D.A. Carson writes,
…I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry. (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 26.)
Idolatry occurs when you make the gospel the casual assumption of the Christian faith instead of the great news of the Christian faith.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the place of sinners is not meant to be assumed, but trusted, believed, loved, cherished, treasured, and rejoiced in.
When something or someone else—whether sacred or secular, religious or irreligious, Christian or non-Christian—takes the central place of God’s Gospel in your thoughts and affections you are an idolater.
But there is good news for idolaters. To paraphrase Romans 5:6: “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Jesus died for idol-worshippers.”
Are we saved by faith in Christ or saved by repentance from sin? Answer: both.
At times, I’ve struggled with putting faith and repentance together. Tim Chester gives a great analogy that demonstrates that turning to Jesus in faith and turning away from sin in repentance is one single motion not two separate ones:
“In the past I’ve sometimes suspected that repentance was an add-on work: we’re not really saved by faith alone, it turns out, but by faith plus repentance. But this isn’t true. Turning to God in faith and turning from sin in repentance are the same movement. Try it now. Stand facing the window. Then turn to face the opposite wall. The act of turning from the window and the act of turning toward the wall is one movement. You can’t turn toward the wall without turning away from the window. And you can’t turn to God in faith without turning away from sin in repentance. When we trust God, we’re affirming that he’s bigger and better than our sinful desires. Repentance is in itself an act of faith.” (You Can Change, 113)
You can’t have one without the other. You can’t love Christ and love your sin. You can’t trust the promises of Jesus and trust the promises of sin. True faith and true repentance are a means to the same thing, or rather, the same person, namely, Jesus.
The call of Jesus is to turn from sin (repentance) and turn to him (faith).
If you do this, even in this very moment, he will accept you and never let you go.
If you have done this already do it again and again and again. Even though faith and repentance is one motion, it is not one event. It is to be cultivated daily.
Every person needs more faith and repentance. Faith and repentance is to be a continual habit throughout life. Turn from your sin to the Savior and trust him more than sin.
F. Scott Fitzgerald writes,
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (The Great Gatsby, 189)
Gatsby’s “green light” of the American dream is just that a dream, and a life spent pursuing that dream will never reach what it longs for. Houses aren’t big enough, car’s don’t last long enough, retirement accounts decline, commercial’s lie, and health wanes.
There is only one light that will satisfy the longings of your soul.
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).
Jesus is the only light that brings life. All other promises to brighten your world and provide meaning to it are empty. Jesus claims to bring life and light, because he is the life (John 14:6) and the light (John 8:12).
If this is not true, Jesus was flat out self-deluded and one arrogant human being. If this is true, nothing else will shine bright enough to bring meaning and satisfaction to your life.
For the Christian what matters yesterday, today, and tomorrow is not what you’ve done, but what Jesus has done. The Gospel is for your good and bad days, because God in Jesus came to save you from your “goodness” and your sinfulness.
Do not define today on the events that happened today or even yesterday(s). Define today on the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago.
The following quotes unleash the daily power of the Gospel:
New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd:
“The ground of our acceptance [before God] is not our works nor our faith, nor is it the work of Christ within us; it is what he has done for us objectively.” (A Theology of the New Testament, 448)
Protestant Reformer Martin Luther:
“…by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ is not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it, and fill us with it.” (Quoted in Anthony Hoekema’s Saved by Grace, 184)
Christian author Jerry Bridges:
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need for God’s grace.” (The Discipline of Grace, 18)
Michael Horton describes the simplest and most difficult truth of the Christian faith:
“Good News comes from outside of ourselves; it doesn’t well up from within. A report announces what has happened. Our natural tendency is to be the most certain of that which we know (or think we know) inside, deep down in our hearts. However, we must come to see that this is part of the captivity from which the Spirit releases us. The truth comes to us from the outside, turning us inside out. So the content and the form of delivery are inextricably linked. We do not accomplish the victory, but are the recipients of the report that it has been achieved. Salvation is not a program for us to follow; it is a gift to be received. That is the simplest and most difficult truth of the Christian faith.” (The Gospel-Driven Life, 110)
The Gospel is external truth. It is the happy news of the historical event of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is news. It is not principles to live by. It is not your experience with God. It is not a “how-to” for life. It is not something you do. It is the news of something that has happened apart from you.
The Gospel is what God has done in the person and work of Jesus that is to be received by you. It is not accomplished by you, it is receiving what has been accomplished for you. This is difficult because self-righteously we want to play a significant part in the salvation of our souls, and it is simple because it’s God’s gift to us not our gift to God.
The key to persevering as a Christian is not your perseverance with God, but God’s perseverance with you. Endurance in the Christian life is built on the person of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us—not your performance. It’s not about your ever-present faith in God, but God’s ever-present faithfulness to you. Your faith will waver, but God’s faithfulness to you never wavers.
Therefore Christian endurance comes from the Gospel—what God has done for you in Jesus—not from what you have done and will do by buckling down and living the Christian life. The Christian life is lived by God’s action for you and God’s presence with you not what you have done and will do for God.
Your faith through difficult times, your faith to endure, does not increase by working up faith but by rediscovering what God has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ and resting in his promise to never leave you or forsake you no matter what. Perseverance in the faith comes from God’s promised perseverance to always be with you and for you. Therefore your endurance as a Christian is more God sticking with you than you sticking with God.
Eugene Peterson writes,
That “[God] sticks with us” is the reason Christians can look back over a long life crisscrossed with cruelties, unannounced tragedies, unexpected setbacks, sufferings, disappointments, depressions—look back across all that and see it as a road of blessing, and make a song out of what we see. “They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young, but they never could keep me down.” God sticks to his relationship. He establishes a personal relationship with us and stays with it. The central reality for Christians is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment God makes to us. Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’ s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasms. It is out of such a reality that we acquire perseverance. (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 132-133)