This is the third in a series of posts regarding talking about our faith. Each post will be a section from a booklet called "Gospel Conversations" that was printed in September at Northview Community Church. This post is an adaptation of the booklet's second chapter. If you would like to download a free PDF of the entire booklet, you can do so here.
LIVING IN LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL
I am not the only one who has used phrases like “living the gospel” or “preaching the gospel without words.” The purpose of these phrases is to highlight the importance of our actions and good works as disciples of Jesus Christ. The point communicated is worthy of serious reflection. I have, however, stopped using these phrases because they unintentionally muddy the good news of God with how we respond to that news. God has made a way for humanity to be reconciled to him through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Reconciliation with God is the essence, and joy, of salvation.
The Apostle Paul tells us that “[the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It is clear that the gospel is essential for salvation. What is less clear is what salvation actually means.
Salvation is Multidimensional
The Bible describes salvation as a multifaceted, multidimensional experience for those who have repented of their rebellion against God and believe the gospel. For many, salvation is synonymous with a disembodied heaven that looks remarkably similar to a Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial. However, as Wayne Grudem helpfully outlines, salvation is more than playing a harp on the clouds. Salvation includes our justification, adoption, sanctification, and eventual glorification.
Grudem defines the doctrine of justification as “an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.” Often when people talk about someone who “has been saved” they are thinking about the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. When someone is unrepentant and walking in their sin and mockery of God’s holiness, they are subject to God’s anger and wrath. However, when someone receives the gift of salvation they receive Christ’s perfect obedience as their own. Therefore, when God looks at us he sees Jesus, because the believer is in Christ. We are perfect before God and have a perfect relationship with him because Christ took our sin on himself and gives us his righteousness.
Grudem, in another chapter, defines the doctrine of adoption as “an act of God whereby he makes us members of his family.” Christians are no longer by nature children of wrath who follow the devil, but are now children of God who follow the true elder brother Jesus. Being a part of God’s family means we can call him Father and have a relationship with him. We can trust him to care for us, and we grow in our love for him. Being a part of God’s family also means relating with other Christians as brothers and sisters. By one Spirit, all Christians have one Father and follow the example of one Brother. As children, we are co-heirs with Christ and will receive the inheritance of our Father. Therefore, we wait expectantly to the day when we will dwell with our Father for eternity.
Grudem continues his exploration of salvation by defining the doctrine of sanctification as “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” Sanctification is the process of growing in our Christian faith day-by-day. We do not work out sanctification as a means of earning a right standing with God. We have already been saved (justified) and so we live in response to the gift of salvation by imitating the life of Jesus and giving glory to God in all things.
In describing the final element of salvation, Grudem defines the doctrine of glorification as “[the event that] will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunites them with their souls, and changes the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the time perfect resurrection bodies like his own.” While Christians can boldly proclaim that they have already been saved by Christ, they also eagerly await the day when they will experience their salvation in all its fulness. All sorrow and pain will cease because they will dwell in perfect relationship with God for eternity.
The gospel is essential for all of life (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). The gospel isn’t primarily about either evangelism or discipleship, but is essential for both evangelism and discipleship because it is essential for salvation. Salvation is multidimensional and includes justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification.
Live in Light of the Gospel
As was explored in the last chapter, the gospel is what God has done through Christ to reconcile creation to himself at both the cosmic and individual level. We do not live the gospel, but there are some indispensable implications of how Christians live in light of the gospel.
People who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit through repentance and belief in the gospel are identifiable by how they live their life - by their fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23, the Apostle Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit:
“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control...”
One of the most important things to notice about this passage is that the Apostle Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit. The word fruit is a helpful image for two reasons. The first reason is that word fruit is singular not plural. If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were all separate fruits of the Spirit, it would be somewhat easy to fake. You could pick which fruits you want to work on and which ones you ignore for a season. However, if the list in Galatians 5:22-23 are all the fruit of the Spirit, it means that there should be an increase and growth in all of these areas in the life of the believer. The second reason it is a helpful image is that fruit grows from something. It does not exist as an isolated entity. Just as an apple grows from an apple tree, so do love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow from the life of a Holy Spirit-filled disciple of Jesus. The proper behaviour of a Christian grows from a life rooted in a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit.
People who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit through belief in the gospel are not only recognized by the fruit of the Spirit but also by the good works that they do. An indispensable implication of the gospel is to do good works. God has created us in Jesus Christ for good works (Ephesians 2:10). You do not need to be a Christian in order to do good works. There are many wonderful deeds done by people of different religious backgrounds that should be commended. The difference is not that good works are done, but the motivation for why the good works are done. Good works are not a means to impress God, but are done in response to the impressive work accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Good works are done because Christians love God (1 John 4:7-21), love other people (Luke 10:25-37), and desire to show the world God’s character and work (Matthew 5:13-16).
Telling Your Story
The gospel is news that must be articulated. There is a difference between the gospel and our own faith journey. Our testimony and relationship with God is not the gospel. Telling our story is a valuable and important part of having a gospel conversation with someone because it is relatable, personal, and experiential. However, our story is not the gospel.
Our story is bigger than just how we originally came to faith in Jesus. We need to embrace the multi-dimensionality of salvation and think about how it can aid us in structuring our own testimony. Our story should include the following three categories:
- Were saved (in light of the doctrine of justification)
- Are being saved (in light of the doctrine of sanctification)
- Will be saved (in light of the doctrine of glorification)
Consider the key events for how you were saved. When did you come to the belief that Jesus from Nazareth is God incarnate who lived perfectly, died for your sin, and rose from the dead to defeat death? Did you grow up in a Christian home and come to faith at a young age? Did you hear the gospel in high school or college and wrestle with the claims of Christ before putting your trust in him? Did you come to faith later in life and left old habits behind so you could follow Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? What were the events surrounding the moment when you were saved by grace through faith?
The story of our faith journey is not static because we are continually being saved. When you share the “are being saved” portions of your story, make it as relevant and current as possible: what is happening in your life right now? People don’t want to hear fabricated facades; they want authentic experiences. Following Christ isn’t about having it all together. This is a good time to share your current experience and to be as real as possible. How is God working in your life today? What challenges are you facing that make you more reliant on him every moment of the day? What doubts and struggles are you working through? What joys are you experiencing? How are you becoming more and more free from sin, and more and more like Jesus?
Consider the hope of your future glorification when you share how you will be saved. It is possible to be heavenly minded and still engage intentionally with the world around you. Are you anticipating with expectancy being in a perfect relationship with God? What about the hope of renewed creation and a resurrected body excites you?
Your story can be weighted differently depending on your conversation partner. Gospel conversations aren’t just between a Christian and a non-Christian. They can be between two Christians. When you share your own story, be mindful of where your conversation partner is at in their faith journey, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide your words. The have been saved and will be saved aspects of your testimony will remain largely the same every time. However, the are being saved aspect of your testimony will often differ from day to day. Sharing your faith journey story will be a little bit different every time, depending on what God is doing in your life at that time.
The gospel is life altering news that affects every part of our lives, but we do not live the gospel. People who believe the gospel live for the glory of God and the good of others, but we cannot share the gospel without words. Our story of how we know, love, and relate to God is incredibly valuable for people to hear, but sharing our story is not the same as sharing the gospel. The gospel is essential for salvation and we must live in light of it.