Tomorrow I head for East Africa again. My current ministry in Tanzania is facilitating the formation of a Gospel Partnership among the pastors of Mbeya. Getting the central message of the bible right, and teaching and nurturing a gospel-centered koinonia into existance, is a wonderful privilege. There is great potential here to impact the nation for the Kingdom of God.
- believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression
- people are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending
- you embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval
- light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals – both/and not either/or
- people are happy to be holy not content to be comfortable
- you own your mess because of His mercy instead of hiding them because of your shame
- functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule
- unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus
- the pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others
- hospitality is given to those on the margins & those not like you are welcome in your world
- individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor
A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:18
Two things should be happening in every gospel-centered church every Sunday. One, the gospel should be preached. Two, the gospel should be experienced.
What I mean by the second, experiencing the gospel, is a social environment that feels like the grace of God. It is an obvious alternative to what we experience throughout the week. Every day we swim in an ocean of harsh criticisms, merciless comparisons and never measuring up, soaking us in sadness while also telling us to keep faking happiness. This is the “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom of the world (James 3:15). It doesn’t work.
Then Sunday comes, and we step into church, where the victory of Jesus redefines everything, even to the furthest reaches of the universe. In any church with a confidence that big, the vibe will be obviously different from the world. Every Sunday in that kind of church we will be rediscovering the mercy of God, our union with Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the amazing promises of the gospel. As that good news lands on us afresh and the joy of it all breaks upon our hearts — that’s what the new creation feels like right now. It is the Lord himself enveloping us in his new community, surrounding us “with shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).
If all a church does is preach gospel doctrine, without also cultivating a gospel culture, the impact will be diminished. However “biblical” the message might be, it will not seem plausible or satisfying. The doctrine will seem theoretical, and the church will seem hypocritical. But when the gospel is clear in any church at both levels simultaneously, both the gracious theological message and the humane relational culture, there is power. It is the wisdom that comes down from above (James 3:15). It works.
By Trevin Wax:
There has been a much-needed resurgence of preaching the Bible as one storyline lately. But what’s the big deal? Why is it so important for Christians to be able to connect the dots of the Bible’s grand narrative? Here are four reasons I list in my latest book, Gospel-Centered Teaching:
1. To Gain a Biblical Worldview
The first reason we need to keep the biblical story line in mind is because the narrative of the Bible is the narrative of the world. The Bible doesn’t just give us commands and prohibitions. It gives us an entire worldview.
Everyone has a worldview, even people who are not Christians. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who do not have a Christian worldview. They may display some of the religious trappings of Christianity, but they demonstrate by their choices that they are living by another worldview.
The story line of the Bible is important because it helps us think as Christians formed by the great Story that tells the truth about our world. It is vitally important that people know the overarching story line of the Bible that leads from creation, to our fall into sin, to redemption through Jesus Christ, and final restoration in the fullness of time. If we are to live as Christians in a fallen world, we must be shaped by the grand narrative of the Scriptures, the worldview we find in the Bible.
2. To Recognize and Reject False Worldviews
A few years ago, two sociologists studying the religious views of young people in North America coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Those are three big words that sum up the following five beliefs of many in our society today:
- “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” (That’s the “Deism” part. God created the world, watches things, but doesn’t do much in the way of intervening in human affairs.)
- “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” (That’s the Moralistic part. The goal of religion is to be a nice, moral person.)
- “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” (That’s the Therapeutic part. The most important thing in life is to be happy and well-balanced.)
- “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” (Now, we see the Deistic view of God combine with God’s therapeutic purpose. He exists to make us happy.)
- “Good people go to heaven when they die.” (Salvation is accomplished through morality.) Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. “Moralism,” for short. Our society is awash in this worldview. Even longtime church members are not immune to it.
So, if we are going to be effective witnesses to the gospel in our day and age, we must put forth a biblical view of the world that counters rival worldviews.
3. To Rightly Understand the Gospel
Another reason we need to know the story line of the Bible is because the gospel can quickly become distorted without it. The story of the Bible gives context to the gospel message about Jesus.
Too many times, we think of the gospel as a story that jumps from the garden of Eden (we’ve all sinned) right to the cross (but Jesus fixes everything). On its own, that works fine in communicating the systematic points of our need for salvation and God’s provision in Christ, but from a biblical and theological perspective, it doesn’t do justice to what’s actually in the text. Once a person becomes a Christian and cracks the Bible, they’re going to wonder what the big deal is about Israel and the covenant, since that storyline takes up roughly 75% of the Bible. Getting people into that story is important. As D. A. Carson says, the announcement is incoherent without it.
We need the biblical story line in order to understand the gospel of Jesus. Otherwise, sharing the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection is like coming into a movie theater at the most climactic moment but without any knowledge of the story thus far. You will be able to discern bits and pieces of the story, but you won’t understand the full significance of what is happening unless you know the backstory.
4. To Keep Our Focus on Christ
Every story has a main character. The Bible does too. It’s God. Specifically, it’s God as He reveals Himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Here’s what happens if we learn individual Bible stories and never connect them to the big Story: We put ourselves in the scene as if we are the main character. We take the moral examples of the Old and New Testament as if they were there to help us along in the life we’ve chosen for ourselves.
But the more we read the Bible, the more we see that God is the main character, not us. We are not the heroes learning to overcome all obstacles, persist in our faith, and call down fire from heaven. We’re the ones who need rescue, who need a Savior who will deliver us from Satan, sin, and death. It’s only in bowing before the real Hero of the story that we are in the right posture to take our place in the unfolding drama. Bearing in mind the big story of Scripture helps us keep our focus on Jesus, and off ourselves.
Adapted from Gospel-Centered Teaching (B&H Publishing Group, 2013)
“. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Luke 7:34
What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered? That’s a popular concept these days. Good. What if we were scrambling to be law-centered? But the difference is not so easy in real terms.
A gospel-centered church holds together two things. One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe. Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us. Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us. Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige. The good news of substitution. The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone. Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there. That message, that awareness, that clarity. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.
Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology. The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another. In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical. How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe. It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment. We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief. But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t get it yet.
A gospel-centered church looks something like this album cover — my all-time favorite. A gospel-centered church is a variegated collection of sinners. What unifies them is Jesus, the King of grace. They come together and stick together because they have nothing to fear from their church’s message or from their church’s culture. The theology creates the sociology, and the sociology incarnates the theology. And everyone is free to trust the Lord, be honest about their problems, and grow in newness of life.
The one deal-breaker in a gospel-centered church: anyone for any reason turning it into a culture of legal demandingness, negative scrutiny, finger-pointing, gossip and other community-poisoning sins. A church with a message of grace can quickly and easily stop being gospel-centered in real terms.
A major part of pastoral ministry is preaching the doctrine of grace and managing an environment of grace. The latter is harder to accomplish than the former. It is more intuitive. It requires more humility, self-awareness and trust in the Lord. But when a church’s theological message and its relational tone converge as one, that church becomes powerfully prophetic, for the glory of Jesus.
May the Friend of sinners grant beautiful gospel-centricity in all our churches.
Gospel Centred Teaching by Trevin Wax.
New Testament scholar Mike Bird offers an intriguing introduction to his new book, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Zondervan, 2013):
(HT: Justin Taylor)
I marvel when someone says, “I have no regrets.” That’s not me; I have plenty. Perhaps my biggest regret, outside of not spending more time with my kids when they were growing up and not discovering Irish whiskey sooner, is that for much of my 30 years of ordained ministry I have not preached “the gospel.” By-and-large I have been a nice man standing in front of nice people, telling them that God calls them to be nicer. And just about none of it was life-changing.
I have come to see that there are really just two ways to preach: one is the gospel, the other is get-better messages. The first is based on God’s goodness; the second on self-improvement. Gospel preaching presupposes that, even though we deserve punishment for our sins, Jesus Christ suffered the punishment in our place on the cross. Get-better sermons, on the other hand, is moralistic advice in which a preacher mounts a pulpit to scold the people for not doing more or getting better (F Allison).
For more years than I care to think I preached get-better messages. I cringe thinking about my old sermons. I regret the lost opportunities of those messages that pounded home the idea that we just need to be better, try harder, pray and give more, read the Bible every day, attend church every week, and be nicer. It was plain ole Phariseeism, works-righteousness under the guise of preaching – “an easy-listening version of salvation by self-help” (M Horton). Those who came were vaguely entertained, I think, because I am a fairly entertaining personality (so they tell me on their way out of church), but they left mostly feeling beat up and like they don’t measure up. Instead of relieving guilt, get-better sermons reinforced guilt and our inadequacies. They didn’t touch people where they need most. “Whenever you feel comforted or elated or absolved as ‘fresh as a foal in new mowed hay,’ then you know you are hearing the gospel” (P Zahl).
My conversion to gospel preaching was gradual. I don’t remember what the initial catalyst was, except that people weren’t getting better with sermons on discipline and how to improve your marriage. Those moralistic sermons doled out plenty of advice about what to do, but it totally missed what God has done for us in his Son. Christ came, not to help religious people get better, but to help sinners realize that forgiveness and salvation is outside themselves: in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul, in Romans, explains the gospel as God’s power and God’s righteousness (1:16, 17). This is exactly opposite of repairing your nature by a determined will. It is what God has done for us when we couldn’t do it ourselves. He fulfilled the law. He took upon himself our sins. He burst the bonds of death to give us new life. When this message of one-way love – God’s love without strings attached – love when we are not lovely – reaches our hearts, it causes our spirits to come alive to God and it fills us with meaning and purpose. The gospel speaks to our heart’s deepest need.
When you get to church to find out that the preacher is in the third of a 10-sermon series on “10 steps to cure depression” get up and run out of there as fast as your depressed legs can take you. It’s self-help, not the gospel. Chalk it up to a well meaning preacher who hasn’t yet realized that our real hope is in God, in the sufficiency of his work on the cross and in the salvation that is not found in get-better sermons.
The apostle Paul summed up his whole ministry as existing “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). That single-minded goal is the heartbeat of the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. Produced out of the conviction that the Bible is a unified message of God’s grace culminating in Jesus, it is a significant new tool to help readers see Christ in all the Bible, and grace for all of life. The Gospel Transformation Bible features all-new book introductions and gospel-illuminating notes written by a team of over 50 outstanding pastors and scholars. This specially prepared material outlines passage-by-passage God’s redemptive purposes of grace that echo all through Scripture and culminate in Christ. The notes not only explain but also apply the text in a grace-centered way. Focusing on heart transformation rather than mere behavior modification, their points of application emphasize the Hows and Whys of practical application to daily living–in short, how the gospel transforms us from the inside out. The Gospel Transformation Bible is available in a wide variety of print and digital formats. Moreover, every print edition comes with free access to the Online Gospel Transformation Bible, hosted at ESVBible.org. The Gospel Transformation Bible will equip both new and seasoned believers with a gospel-centered reading of Scripture, enabling God’s people to see that the message of the Bible is a unified one–”to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
From Bryan Chapell’s introduction:
Faithful application typically answers four questions:
- What to do?
- Where to do it?
- Why to do it? and
- How to do it?
Previous application-focused study Bibles have emphasized the first two of these questions.
The Gospel Transformation Bible, while not ignoring the first two questions, seeks to be a primary resource for the latter two. Contributors’ notes indicate how the unfolding gospel truths in any given passage of Scripture motivate and enable believers to honor their Savior from the heart—in short, how grace transforms them.
Our goal is to make plain the imperatives of God’s Word, while undermining the human reflex to base God’s affection on human performance. Contributors have therefore indicated how the indicatives of the gospel (i.e., the status and privileges believers have by virtue of God’s grace alone) provide motivation and power for God’s people to honor him from the heart.
(Via Justin Taylor)
This post by Erik Raymond highlights a principle that must be applied to all our affinities and allegiances:
“Recently I was able to sit on a panel for a discussion among some local church planters. One of the questions was, “What are you most concerned about with the gospel-centered movement?”
Before expressing any concern I want to be clear: I am very encouraged by the recovery of the center, the gospel, among many, particularly younger evangelicals. This is essential for us at this hour.
At the same time I have a cause for concern. My chief concern is not primarily a matter of theology but hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation).
It appears that the gospel-centered movement is very good at buying books, reading blogs and listening to sermons. We excel at catching John Piper’s passion for a God-saturated, joy-effusing, expository exultation (not to mention his penchant for hyphenated descriptors). We buy in to Tim Keller’s Center Church model. We can likewise read Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Spurgeon, Owen and the rest. We have theological comprehension.
But how did we get there? Did we simply read the right books, listen to the right sermons or go to the right conferences? Do we even know how to come to these conclusions on our own? Can we see the Solas arise out of the Bible before they pop off of Calvin’s Institutes? It’s one thing to have been able to say you have been to a nice restaurant in a particular city with some friends, but if you don’t know how to get there yourself then you’ll never be able to eat that food again, much less take someone else out to enjoy the same experiences. My fear is that too many have been piling into the RC Sproul theological minivan to go eat a feast but never learned how to actually find their way to the meal.
The danger here should be obvious. Without a hermeneutical base to undergird our theological conclusions we are susceptible to losing what we have. If we are just fan-boys then we may follow a new theological band someday. If we are just fan-boys then we can’t train a new generation to discover these truths themselves.
What is needed more than simply a theological system is a hermeneutic. If the gospel-centered movement is not built upon a consistent, biblical hermeneutic then we will lose this thing as fast as we seem to have received it. Without a hermeneutic movements become memories.”
From the TGC13 Faith at Work Post-Conference:
Keller’s book is Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
This is great stuff by Edwards. In the 11th lecture of Charity and Its Fruit, Edwards convincingly declares that men’s practice will be according to their convictions. That is, if a man truly believes something, he will act on it and if he does not act on it, it seems that he is not really and entirely convinced of that truth.
Nowhere is this more true than in man’s dealings with the gospel. Gospel-truth is efficacious truth; if you believe it sincerely, your life is changed and this results in a change in the manner in which you live your life.
If a man hears important news that concerns himself, and we do not see that he alters at all for it in his practice, we at once conclude that he does not give heed to it as true; for we know the nature of man is such, that he will govern his actions by what he believes and is convinced of. And so if men are really convinced of the truth of the things they are told in the gospel, about an eternal world, and the everlasting salvation that Christ has purchased for all that will accept it, it will influence their practice. They will regulate their behaviour according to such a belief, and will act in such a manner as will tend to their obtaining this eternal salvation. If men are convinced of the certain truth of the promises of the gospel, which promise eternal riches, and honours, and pleasures, and if they really believe that those are immensely more valuable than all the riches, and honours, and pleasures of the world, they will, for these, forsake the things of the world, and, if need be, sell all and follow Christ. If they are fully convinced of the truth of the promise, that Christ will indeed bestow all these things upon his people, and if all this appears real to them, it will have influence on their practice, and it will induce them to live accordingly. Their practice will be according to their convictions.
Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrines of grace create a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths. Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile. Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless. For example:
The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9).
The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16).
The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23).
The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2).
The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10). And what could be more basic than that?
If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture. But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.
Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope and honesty — even if they have gospel doctrine on paper, they lack that doctrine at a functional level, where it counts in the lives of actual people. Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented and in denial are revealing a gospel deficit.
The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good. But a completely new discovery of the gospel as culture — the gospel embodied in community — will be infinitely better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.
Is there any reason not to go there? Is the status quo all that great? Doesn’t the gospel itself call for a new kind of community?
“The gospel shows us that our spiritual problem lies not only in failing to obey God, but also in relying on our obedience to make us fully acceptable to God, ourselves and others.
Every kind of character flaw comes from this natural impulse to be our own savior through our performance and achievement. On the one hand, proud and disdainful personalities come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are succeeding. But on the other hand, discouraged and self-loathing personalities also come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are failing.
Belief in the gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom of God; it is the way to address every obstacle and grow in every aspect. The gospel is not just the “ABCs” but the “A-to-Z” of the Christian life.
The gospel is the way that anything is renewed and transformed by Christ — whether a heart, a relationship, a church, or a community. All our problems come from a lack of orientation to the gospel. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts, our thinking and our approach to absolutely everything.”
— Tim Keller
Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: Living in Line with the Truth of the Gospel
(New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), 2
(HT: Of First Importance)
Matt Harmon’s helpful concluding thoughts to his series on the Minor Prophets:
Two Key Concepts
- The Covenantal Context. After discussing things like author, date and historical context we quickly moved to what we called the covenantal context. We did this because the respective covenants were the governing structure of how God interacts with his people throughout the Old Testament. So in looking at each Minor Prophet, we paid careful attention to how they drew upon the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3), Mosaic (Exod 19-24), and Davidic (2 Sam 7) covenants.
- Initial & Final Fulfillment. Although we tend to think of the relationship between promise and fulfillment as a simple one-to-one correspondence, we have seen that in the Minor Prophets that is often not the case. The various promises made in the Minor Prophets often have an initial fulfillment in an event in the near future of the prophet while at the same time having a final fulfillment in the distant future. Nowhere was this clearer than in our discussion of the Day of the LORD. Each of the various “Days of the LORD” are only an initial fulfillment of the final Day of the LORD at the end of human history.
Four Key Themes
Although there were a number of themes that we could have highlighted, the following four were particularly important in light of their prominence in the New Testament:
- Temple. As we have seen the rebuilt temple was puny compared to Solomon’s original temple, as well as the temple prophesied in Ezekiel 40–48. But God reassured his people that this rebuilt temple was a sort of “down payment’ on the fulfillment of his promises (Zech 4:8-11). In perhaps the last OT book written, God warns his people of his impending visit to his temple (Malachi 3:1-4). That promise finds its fulfillment in the NT. John the Baptist is identified as the messenger sent to prepare the way of the LORD (Mark 1:2-4). He prepares the people for the incarnate Christ to visit his temple (Mark 11:15-18). Of course, we have also talked in here about the fact that the NT identifies Jesus as the true temple of God (John 2:13-22), and we as the church are God’s eschatological temple (Eph 2:11-22; 1 Pet 2:4-10).
- Torah. Although the promise of the Law being written on his people’s hearts is found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we do see a related promise in Micah 4:1-8. The Law of the LORD will go out from Zion and rule over a restored people of God. To properly understand this promise we have to combine it with the promise of the gift of the Spirit in Joel 2:28-32. It is the giving of the Spirit that enables God’s people to obey God’s Law. The promise of the gift of the Spirit is fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He enables God’s people to live in step with God’s Law.
- Turf. As we noted above, God promises to restore his people to the land in several places (Hosea 2:21–3:5). This promise is rooted in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. Building upon hints in the Minor Prophets this promise of restoration to the land is expanded into the hope of a new creation. In the NT this hope is most clearly articulated in Romans 4:13, where Paul claims that God promised that Abraham would inherit the world, and Revelation 21–22, where the new heavens and earth are described.
- Throne. In the aftermath of the devastation of exile, God kept alive the hope of a Davidic king. But when that royal dynasty never materialized after their return to the land, the hunger for a Son of David (Micah 5:2-5; Amos 9:11-15). Of course, in the NT it is obvious that Jesus is the promised Son of David who will rule over God’s people (Mark 10:46-52; Rom 1:2-4).
|Summary List of the Theological Big Idea for Each Minor Prophet|
|Hosea||God’s people must turn from their idolatrous pursuit of lovers who will not satisfy and return to the Lord, their true husband and redeemer.|
|Joel||In the coming day of God’s universal judgment, those who call on the name of Jesus Christ will be filled with His Spirit to enjoy the new creation with Him forever.|
|Amos||When the Day of the Lord comes, God will judge the sins of His people and reconstitute His people under a Davidic king to inhabit a new creation.|
|Obadiah||God will soon defeat the enemies of His people and establish His rule over His people forever.|
|Jonah||God’s extravagant compassion towards us should prompt us to be conduits of compassion to others.|
|Micah||Because our sin has been judged at the cross and we live in the last days, we must walk humbly with our truly unique God in heartfelt obedience.|
|Nahum||God will judge the wicked and restore His people to freedom through His ultimate Warrior-King, Jesus Christ.|
|Habakkuk||Even when we cannot trace God’s hand of justice or providence, we can patiently trust and rejoice in His character.|
|Zephaniah||Yahweh is a mighty warrior who brings judgment but saves the remnant who flee to him as their King.|
|Haggai||Yahweh will renew His presence among His people and re-establish His reign over His people by sending Jesus Christ as His Messianic King.|
|Zechariah||God’s people already participate in the restored Jerusalem through repentance and faith in Jesus as they await the consummation of God’s kingdom.|
|Malachi||God calls his people to repent of our apathy towards his proper worship and fear his name in anticipation of the great and fearful Day of the LORD.|
Only by looking to Jesus can our disfigured image be restored and our contemptuous disregard forgiven. When we look away from ourselves into the face of Christ, we behold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). This gospel knowledge corrects our vision so that we not only behold but also become the image of the glory of God in Christ. True nobility and beauty converge in the image of Jesus.
It is a fundamental truth that we become what we behold. Children become like their parents; interns become like their mentors. If we behold the beauty of Christ, we become beautiful like Christ. While it is true that our first glance into the face of Christ restores our image (Rom. 5:1-2; 8:29-30), it is also true that we drift back into fashioning our own distorted image. We slip into our own distorted forms of masculinity and femininity. The gospel calls us back to look at Jesus over and over again. A disciple of Jesus is a person who so looks at Jesus that he or she actually begins to reflect his beauty in everyday life. The gospel gives us the eyes to Jesus as well as the power to look like him. It changes us into the image of his glory: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). This transformative vision comes from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17-18) … gospel-centered disciples rely on the Spirit, who focuses our hearts’ attention on Jesus, where beholding him results in becoming like him. This goal is worth fighting for.
Gospel Centered Discipleship
(HT: Jude St.John)
There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matt.27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.
In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on.
Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is, ‘Salvation is of the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).
Tim Keller, in his new book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, writes about the triperspectival New Covenant nature of Christians united with Christ.
Jesus has all the powers and functions of ministry in himself. He ha a prophetic ministry, speaking the truth and applying it to men and women on behalf of God. Jesus was the ultimate prophet, for he revealed most clearly (both in his words and his life) God’s character, saving purposes, and will for our lives. Jesus also had a priestly ministry. While a prophet is an advocate for God before people, a priest is an advocate for the people before God’s presence, ministering with mercy and sympathy. Jesus was the ultimate priest, for he stood in or place and sacrificially bore our burdens and sin, and he now brings us into God’s presence. Finally, Jesus has a kingly ministry. He is the ultimate king, ordering the life of his people through his revealed law.
Every believer, through the Holy Spirit, is to minister to others in these three ways as well.
1. The Bible refers to every believer as a prophet.
In Numbers 11:29, Moses states, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” and in Joel 2:28-29, this blessing is predicted for the messianic age. In Acts 2:16-21, Peter declares that in the church this prophecy is now fulfilled. Every believer is led by the Holy Spirit to discern the truth (1 John 2:20, 27). Each believer is directed to admonish with the word of Christ (Col. 3:16), as well as to instruct (Rom. 15:14) and encourage other believers (Heb. 3:13).
Christians are also called to witness to the truth before their nonbelieving friends and neighbors. In Acts 8:4, all of the Christians who “had been scattered” out of Jerusalem “preached the word wherever they went” . In 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul states that “the Lord’s message rang out” from the new converts all over Macedonia and Achaia. Paul exhorted the Corinthian Christians to imitate him in conducting all aspects of life in such a way that people come to salvation (1 Cor. 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1). In Colossians 4:5-6, Paul tells all Christians to answer every nonbeliever with wisdom and grace, and in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter charges all believers to give cogent reasons for their faith to non-Christians.
Behind all these exhortations is the assumption that the word is dwelling richly in every Christian (Col. 3:16). It means that every believer must read, ponder, and love the Word of God, be able to interpret it properly, and be skillful in applying it to their own questions and needs and to those of the people around them.
2. The Bible calls every believer a priest.
Just as every believer is a prophet, understanding the word of God now that Jesus has come, so every believer is a priest, having access in the name of Christ, the great High Priest, to the presence of God (Heb. 4:14-16). Believers, then, have the priestly work of daily offering themselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2) and of offering the sacrifices of deeds of mercy and adoring worship to God (Hen. 13:15-16). The priesthood of all believers means not only that all are now active participants in joyful public worship (1 Cor. 14:26) but also that they have the priestly calling to “do good and to share with others” (Heb. 13:16). As prophets, Christians call neighbors to repent, but as priests they do so with sympathy and loving service to address their needs. This is why Jesus calls us to live such lives of goodness and service that outsiders will glorify God (Matt. 5;16).
3. The Bible calls every believer a king.
All believers rule and reign with Christ (Eph. 2:6) as kings and priests (Rev. 1:5-6). Although elders and leaders have the responsibility of church governance and discipline, the “kingship of all believers” means that believers have the right and responsibility to discipline one another. Christians are supposed to confess their sins not only to a minister but to one another, and they are called to pray for one another (Jas. 5:16). They are not to rely only on the discipline of elders but are to exhort each other so they don’t become hardened by their sin (Heb. 3:13). It is the responsibility of not only elders and ministers to discern sound doctrine; all believers must rely on the anointing the Spirit gives them to discern truth (1 John 2:20, 27).
The kingly general office is one of the reasons that many denominations have historically given the congregation the right to select its own leaders and officers, with the approval of the existing leaders (Acts 6:1-6). In other words, the power of governing the church rests in the people. Though pastors and teachers are uniquely called to build up the body into spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-13), every Christian is called to help build up the body into maturity by “speaking the truth in love” to one another (Eph. 4:15). The kingship of ever believer also means that every believer has the authority to fight and defeat the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. Eph. 6:11-18; Jas 4:7; 1 John 2:27; 4:4; 5:4).
Summarizing Prophet, Priest, and King
All of these facets of ministry are brought together in 1 Peter 2:9. Here we are told that followers of Christ have been made kings and priests–”a royal priesthood”–that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness,” which is the work of a prophet. The Spirit equips every believer to be a prophet who brings the truth, a priest who sympathetically serves, and a king who calls others into accountable love–even if he or she lacks specialized gifts for office or full-time ministry. This Spirit-equipped calling and gifting of every believer to be a prophet, priest, and king has been called the “general office.” This understanding of the general office helps prevent the church from becoming a top-down, conservative, innovation-allergic bureaucracy. It helps us understand the church as an energetic grassroots movement that produces life-changing and world-changing ministry–all without dependence on the control and planning of a hierarchy of leaders.
- Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 344-46.