The Nowism of the Gospel
Pastor, do your people have a gap in the middle of their Gospel; understanding more about salvation past and future than they do about the benefits of the work of Christ in the here and now? Permit me to explain.
Jason sat in front of me with the head-down, humped-shouldered posture of a confused and disappointed man. It wasn't that Jason's life had been a sad narrative of personal suffering. Sure, he’d faced some hard things, but they were the typical things that you face when you're living in a world that’s been broken by sin. It wasn't that Jason was alienated and friendless. He was surrounded by a group of less than perfect, but pretty faithful companions. It wasn't that Jason was impoverished or homeless. No, he had a decent job and an adequate condo.
Jason's problem was that he was lost in the middle of his own faith. It had become harder and harder for him to connect the beauty of what he believed to the gritty and often difficult realities of his daily life. Jason's problem was that he carried a gospel around with him that had a great big hole in the middle of it.
Jason could explain to you what it meant to say that he had been "saved by grace," and he knew that he was going to spend eternity with his Savior. His problem was in the here and now. Day after day, in situation after situation and relationship after relationship, Jason didn't carry with him a vibrant and practical sense of the nowism of the grace of Jesus Christ. Yes, Jason believed in life after death, but he desperately needed to understand life before death; the kind of radical life you’ll live when you understand what Christ has given you for the life he has called you to right here, right now.
Let me suggest four critical aspects of the nowism of the gospel (there are more) that Jason seemed functionally blind to.
1. Grace will decimate what you think of you, while it gives you a security of identity you've never had.
Grace will expose your sin, but it won’t leave you without identity. Grace had liberated Jason, but he didn't know it or live like it. He’d not only been forgiven and empowered, but he‘d been given a brand new identity. Jason had been freed from looking inward for his identity. No longer did he have to measure his potential by his track record or the size of the problems he was facing.
His potential was as great as the grace of Christ. He’d been freed from looking outward for his identity. No longer did he have to search for identity in his relationships, possessions or achievements. Jason had been freed from looking horizontally for what he had already been given vertically.
His sense of self was no longer rooted in what he could earn or achieve, but in what he’d already been given in Christ. The problem was that he didn't know it, so he was on a constant quest for meaning and purpose, looking for identity in places that could never deliver.
2. Grace will expose your deepest sins of heart, while it covers every failure with the blood of Jesus.
No longer did Jason have to work to excuse, deny, rationalize, or minimize his sin. No longer did he have to exercise his inner lawyer when someone pointed out a wrong. Because of the cross of Jesus, Jason could admit his weakness and failure before a holy God and be utterly unafraid. And if a holy God had accepted him as he was, why would Jason fear the opinion of others?
Jesus took Jason's rejection so that he would never see the back of God's head. Grace had freed Jason from having to prove to God, himself and others, that he was righteous. Jason's hope and security was no longer in his own righteousness, but the righteousness he’d been given in Christ. The problem was that he didn't know it, so Jason careened back and forth from fear to pride, swindling himself with self-atoning excuses and defending himself to others.
3. Grace will make you face how weak you are, while it blesses you with power beyond your ability to calculate.
Grace does require you to admit how weak you are, but it doesn't leave you there. The cross not only dealt with the guilt of sin, but with the inability of sin as well. In this broken world of regular difficulty and constant temptation, Jason did feel weak and unprepared, so he lived more out of fear and avoidance than with hope and courage.
Jason had not only been granted forgiveness, he’d been filled with power; power beyond his ability to calculate. (Ephesians 3:20, 21) The problem was that Jason didn't know it, so Jason gave into things he had the power to defeat and he avoided things he had the power to conquer.
4. Grace will take control out of your hands, while it blesses you with the care of One whose plan is unshakable and perfect in every way.
Jason had some kind of distant belief in the sovereignty of God, but it was almost completely separate from his everyday experience. He lived as though he had no idea that Jesus was ruling over all things for his sake (Ephesians 1:20-23). So Jason was constantly dealing with the frustration of trying to control people and things which he’d little power to control.
He spent way too much time calculating the "what ifs" and regretting the "if onlys." He seemed as if he didn’t know that his security and rest were not to be found in his ability to predict the future and control the present, but in the faithful love and expansive wisdom of his sovereign Savior, Jesus, so his living was always more anxious than restful.
You see, Jason didn't need more grace. No, he needed to understand and live in light of the grace he‘d already been given. Jason was a grace amnesiac and so he lived as if he was poor, when grace had made him exotically rich. He lived as if he was weak, when grace had made him strong. He lived as though life had no plan, when, in fact, he’d been included in the unalterable plans of the God of redeeming grace.
Jason had a big hole right in the middle of his gospel, and because of that, he didn't live out of the freedom, beauty and security of what he’d been given right here, right now. What about you? What about the people you serve?
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is "Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life." Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living that are read and distributed internationally. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information, visit PaulTrippMinistries.org.