By: Jason Marfield
When the gospel is central it changes everything about our lives. It changes our hearts. It changes our ministry. It changes the way we live in the world and it changes the way we treat one another within the church body. The way we live, how we treat others and do ministry either properly reflects the gospel we proclaim or distorts it. In this post I will cover four areas of gospel- centeredness that we all should strive for in our churches today.
The gospel must shape our hearts by taking “first importance” before it begins to shape our lives and ministry. The initial seed of a gospel centered heart is birthed when the Christian is given a new heart through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It is a heart of flesh receptive to God’s truth with the ability to hear God’s word and understand God’s word and receive God’s gospel in faith. It is a heart indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit. A gospel centered heart is a heart that is genuinely broken over the weight of its sin—this brokenness over sin is quickly met with the gospel in such a way that the gospel is genuinely believed and deeply treasured in the heart. It is a heart that doesn’t grow distant from the cross but tightens its grip and deepens its appreciation of it each day. It is such a deep appreciation for Christ’s love and forgiveness offered at the cross, that it’s not just good news, it’s the greatest news—regarded in the heart as of “first importance”. The gospel-centered church is full of members and pastors whose hearts fight to stay near and dear to the gospel’s flame until it burns hot with passion and shapes the way life is lived and the way ministry is done.
The Pastor with a heart centered on the good news will evidence that inward reality not only in the way he lives but in the way he preaches. Central to the life and ministry of the church is the preaching of God’s word, and central to every sermon is the gospel. After Jesus resurrected, He appeared to His disciples and told them that all of Scripture points to Him and is fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-49). Therefore the Scriptures have their fullest meaning in Christ. No matter where the Pastor finds himself in the Scriptures, whether in the Old or New Testament, he preaches faithfully, letting the text speak for itself within its immediate context. He also considers the text in light of the overall context of scripture and God’s redemptive history, giving the text its fullest meaning by consistently pointing it to Christ and the gospel. As the gospel is preached each week and applied to our lives, believers are edified and non-believers in attendance are exposed to the only news that can save them when received in faith. Scripture tells us that faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ (Ro. 10:17). The hope should be that the believer’s faith is strengthened through the hearing of the Word of Christ and the non-believer present is enabled to hear the Word through the aid of the Holy Spirit. As the gospel edifies believers and reaches the lost in attendance on Sundays, the members of the gospel-centered church also reach the lost with the gospel outside of church doors throughout the week.
The gospel changes the way we live because our lives become a mission field as we seek opportunities to share and display the gospel to our lost family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors. The gospel we proclaim is that God is perfectly holy and just. He cannot look at sin with favor and He must punish it. The issue lies in the fact that all mankind is sinful and in need of a savior. In His mercy, God sent His Son to take on human flesh, living the perfect life of obedience to God that you and I could never live, making Him worthy to stand as a substitute in our place. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins: death. He satisfied the eternal punishment of God’s wrath reserved for sinners in hell in the three hours He hung. He was buried and three days later rose from the grave for our justification (our right standing with God)—thus securing for us forgiveness, eternal life and victory over sin, death, and Satan. Only those who repent and believe in Christ will be saved from the wrath to come. Our lost family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors need to hear the gospel proclaimed from our mouths so that they may turn from their sins and turn to Christ in faith for their salvation. As we take the gospel to the lost, we display the gospel by treating them and responding to them the way Christ has treated us in the gospel. We take the gospel to those who are perishing because Christ has given us new life through faith in the gospel delivered to us by His people. We are patient with our difficult coworkers because God is patient with us in Christ. We forgive our family members who’ve wronged us and endure suffering caused by those who persecute us because Christ forgave us and suffered on the cross for our sins. We are a light to those who live in darkness by living holy lives and doing good deeds among them. The more gospel-centered we are, the more our actions will properly reflect the gospel we proclaim. The further we move from the gospel in our hearts, the more our actions will distort it. We reflect Christ not only in the way we live among outsiders but also in the way we live among those inside the church community.
Jesus told his disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35-35). In this text we see that we are to love one another the way Christ loved us, but in what way did Christ love us? We have the clearest example of His love in the gospel. The apostle John writes: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11). When we reflect upon the mercy extended to us from the cross the more we are able to love one another the way Christ intended for us to love. As the gospel is preached each Sunday and applied to our lives, again and again we are struck by the love and forgiveness freely given to us at the cross that it becomes inconceivable to withhold love and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the clearest ways we show the love of God to the world is through loving one another in community. When we do this it is obvious to the world that we belong to Christ. Only gospel-centered relationships empowered by God’s Holy Spirit can produce the loving community God delights in.