The Gospel is Slippery

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Years ago, I heard Tim Keller say that in a sermon, and it’s stuck with me since.

One minute, we’ll have a good grasp of it. The next, we’ve lost it entirely. But here’s the worst part—we rarely even notice. We’ll grab onto one of two falsehoods and think it to be the gospel.

One is legalism. We’ll believe that God considers us righteous because we’ve read our Bibles, prayed, or abstained from a sin. We’ll allow our activity to govern our identity—what we do becomes who we are. If we’re doing “spiritually bad,” we’ll think that we need to make it up to God through religion. And if we’re doing “spiritually good,” we’ll get the idea that God owes us something.

The other is permissivism. We’ll believe that, because God is full of grace, we don’t really need to strive for holiness. We’ll look at the sin in and our life and think, “Well, it isn’t that big of a deal I suppose. I mean, God’s grace covers it, right?” We’ll be spiritually lazy, putting minimal effort into pursuing holiness or advancing the Kingdom of God.

Interesting, right? I’m not saying that we make a deliberate decision to depart from the gospel in the name of legalism or permissivism, but I am saying that the gospel doesn’t stay within our grasp forever. We have to pick it up again and again and again.

I was reminded of this as I read Titus 3 the other day.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

— Titus 3:4-7

That’s the gospel!

Notice who does the saving: God. Not because of our works, but because of His mercy. And when doing so, he gives us a brand new identity. It is buried so deep in our hearts that our activity—good or bad—simply can’t change it. What precious truth! The gospel eradicates legalism.

But it eradicates permissivism too. He regenerates and renews us so that we might become heirs with a hope that is beyond this world. He doesn’t merely forgive. He transforms us to live differently. Paul drives this home in the next verse, “those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (v. 8). 

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Preach the gospel to yourself every day. Take an honest look at your walk with God. Cry out, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Do you see any legalistic ways in me? Do you see any permissive ways in me? Have mercy on me, fix my eyes on Jesus, and help me believe the gospel today!”

Gospel-understanding yesterday doesn’t guarantee gospel-understanding tomorrow. So pick it up again, secure it on the throne of your heart, and keep believing.

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…”

— 1 Corinthians 15:1

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