What is the “Gospel” and what practical implications does the Gospel make in my everyday life?
The gospel is good news – a royal announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. He lived a perfect life in our place, died on the cross for our sins, was raised to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This is news that calls for a response: repentance (that means turning from sin, and trading our own personal agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus) and faith (that means to turning to God, believing the good news, trusting Jesus alone for our salvation, and seeking to walk in faith in His promises). If the gospel is true, everything changes. We can’t say we believe that message and then just go on living as if everything is the same.
What is “sin” and what is so terrible about it when I do sin? And what is my motivation to not sin?
Sin is whatever we do that doesn’t conform to God’s will and purposes. Sin is terrible because it severs us from God, the source of life. That’s why sin leads to death. Even sins that don’t seem so serious are signs that we are fallen, that we’re turning against God. Sin can manifest itself personally (why do I do the things I know are wrong or harmful to others or hurt the heart of God?) and also systemically (why do certain institutions or politics or even churches seem to be drawn into sin’s orbit so that injustice and dishonesty flourish?). Sin is like an infection that spreads and then leads to death.
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?
God’s goal for the world is that His Son receive the greatest glory imaginable and that we as His people benefit eternally from His goodness. God’s greatness and our good are intertwined. He’s going to renew everything, make everything right, purge the world of evil, and then establish a new heavens and earth that will be magnificent. Those who belong to Him will experience the blessing of that new world. Those who reject Him will miss out and instead experience eternal separation from him. The good news for us in the present is that we have the awesome responsibility of living in a way that provides a foretaste of that world to come. When our families are harmonious, when our churches show the world that people who are really different can come together and – without much in common – unite around the gospel, when our communities are peaceful and filled with life and laughter, when justice is present in a society, we are giving the world a glimpse of what that future will look like. The church gives the world a little taste of heaven on earth, inviting others into this way of living that reflects (as best we can, even though we fall short so often) the life of the new world to come.
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?
Ultimately, it’s a work of God’s Spirit to ignite our hearts so that we come to love Jesus and seek His kingdom. We can put ourselves in the proper posture for obedience, whether through certain practices, habits, our life in community with fellow Christians, our openness to His Word and to prayer, but we need the Spirit to fill us and to transform us. That desire should lead us to a holy desperation on the Spirit to work, and should put us on our knees in prayer and with Bibles open to hear God speak to us.
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?
For those of us in Christ, we are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. God sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness – His perfection, not our own – which means that God sees me as His beloved child. The words He spoke over Jesus at His baptism – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” – are the words that He speaks over those of us who belong to Jesus. God loves us and is pleased with us because of what Jesus has done for us. At the same time, the righteousness we are clothed in isn’t just a fiction or a falsehood. God begins to sanctify us, which means that He works in our hearts to make us holy, so that our salvation becomes to get “worked out.” He does a work in our hearts, and then that work comes out in our lives, so that we gradually begin to look more and more like Jesus in how we live and act and speak. We have days where we look more like Jesus than others, and God as a good Father sometimes disciplines us when we fail, not to punish us, but to grow us up until we look more like Jesus. That’s His goal for us, and that’s our great hope.
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?
The mission of the church is to go into the world in the power of the Spirit and make disciples by proclaiming this gospel, calling people to respond in ongoing repentance and faith, and demonstrating the truth and power of the gospel by living under the lordship of Christ for the glory of God and the good of the world.
One of the key takeaways for me is that Jesus said we are His witnesses. He didn’t just say “go witness,” He said we are already His witnesses. That means that being a witness for Jesus is an identity, not just a task. Now, certainly, if we are witnesses in how we live, we’ll be involved in the activity of verbally “witnessing” the truth of the gospel, but I think it’s important that we keep the order there. Jesus says, “You are my witnesses.” Your very existence as a follower of Jesus is a witness to the truth of the gospel. So once you know that, you need to live into your identity – you need to lean more into that and not away from it. It’s like being named the son of a king and then realizing that you are a prince. This is who you are. You can focus on what you are supposed to do as a prince, but that’s not the place to start. Identity first, then tasks and responsibilities. Get that order wrong and you’ll burn out, thinking that your identity depends on your actions, rather than the other way around.
It strikes home when you say “In the twenty-first century we keep our friends close and our phones closer”. Why are we glued to our phones, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat? We feel so often driven by our interactions there, what has happened to us? What are we seeking?
Two reasons, I think. One, we want knowledge. You can find a lot of information on your phone, so there’s that. We all have a thirst to be “in the know.” It makes us feel valuable to not miss out on whatever’s going on. So that’s the first reason. Secondly, we want to be known by others, to be seen and affirmed and approved by the people who matter to us. The phone gives us the opportunity to put ourselves out there online and to feel more ‘significant.’ So both of those desires are real – to know and be known. Those are fundamental desires for all humans, and they are good desires, but the problem is that sin has affected how we search for knowledge or how we present ourselves in order to be known. And that’s where we begin to lose ourselves online.
How does the gospel tell a better story than the myth told to us by our phones?
The gospel says that you don’t need more knowledge (in terms of just information) but you need wisdom (meaning, you need to know how to live in light of the truth). The gospel also says that you are fully known by God, not just in what you present online, but in all your life, and that you are fully loved by God also. He knows you, and He loves you. Amazing grace, isn’t it?! The affirmation and acceptance of others online will never fill the heart’s desire to be fully known and fully loved. Only God can do that, and the gospel is about how, through Jesus, He has!
What about the fact that the Gospel is such a better story, and so many of us know it as truth, yet we still hang on these lesser stories, we keep going to these broken cisterns to be quenched when we know that we have access to the Living Water of the Holy Spirit – so many of us just feel we can never change, we can never grow, but are going to die with these same habits and lesser desires. We can’t change our own desires, can we?
We can’t change our desires, but the Spirit can. This goes back to what I said earlier about needing the Spirit to work in our lives. We are ‘prone to wander,’ as the old hymn goes, but thanks be to God that He is at work in changing us and making us new. He promises to mold us, and we need only respond to His formative power through His Word and through His people. God cares more about changing our desires than we do. That’s amazing to me, when I think about it. He wants to see me become the person He’s made me to be. He’s committed to finishing in my life what He started when He saved me. If not for that, I’d be hopeless!
I think the question of the hour is not so much “Where is the true God?” or even “Where is the gracious God?” but “Where is the living God?”
The beautiful reality is that the living God is the true and gracious God. We look to the God who is alive and find that He is the source of all truth and goodness and beauty, and that He is the God who shows amazing grace. We look to Him for life, and we find in Him all that we could possibly imagine or hope for.
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?
Probably the fact that the Old Testament is full of Jesus. I don’t think I realized that truth growing up as much as I should have. I thought of the Old Testament as just the preparation for Jesus, not thinking that the Old Testament would be about Him, too. But the more I’ve studied God’s Word, the more I see that Jesus is everywhere. The Old Testament points forward to Him in so many layered and various ways, through pictures and promises and prophecies. And in the Old Testament, I see this God of grace who is working through His people, showing grace and mercy and patience to them over and over again when most of us would have given up! That gives me hope in knowing that my story is just one story in a million that are part of this awesome portrait that God is painting which, when unveiled at the end of time, is going to show Jesus in all His glory. The fact that I get to contribute to that blows me away.
For those who read this interview and get pricked of mind and heart; what can I do today, right now at this very moment (and beyond), that can result in the story of the Bible taking root in my own heart and shaping me as it has you?
Pray the Lord’s prayer, and meditate on every line – what it means to call God Father, what it means to ask God to make His own name holy and glorified in the earth, and what part we have in seeing that happen, what it means for His will to be done, what it means for earth to look a little like heaven through God’s work in us, what it means to depend every moment on Him for sustenance and life, what it means to be forgiven and to forgive, what it means to conquer the evil one. Start with the prayer Jesus gave us. Put that prayer in the context of the whole story the Bible tells. Put your life in the context of that prayer. And then watch what happens…