Assuming the Gospel
“We’ve been focusing this whole year so far on a theme that we grant is a little negative, “Christless Christianity,” because we want to sort out the problem that we are addressing and we’ve seen that it is a problem across all of our traditions, all of our denominations, all the way from conservative to liberal, this fog of what we are calling “Christless Christianity” being distracted from Christ and him crucified by all sorts of things, a lot of them even good. And in this program we want to talk about how we assume the Gospel. How otherwise faithful, orthodox, Bible-preaching churches can leave Christ I out of the picture just simply by assuming that everybody knows he is already in it.
To arrive at a condition of Christless Christianity where Christ becomes more of a trademark for t-shirts and entertainment empires more than the object of faith. No explicit heresy is needed, because our default setting is Pelagianism, the heresy of self-salvation. Unless we are constantly taught out of it, not just once, but throughout our Christian pilgrimage we will always fall back on the most comfortable, familiar, and common-sense religion of our fallen heart. We don’t have to deny the Gospel, all we have to do in order to send our churches back to another Dark Ages is to assume the Gospel. Taking it for granted that people need the Gospel in order to “get saved” many seem to think that we can then move on in the Christian life and look to other resources for our spiritual development than the Gospel. It is crucial to realize that the Gospel arises first of all out of a story, from Genesis to Revelation there is one unfolding drama of redemption with Christ at its center. Jesus himself taught the disciples to read the Bible this way and after Pentecost they preached Christ this way.
Out of the story arise doctrines, from God’s actions that are revealed in the story certain attributes or characteristics of God are also revealed. Throbbing verbs generate stable nouns. We discern that God is a Trinity, that human beings are born in sin, and are hopelessly lost and condemned, but that Christ is the God-man who has come to save us from sin’s penalty and power, all the wonderful truths of Christ’s active obedience, atoning death, resurrection, ascension and return, the application of redemption by the Spirit through the Gospel in the new birth, justification, sanctification, glorification, the nature of the church and its ministry, and our future hope, all of these doctrines arise from the drama that unfolds gradually in the history of revelation. Just as the dramatic story produces doctrines, doctrines provoke doxology or praise.
We see this pattern in the New Testament epistles especially in Romans. It is interesting that whenever Paul completes a doctrinal “hike” through God’s gracious election, redemption, calling, justification, and sanctification in Christ the vista from such dizzying peaks leads him to break out in praise. “What shall we say then in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out; for of him and to him and through him are all things, to him be the glory forever, Amen.” Only then does Paul say in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, in view of God’s mercies to present your bodies a living sacrifice.” You see folks, the story generates doctrines, which generate genuine emotion leading to grateful obedience. When we begin to take any of these stages for granted, and its usually the earlier ones that get lost first, we assume the Gospel and loose not only our sense of wonder at God’s amazing grace, but the only hope of genuine experience and transformation. We end up with what Paul called a “form of godliness while denying its power.” Power not only at the beginning of the Christian life, but in the middle, and the end, not only for conversion, but for growth and discipleship is always the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” -Michael Horton
“This commentary of “Assuming the Gospel” is a
broadcast of the White Horse Inn radio program that originally aired on June 8th, 2008. The White Horse Inn exists to equip Christians to “know what you believe and why you believe it.” For more information about the White Horse Inn, please visit www.whitehorseinn.org or call (800) 890-7556.”