What is the “Gospel” and what practical implications does the Gospel make in my everyday life?
The short answer is that the gospel is the good news that those who trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior can become part of the family of God and enjoy life in his presence, starting now. The longer answer is that the Father almighty – the maker of heaven and earth – sent his Son to represent the fallen human race, to identity with us to the point of death itself, and then be raised to new life, defeating the evil powers and principalities, including death itself, so that those who put their faith in him can, through the Holy Spirit, experience his new life and so finally fulfill their original purpose, which is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, with others. The gospel is the true story of who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and who we can be in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is the true story of what God did to repair his relationship to a humanity that had lost its way. The practical implication of the gospel is that we no longer have to live our lives anxious about tomorrow. The future – fellowship with God and the people of God – is not something to fear but to anticipate with hope, patient endurance, and joy.
What is “sin” and what is so terrible about it when I do sin? And what is my motivation to not sin?
The term “sin” has lost its teeth, or at least its bite. In contemporary society it sounds almost quaint, like “things the Victorians would have disapproved of.” The truth is a bit more sinister. Sin is the rejection of God and his created order. Sin is disbelief or distrust or disinterest in God’s word. This is a serious offense, for God’s word has laid down not only the law of the land, but the laws that govern the whole created order.
Sin as the denial of reality. For what is more real than God’s word, which Jesus says will last longer than the heavens and the earth themselves (Matt. 5:18; 24:35)? To go against God’s word is thus to go against the grain of reality. It’s like ignoring the laws of gravity in preference to one’s own idea about what happens to falling objects. How silly – and dangerous! To ignore the law of gravity is to risk doing serious harm to oneself. In not loving our neighbor as ourselves, we violate not simply our neighbor but God’s revealed law.
The motivation not to sin should now be clear: we need to get with the program, God’s program! God’s will is not oppressive but liberating. The laws he gives are for our good. This is the thrust of Psalm 1: one who delights in God’s law and obeys it will prosper and flourish. So: our first motivation not to sin should be to honor God rather than to take his place by preferring our own words and laws. Creatures should do everything in their power not to “de-God” God. Talk about fraud! But that’s precisely what idolatry is. We defraud God by depriving him of the honor due him and him only. Our second motivation not to sin should be the desire to live according to the created order. This is wisdom. Sin is only foolishness, and death.
In the final analysis, sin is much worse than immorality – doing wrong things. Sin is first and foremost an offense to God. In disbelieving God’s word and disobeying God’s law, we dishonor God’s name. God is not mocked: in denying the wisdom, trustworthiness, and authority of God’s word, we pass judgment upon ourselves. What is sin? It is our dumb preference for death and destruction…
What is God’s end goal for this world, all humans of this world, and me personally? Where is He taking it and what does it look like for me to be a part of that goal, and how can I have a role and purpose in that goal, and find meaning, and value, and my joy in that goal?
The only way we can know God’s goal for the whole world and for ourselves personally is by reading the story of the Bible and seeing how it ends. It’s a love story: God makes world; God loses world; God gets world back.
God did not need to make the world. God, one being in three persons, already had eternal fellowship as Father, Son, and Spirit. God’s goal in creating and redeeming the world was simply to share his life with those who were not God and, in so doing, to expand further his own glory.
I think the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives the best answer to your question: the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We glorify God when we live up to our vocation as creatures in his image, persons who can act as prophets, priests, and kings as God’s representatives: speaking truth, singing praise, doing right.
God’s idea of perfection has a big place for biodiversity and human diversity alike. His wisdom and glory is magnified by the immense variety of stars and species. And he has given different kinds of gifts to different people. There are many ways to glorify God, and each of us should take satisfaction in using our respective gifts as we seek to serve God in our respective posts, whether as artists, musicians, athletes, teachers, doctors, architects, and so forth. There is meaning in doing what God created you to do to the glory of God, and this involves white- and blue-collar work alike. They also serve who stand and wait tables…
How can I, as a Christian who believes the Gospel and affirms orthodoxy, be compelled to genuinely desire God and the kingdom of God enough to become a true disciple, one who is willing to consider all things loss in comparison with knowing and loving Jesus?
I just wrote a book about this! It’s entitled Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine. I wrote it because your question raises a real problem: why self-professing Christians aren’t growing more like Christ.
I don’t have time to rehearse everything I do in the book here. But to answer your question speaking personally, I can say that what I desire above all is to be real before God. And, when I say “real,” I mean that I want to realize more fully what I truly am “in Christ.”
For me, the Bible and Christian doctrine are not simply about the true, but about the good and the beautiful as well – in a word, reality. Why has God brought me into being? To get real! That is, to become the creature he has intended humans to become, persons who can fellowship with him, enjoy his company, and glorify him in all that they do (in case you missed it, I just sneaked in the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which I suppose could also be my short answer to your question!).
As a Christian, at the end of a long day (when I have done what I ought not to have done – and not done what I ought to have done) what are God’s thoughts of me when I lay down my head at at night and fall asleep?
Well, thankfully Christians aren’t adjunct professors: if we profess Jesus Christ in faith, we have tenure! So I don’t have to worry about getting fired, as it were. I believe in the perseverance of the saints, which is to say, in God’s preservation of the saints. Of course, this isn’t a “Get out of Jail free” card. But it’s important to realize, with Calvin, that the salvation is first and foremost our union with Christ, and that this union carries with it the double blessing of justification and sanctification. Our adoption as God’s children is secure in Christ, but we know that the Father disciplines those whom he loves, so this side of heaven we have to work out our own salvation in godly fear, but it is God who works in us to perfect us in Christ (cf. Phil. 2:12-13).
What is God’s mission given to us and how do I fulfill it without it becoming a feeling of another thing I have to do for God? And based upon that, What is needed at the personal, and church level to shape culture and to be on strategic mission?
God’s mission is a function of his original purpose to form a people for himself. That’s what Israel was to have been: “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). The eternal God freely chose to share his life with creatures that he made in his image. This is the original mystery of God’s grace. God ultimately accomplished his mission through the work of his Son and Spirit. It is through Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension and gift of the Spirit that the church – the society of Jesus – becomes “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9).
What is needed at the church level is formation. Each member of the church has to be formed to be a member of this holy nation. Each of us has to become a citizen of the gospel, so that we can live a life worthy of our high and holy calling: to be God’s special representatives on earth, ambassadors of Jesus Christ. The church’s mission follows from Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples. That involves teaching doctrine and spiritual formation. That’s the church’s mission, and that’s the way to shape the culture of a holy nation.
You have a book titled “Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine”, can you explain what you mean by that? And What need in the Church did you see that caused you to take up pen after this subject?
“Faith seeking understanding” is one of the oldest definitions of theology. Seeking understanding sounds pretty theoretical. I’ve changed one word: faith speaking understanding is meant to emphasize the practical nature of theology, which is also the point of the theatrical model. The book suggests that the Christian life, and theology itself, is dramatic: a way of speaking and acting, not just thinking.
I hit upon the dramatic analogy as a way of explaining how doctrine is practical. Some of my seminary students had a bias against theology as unrelated to real life. I encouraged them to think of doctrine as theatrical direction that (1) helps us understand the drama of redemption of which we are a part and (2) gives directions for how to perform the drama that is the Christian life.
To be a disciple is to know how to follow Jesus. But how do we do that in the 21st century? What does it look like? What should we say and do to correspond to God’s revelation of himself and his mission in Scripture? The big idea behind Faith Speaking Understanding is that the gospel is dramatic (something God says and does in Christ) and that doctrine is direction for Christian discipleship. If Christians want to grow in their faith, they have to understand what to say and do today that corresponds to and advances what God was doing in Christ.
Often we see the “academic” Christians on one side, the sort of “Spiritual” Christians on the other, but there is a major portion of Christianity that merely just exist as Christians because they believe the claims to be “true”, yet these truths aren’t compelling to them, they’re not stirred by them, they aren’t in awe of them – yet so many people desire to be. Can you speak to this?
I wrote a book about this too! It’s entitled Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness, and Wisdom. This is another attempt to explain, and to show, why theology matters for the church. It does this in two ways.
The first way is by presenting the drama of the Christ – my term for gospel – as something that is not only true, but also good and beautiful. The gospel is something to be trusted and believed, yes, but also lived and appreciated. As I’ve been suggesting, the gospel is a true story, and that story is salutary and lovely too. In an age where young people are weighed down by dystopian fiction, the gospel is a wake-up call to the startling possibility of new life in Christ.
The second way I show why theology matters for the church is by showing how it speaks to the imagination, and not to reason only. The book is really a plea for the church to acknowledge the importance of the imagination for the Christian life. I believe this responds directly to your question. The reason people aren’t moved by Christian doctrines (truths) is because their imaginations are often held captive by other stories rather than the Bible’s. I believe that the Reformation cry sola scriptura – the claim that supreme authority in Christian life and thought belongs to Scripture – applies to the imagination too. Scripture alone should rule the imagination, by which I mean the story of Scripture alone should be the “program” that runs the stories of our individual lives.
It’s hugely significant that Jesus taught in parables. He didn’t ask his followers to take notes, he asked them to remember the stories he told. Those stories had a way of overturning old ways of looking at things and of helping people to understand the topsy-turvy logic of the kingdom of God, where the first shall be last and power is weakness. Pastors need to go and do likewise, and take not just every thought, but every imagination, captive to the gospel.
For you personally, what has been the most compelling or powerful aspect of the story of the Bible that you delight in, has come to you fresh, and resulted in you loving God more and being excited to be a part of God’s story?
It’s simply the awareness that God has called me into being and cast me as an actor in what is ultimately his drama. I’m part of a story about the renewing of creation, a story about how God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. As a boy, I always wanted to be a knight and fight to save the castle. Well, as a Christian I am what Kierkegaard calls a Knight of Faith. I wearing the armor of God (Eph 6:13) and wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:17), and charged with protecting the castle (the household of faith). What’s not to like?