding those red ribbons, a great reflective tool while listening to the message. At the end of the message, everyone went up front and exchanged their red ribbon for a white ribbon, laying their red ribbon on the cross  and taking a white ribbon. The sight of hundreds of people doing that was very moving. As we then held our white ribbons, he closed.

Till this day, I still have that white ribbon in my Bible. Though I had already decided I was going to start visiting other churches, and I knew where the message was coming from in the whole scheme of that particular church’s doctrine (gospel sanctification), I was extremely glad for the message. Why? Because I love the gospel and grieve the fact that the mantle of its splendor often fades as I wade through the milieu of life.

How could I not be continually exhilarated by this unfathomable sacrifice? The message left me with an awesome feeling. I felt very close to the Lord and was full of joy. When I stopped for gas on the way home, did the clerk not see the very joy of the gospel on my face? In such a state is one not ready and willing to serve the Lord with joy and without a moment of hesitation? Who then would dare say that we should not continually dwell on the message of the gospel?!

Well, among many: Christ, the apostle Paul, the apostle Peter, and the Hebrew writer. I’m right there with you, having that experience makes you feel pretty darn spiritual. Who wouldn’t want that every day? That day I was glad for the reminder of what Christ had done for me, but the apostle’s question should always be before us: “What does the Scripture say?”

Hang on as you read the following run-on sentence, it’s a long one:

Of course to some the following argument is dead on arrival because every verse in the Bible is about the gospel and you have to see all Scripture through that prism and therefore everything must come out gospel and by the way that should be great news for me because if I find the gospel in every verse I can have the same experience I had that day in Fort Wayne and obey the Lord without effort and with joy so what’s my stinking problem and why am I writing this essay?

Does the “Gospel” Need the Truth?

…….because I love something more than my own experience; even the one of that day in regard to the gospel, the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

One day Peter experienced the glory of God through Christ and went on to say that we have a “more sure” testimony. Namely, the word of God (2 Peter 1:16-21). I must pause here to make a point before I move on to answer the primary question of the title and some closing comments about the gospel. All of the contemporary mantras speaking of worshiping Christ as a person with the gospel being synonymous with his personhood, rather than through objective truth, is an affront to our Holy God. Why? Because all knowledge of Him goes through what He says, period! To bypass what He says specifically and objectively for a subjective worship of his “personhood” via an eisegetical interpretation of the Scriptures, is grave error. Christ had a run-in with a person who should be the poster child for subjective worship. He threw a bucket of cold water on her worship of Him, right there in front of everybody:

“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’” (Luke 11:27,28).

When it came to the worship of Christ as a person, He pointed the woman right back to what He says, and insisted that it be obeyed. That’s where the blessings are (“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it”). All roads go through what God says about Himself, and many in our day should take caution as to whether presuppositions of any sort have usurped that process. Besides, in obedience to His word is where blessings reside (James 1:25 also).

Does True Worship Need Instruction?

In Psalm 138:2, King David says the following:

“I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.”

God is well aware of how majestic He is and doesn’t need us to remind Him of it. Our worship of Him is in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23). All of the talk about “gazing” on His glory “through the gospel” is all well and good, but it had better be an objective gazing and studious thinking on His truth with application accordingly. So says God Himself. King David received good life lessons in regard to this as recorded in chapters 7-12 of 2 Samuel. David’s propensity for subjective worship caused him trouble more than once. As a matter of fact, many today would say that his desires were “properly oriented.” Nobody possessed a stronger desire to worship God than King David and this was often expressed through singing, dancing and exalted praise. But in chapter seven, David went to Nathan and complained that God lived in a tent while he lived in a cedar house. Basically, he was looking for Nathan’s approval and got it. Later in the same day, God came to Nathan and said the following:

“Go and tell my servant David, “This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”

There is only one way God could ask such a rhetorical question of David using the history of Israel; He was referring to the written revelation available at that time. In essence, He was saying this: “David, where do you find it in Scripture that I want a house built for myself?”

In the following verses, we have God reminding David of where He brought him from and where he is going to take his descendants (also known as the Davidic Covenant), all without David’s help. David’s subjective love for God was steeped in arrogance. When it’s not based on truth, our own flesh will most certainly fill the void.

David gets the message and begins his responsive prayer with the following in 2 Samuel 7:18:

“Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”

Subjective love usually leads to arrogance and sometimes worse. Let me share what God said was at the heart of David’s murderous adultery with Bathsheba:

“Why did you despise the word [emphasis mine] of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12:9).

God knew David did not despise Him personally, but a lack of attention to the word (what God says) led to sin against God Himself. The constant mantra we hear today, “Christ is a person and not a precept” (or the negative synonyms they choose to make a point: “rules, do’s and dont’s,” etc. etc.), is a subjective mentality that will lead to arrogance or worse.

Where would one even stop to comprehensively compile all there is in Scripture to further this point? In 1 Samuel, chapter 15, every indication points to the fact that King Saul’s attempt to worship God had good intentions except for one thing:

“But Samuel replied: ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice [emphasis mine] of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams’”

Of course the Lord delights in our worship. But what did Samuel say God delights in more? It’s not His personhood, It’s the following of His voice: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

What is the Gospel, and Do We Really Live by It Every Day?

The word means “good news.” There is much talk concerning a definition of the gospel. Every time I turn around in Reformed circles you read or hear that question. My missionary son-in-law says it’s because Reformed theologians spend all their time torturing simplicity instead of sharing the gospel they are always researching and debating. He may have a point. However, the question itself has always confounded me because the good news seems to be expressed in a many faceted way (in the Bible) while being one central truth. Basically, my answer is the following: “The gospel is the good news concerning how God reconciled man to Himself.” How God did that and why He decided to is kind of a long story. Study all the various presentations of the gospel in the Bible; they are far from cookie cutter. I am going to use one biblical definition by the apostle Paul in regard to the gospel being called “reconciliation.” It is from 2 Corinthians 5:18-21;

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

The gospel’s relationship to the saints is clearly stated here. It is a ministry of reconciliation that we preach to the world, not to ourselves. Obviously, we are already reconciled. We are not ambassadors to our own country, but rather ambassadors to the world. This would seem evident. Also, “good news” implies something not heard before. You know, the “news” part. It seems somewhat oxymoronic for daily use in regard to Christians.

Were Christ and the Apostles Poor Communicators?

“Then Jesus came to them and said,  ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:19,20).

This is our Lord’s mandate to the church. Making disciples and baptizing them is the ministry of reconciliation. “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded” is obviously our role in the sanctification process. If living by the gospel every day is our paramount role in the sanctification process, how could this passage be constructed or worded in this way? Certainly, for Christ to instruct obedience to all that He commanded, implies a variety of information as opposed to the single good news of the gospel. Why would Christ not rather say, “Teaching them to observe the gospel”? If Christ wanted the gospel observed every day, why would He not simply state that accordingly? Also, if Christ “is the gospel” and the gospel is He, why did He command baptism in the name of all three? If all of Scripture is about Christ and His gospel, here is a grand opportunity to drive that point home. Furthermore, if we are to live by the gospel every day, why not baptize everyday as well? Why not? It’s a New Testament picture of the gospel. If all of Scripture is about the gospel, what verse would exclude this notion? (Mark my words, this will soon be coming to a church near you).

Furthermore, John chapter 13 (note verses 9 and 10 specifically) contains the account of Christ washing Peter’s feet. Peter at first declines until Jesus tells him to agree in order to have a relationship with Him. Peter then tells Christ to wash his whole body. In return, Christ tells Peter that he who has bathed, only needs to have his feet washed. All the major Bible commentators agree that this refers to the salvation / sanctification relationship in regard to forgiveness of sins. Why would Christ use that example if we need the full effect of the gospel every day?

Was Peter a Poor Communicator?

If we are to live by the gospel every day, Peter did not get the memo in the worst way. 2Peter 1: 3-17 encompasses a teaching Peter thought was most important before his departure from this world (see verses 14 and 15) and it wasn’t the gospel. What was that message? The message was a call to diligently add eight practices to the foundation of our faith (see verses 5-8). Peter then says adding these virtues to our  faith results in assurance of salvation:

“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (verse 10).

To the contrary, proponents of living by the gospel everyday teach that assurance comes from “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.” That is clearly contrary to what Peter said.

In verse 3, Peter says that God’s power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Why wouldn’t he rather say that God’s power has given us all things that pertain to the gospel? Or better yet, why would he not say that we have all things that we need for life and godliness through the gospel? In verses 12-15, Peter expresses his concern that they may forget to diligently add these qualities after he was gone. This is an unreasonable disconnect if in fact the paramount role of the believer is to live by the gospel every day. It just doesn’t make sense!

Was Paul a Poor Communicator?

In 1Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul says that we build upon the foundation of Christ. He even says that we will be judged by Christ according to how we build. Therefore, living by the gospel (and Christ being the gospel according to advocates of GS) daily would then be a rebuilding of the foundation every day. It turns Paul’s metaphor completely upside down.

Furthermore, in Romans 15:20, Paul makes it clear that the gospel is a “foundation,” and said he would not go where Christ had already been named because that would be building on the foundation of others.

Was the Hebrew Writer a Poor Communicator?

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” (Hebrews 5:11- 6:3).

The Hebrew writer says that spiritual immaturity is the result of not putting God’s word into practice, not a failure to live by the gospel every day. Again, somebody didn’t get the memo. Also, even though 6:2 most certainly refers to Old Testament practices, a reference to doctrines of Christ in 6:1 is irrefutable. Therefore, it seems to be in direct contradiction to a living daily by the gospel approach. An exclusive, daily focus on the glorious, but foundational gospel, is antithetical to what the Hebrew writer is prescribing.

I contend that I am in good company here. Jay Adams uses this same argument from  Hebrews 5:11-6:2 (as I do) to refute Biblical Sonship (pages 38-41 “Biblical Sonship,” Timeless Texts 1999). Biblical Sonship, like gospel sanctification, advocates an everyday living by the gospel:

“Certainly all of us may frequently look back to the time when we became sons and rejoice in the fact, but there is no directive to do so for growth, or even of an example of this practice, in the New Testament. And surely there is nothing to support the ritual act of repeatedly doing so as a technique of growth! Something so prominent as the prime practice in the Sonship movement ought to have a corresponding prominent place in the Bible. The true reminder of the good news about Jesus’ death for our sins is the one that He left for us to observe, the Lord’s supper (‘Do this in remembrance of Me’).” ( Jay Adams, page 41, “Biblical Sonship,” Timeless Texts 1999).

Living By the Gospel.

We should most certainly live out the gospel each day by being faithful to our call as ministers to the “ministry of reconciliation.” However, we are ambassadors to the world, not ourselves. Sure, in some respects, we mirror the gospel with our lives every day. We should forgive like Christ forgave us. We should sacrifice self as Christ did, and daily. We also still repent and do so daily. But it is clear that we are to continue to build on our faith from the word of God. Gospel Sanctification is a nebulous concept that focuses on subjective worship and disregards the plain sense of biblical mandates.

At the beginning of this essay, I supplied a good look into the mentality of Gospel Sanctification; every sermon, every Bible lesson, and every daily reading of the Bible should focus on the gospel. In doing so, we are changed from glory to glory, supposedly. Experiential sermons like the one I attended in Fort Wayne sells the theory well, as does John Piper’s emphasis on “exultation” during his sermons. Basically, it makes everything about what God did, instead of what God says. Buyer beware, God has not only exalted His name above all, but His word as well (again, Psalms 138:2).

paul

11 Responses

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  1. Randy Pickard said, on December 21, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    The 19th century theologian, Herman Bavinck, explained the difference between Lutheran and Reformed understandings of the places of the gospel and the law of God in the Christian life. Apologies in advance for the long quotation, but it is all worth reading. Thanks, Paul, for being something of a Herman Bavinck in this generation.

    “The Lutherans have an eye almost exclusively for the accusing, condemning work of the law and therefore know of no greater salvation than liberation from the law. The law is necessary only on account of sin. According to Lutheran theology, in the state of perfection there is no law. God is free from the law; Christ was not subject to the law for Himself at all; the believer no longer stands under the law. Naturally, the Lutherans speak of a threefold use of the law, not only of a usus politicus (civilis), to restrain sin, and a usus paedagogicus, to arouse the knowledge of sin, but also of a usus didacticus, to function for the believer as a rule of living. But this last usus is nonetheless necessary simply and only because and insofar as believers are still sinners, and must still be tamed by the law, and must still be led to a continuing knowledge of sin. In itself the law ceases with the coming of faith and grace, and loses all its significance.

    The Reformed, however, have thought about this in an entirely different way. The usus politicus and the usus paedagogicus of the law became necessary only accidentally because of sin; even with these uses aside, the most important usus remains, the usus didacticus or normativus. After all, the law is an expression of God’s being. As a human being Christ was subject to the law for Himself. Before the fall Adam had the law written upon his heart. With the believer it is again written upon the tablets of his heart by the Holy Spirit. And all those in heaven will walk according to the law of the Lord.

    The Gospel is temporary, but the law is eternal and is restored precisely through the Gospel. Freedom from the law consists, then, not in the fact that the Christian has nothing more to do with the law, but lies in the fact that the law demands nothing more from the Christian as a condition of salvation. The law can no longer judge and condemn him. Instead he delights in the law of God according to the inner man and yearns for it day and night.

    Therefore, that law must always be preached to the congregation in connection with the Gospel. Law and Gospel, the whole Word, the full counsel of God, is the content of preaching. Among Reformed people, therefore, the law occupies a much larger place than in the teaching of sin, since it is also part of the teaching of gratitude.”

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 21, 2011 at 11:14 AM

      Randy,
      Thanks, I think. Bavink is often quoted by New Calvinists and was quoted extensively by the Australian Forum. Bavink thought also formed a lot of Jon Zens’ thinking on law /gospel. However, is this a narrow borrowing of his thoughts by these folks to make a point (ie., is he being misrepresented), or was he a Gospel Contemplationist that taught things that could be plugged into COG? Thanks for the reminder that I need to look into this closer.

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  2. gracewriterrandy said, on December 22, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    Paul,

    Have you ever wondered how a person who has moved beyond the gospel can let his manner of life be as is worthy of the gospel of Christ? It sounds as if there must be some relationship between one’s life and the gospel he believes.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 22, 2011 at 12:14 PM

      Your not a New Calvinist, but yet, you believe in sanctification by justification. Classic.

      Like

  3. Lydia said, on December 22, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    Randy, how do you define Gospel?

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 24, 2011 at 6:48 AM

      Lydia,
      Randy is in time-out right now.

      Like

  4. Anonymous said, on December 27, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    I guess you couldn’t stand the truth, huh?

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 28, 2011 at 6:03 AM

      Who’s afraid of the truth? He’s the one who pulled it down because he didn’t want to be exposed to his congregation for being a SDA antinomian.

      Like

  5. paulspassingthoughts said, on October 10, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.

    Like

  6. Chris Julien said, on October 14, 2012 at 10:17 PM

    Feel free to chew on:

    “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” -2 Peter 1:3-15

    Seems like 1) through God’s promises we are made partakers of the divine nature; 2) whoever lacks the qualities mentioned has forgotten he was cleansed from his sins, which implies a certain value in remembering that you were cleansed from your sins, which is the gospel; 3) we confirm our calling and election by practicing the qualities mentioned; 4) Peter intends to remind his people of these qualities, in order to stir them up.

    In the end, seems like Peter’s method was to remind his people of these qualities, which are rooted in the fact that we are cleansed from our former sins. This is no less than living in light of the gospel every day.

    God bless.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 15, 2012 at 6:14 AM

      Uh, Chris, that’s the whole “the imperative command is grounded in the indicative event” routine. I address that folly in chapter 12 of “The Truth About New Calvinism.” Furthermore, note that you say “Peter’s method” is rooted “in the fact that we are cleansed from our ‘FORMER’ sins.” Right, and that’s exactly the problem with this gospel. We now have to continue to live by FAITH ALONE in sanctification for the cleansing to continue.

      Chris, if I were you, I would rethink your position.

      paul

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