Christ-centered Christianity, from beginning to end (Part 3 — Jerry Bridges)

THE GOSPEL IS FOR BELIEVERS

Jerry Bridges has a great book on Christ-centered, gospel-centered Christianity entitled The Discipline of Grace. I haven’t completed my list of “top ten Christian books” but this one will probably be on it.

Bridges wrote an article for Modern Reformation magazine called Gospel-Driven Sanctification. Here are a few quotes from the article:

The Bible is far more than a rulebook to follow. It is primarily the message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, with everything in Scripture before the cross pointing to God’s redemptive work and everything after the cross—including our sanctification—flowing from that work.

My story is not unusual. Evangelicals commonly think today that the gospel is only for unbelievers. Once we’re inside the kingdom’s door, we need the gospel only in order to share it with those who are still outside. Now, as believers, we need to hear the message of discipleship. We need to learn how to live the Christian life and be challenged to go do it. That’s what I believed and practiced in my life and ministry for some time. It is what most Christians seem to believe.

As I see it, the Christian community is largely a performance-based culture today. And the more deeply committed we are to following Jesus, the more deeply ingrained the performance mindset is. We think we earn God’s blessing or forfeit it by how well we live the Christian life.

Paul lived every day by faith in the shed blood and righteousness of Christ. Every day he looked to Christ alone for his acceptance with the Father. He believed, like Peter (see 1 Pet. 2:4-5), that even our best deeds–our spiritual sacrifices–are acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ. Perhaps no one apart from Jesus himself has ever been as committed a disciple both in life and ministry as the Apostle Paul. Yet he did not look to his own performance but to Christ’s “performance” as the sole basis of his acceptance with God.

So I learned that Christians need to hear the gospel all of their lives because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God but upon what Christ did for us in his sinless life and sin-bearing death. I began to see that we stand before God today as righteous as we ever will be, even in heaven, because he has clothed us with the righteousness of his Son. Therefore, I don’t have to perform to be accepted by God. Now I am free to obey him and serve him because I am already accepted in Christ (see Rom. 8:1). My driving motivation now is not guilt but gratitude.

Yet even when we understand that our acceptance with God is based on Christ’s work, we still naturally tend to drift back into a performance mindset. Consequently, we must continually return to the gospel. To use an expression of the late Jack Miller, we must “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”

We must always keep focused on the gospel because it is in the nature of sanctification that as we grow, we see more and more of our sinfulness. Instead of driving us to discouragement, though, this should drive us to the gospel. It is the gospel believed every day that is the only enduring motivation to pursue progressive sanctification even in those times when we don’t seem to see progress. That is why I use the expression “gospel-driven sanctification” and that is why we need to “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”

Bridges has much to say about about being dead to sin, definitive (or positional) sanctification vs. progressive sanctification, and motivation for living a holy life when its all about Jesus and not about us.

Read it for yourself: Gospel-Driven Sanctification

Grace and Peace

HT: Extreme Theology

Christ-centered Christianity, from beginning to end (Part 2 — Me-centered or Christ-centered)

Warning: I’m not a big fan of The Purpose Driven Life. I’d rather have a forgiveness-driven life, or a cross-centered life. Warren’s book starts out well: “It’s not about you,” but then is mostly about you.


Chris Rosebrough at Extreme Theology has been contrasting Christ-centered theology with me-centered theology. Rosebrough puts much of the church planting movement, including The Purpose Driven Life, in the category of me-centered theology. He has two great diagrams that illustrate the difference.Diagram #1 shows me-centered theology. The most important thing is “changing lives,” and the Bible becomes a handbook for better living (he doesn’t mention Joel Osteen in this post, but it certainly fits the Your Best Life Now theology as well).extreme1.jpgIf this is the model for Christianity, then sermons are about how to have a better ____________, or be a better _____________. Bible study curricula—for youth or adults—ends up being all about character development or fixing this or that problem in our lives. Worship ends up being all about what we promise to do for Jesus or how much we love him. Jesus himself becomes the #1 example for how we should live our lives. Yes, he may have died on the cross for our sins, but after that, the Christian life is all about us getting our act together.

A more Biblical, Christ-centered model for living the Christian life looks like this:

extreme2.jpg

Christ is at the center, not I. Christ is not only the center of our justification—us being in a right standing with God because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place—but he is also at the center of our sanctification, which in this sense is the process of growth that occurs. We are as fully dependent on God for our growth as Christians as we are for that initial salvation from sins.

Christ is not only the author of our faith, he is the perfecter of our faith; the one who brings our faith to completion:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

In this theological system, the center is “Christ crucified for our sins.” The gospel is central, not just for our justification, but for our entire lives. The Bible is now much more than just a how-to manual, but a book with a much broader scope. The Bible is now no longer primarily about how to get our acts together, but the story of God and man’s relationship to God. Preaching becomes a proclamation of Jesus Christ as the one who saves us from beginning to end, rather than “Five steps to a happy marriage.” Worship becomes a proclamation about God and what he has done for us in Christ, rather than songs about how deep inside, we really, really, really love Jesus.

Here is my passion: The gospel, and the “Christian life” as a whole, is all about Christ and what he has done for us, not about what we do for God.

This does not mean that we aren’t to do good works, but more about that some other time.

Grace and Peace

Bad fish, bad Wikipedia

I use Wikipedia quite a bit, mainly for getting public domain images for classroom PowerPoint lectures. I occasionally run across vandalism, such as this:

bad_fish.jpg

That is the entire article on “Fish.” I guess that is what you get when you have a “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

Ninety percent of the time, Wikipedia is pretty good, but I look forward to whatever eventually replaces “Wikipedia” as a better, massive online source of information.

Grace and Peace

Christ-centered Christianity, from beginning to end (Part 1)

The Gospel isn’t just for beginners.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:3 NIV)

We enter into this Christian life by God’s grace through faith. But even with this as a foundation, Christians can then fall back on a works-righteousness that tells them that now that they have started by faith, they must now continue on by their own efforts. The gospel becomes something for beginners—for “sinners”—and then we enter a new phase that we call “discipleship.” This, I am convinced from Scriptures, is a false distinction. We start by faith, and then we live the entire “Christian life” by the same kind of faith. It’s not all about Jesus at the beginning, and then all about me from that point on. It is all about Jesus, from the beginning (justification) all the way through the rest of our lives (sanctification).

Keep it centered on Christ!

Grace and Peace

Mt Etna 2002

This image is Wikipedia’s “Today’s Featured Picture” and is a view of Italy’s Mount Etna from space:

etna.jpg

Here’s the description from Wikipedia:

An October 2002 eruption of Mount Etna, a volcano on the Italian island of Sicily, as seen from the International Space Station. Etna is the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes and one of the most active in the world. This eruption, one of Etna’s most vigorous in years, was triggered by a series of earthquakes. Ashfall was reported as far away as Libya, 600 km (373 mi) to the south.

Grace and Peace