We like to speak of Coram Deo as a gospel-centered missional church. We like to speak of Acts 29 as a gospel-centered church planting movement. But what do we mean when we say “gospel-centered?”
- We must know the gospel (gospel message). Most Christians overestimate their own understanding of the gospel message. The gospel is something “into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12). And angels are smarter than you. Which means: if you think you “get” the gospel, you probably don’t. We must devote ourselves to an ever-deepening knowledge and appreciation of the gospel of Jesus.
- We must experience the gospel (gospel motivation). The gospel is not just a message to be believed, but a power to be experienced. Until the gospel transforms our motivations, we will obey God primarily out of things like fear, pride, duty, or guilt. Those motivations simply aren’t strong enough to sustain lifelong, radical obedience. Only when we begin to live out of our new identity in Christ will we find ourselves loving God deeply and obeying him freely.
- We must live the gospel (gospel means). Popular Christianity has adopted a very truncated view of what it means to “share the gospel” (think evangelistic tracts, outreach events, and Christian radio). But the numbers don’t lie: these methods aren’t working. Why? Because they’re only part of the equation. The gospel demands that we ask: how do we declare and demonstrate the reality of the gospel in everything we do? How can the gospel inform and transform our daily rhythms so that the very stuff of “normal life” becomes a tangible expression of the gospel? What if our neighbors not only heard the gospel from our mouths, but saw it reflected in how we eat and celebrate and listen and rest and express generosity and participate in community?
These are the things we’ll consider together over the next few months. We refer to it as shaping “gospel DNA.” Our goal is to work the dynamics of the gospel so deeply into our souls and into our church culture that it gets expressed and replicated in everything we do.
For those of you who have been around Coram Deo for awhile: how would you describe the difference between merely knowing/believing the gospel and really being shaped by the gospel (having gospel DNA)?
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I used to think I knew the gospel after I memorized the Romans road– a sequence of verses that tell people they are sinners seperated from God without hope for eternal life apart from faith in Christ’s sacrifice alone. None of that is bad, but I found it unsatisfying as mere formula. Over the last few years I’ve come to see the traditional evangelical articulation of the gospel as a small part of the gospel; the broader narrative shows God doing a work of redemption at every level–not just in individuals, but in communities, in nature, etc. The more I learn about the content and experience of the gospel, the more I realize it is more personal and more universal than I will ever fully comprehend.
My favorite metaphor for thinking about the gospel is not a cross diagram now, it is a fractal. I’ll leave it to the nerds to work that out!
Fractal… is your nerdery a purposeful effort to alienate people, Micah, or is it genuinely who you are?
Either way, I like it 🙂
If I have to learn calculus to understand the gospel, I’m out… but Micah, if that’s your way of contextualizing the gospel to live out the mission among math nerds, then more power to ya.
I am consistently challenged in the way I experience the gospel. I think it is relatively easy to learn or articulate a message or do some stuff. I can fool others, and even myself, for a while that I am living out the gospel if I am on par with the rest of the community in what I know and what I do. But as you say, it can’t last. I wear down and the cracks start to show- my knowledge becomes lifeless, brittle and irrelevant. I serve with a self-righteous and put-upon attitude. I begin to resent and hide from others in my community who joyfully find life in the same things that I find tiresome and difficult.
Eventually, God in His mercy confronts me with the hardness of my heart and breaks me over it. As I mourn the way I have wounded others and offended God, I feel the weight of my sin. As I confess it to God and ask forgiveness, I feel the mercy of the cross. As I repent of prioritizing my own desires and seek to obey Christ, I do so with gratitude for new motivation and trust in his power working in me and through me. The same things that were so draining- loving others in community, pursuing God in His word and in prayer- are full of life and purpose again.
The frustrating part of this is how cyclical it is for me… I’ll slip back into the same habits and attitudes without even noticing. That is why I am so thankful for a community that does not settle for a standard of behavior- a new law- but rather is committed to transformation and willing to live together, inquire after each other, love and exhort each other. God uses these people time and again to bring me back to Him. Each of these aspects of the gospel leverage and inform the other, and so deficiencies or disobedience in one can be discerned through the others and repented of. And my experience, and the best part of it, is that over time there is genuine change. My conviction of the truth of the gospel is stronger and more unshakeable. My identity as a beloved child of God is more secure and more sweet. I enjoy loving and serving others more.
I’m broken by sin but loved by God in Christ. I’m not what I was. I’m not what I will be either. That is good news.
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” -2 tim 2:22
For me, the way I used to understand the gospel was simply at an intellectual level. It was good news in the same way that the Cowboys winning or I found $5 was good news. Every time I thought about it, it made me happy, but it didn’t really effect me as time went on. It wouldn’t really even effect me for the rest of the day. It would make me think, “Yeah, that would be great if life were really like that.” I would dismiss it as something that was distant and too good to be true, so there was nothing I could really do to personally experience it.
As far as being shaped, I experience change in cycles, like Lane. It is absolutely frustrating, but I guess the positive side is that I know that God is not done working on me yet. Without community, I’m convinced it would be next to impossible to keep moving forward. The thing that stood out most to me from Sunday’s sermon was that Satan will lie to us to tell us that we’re the same as we’ve always been. I have bought into this lie, and I realize that we need the gospel every single day.
>>For those of you who have been around Coram Deo for awhile: how would you describe the difference between merely knowing/believing the gospel and really being shaped by the gospel (having gospel DNA)?<< Why is it necessary to have been at CD for awhile? Just curious.
I’ll be honest and admit I had no idea what a fractal was prior to Micah’s comment. And in another burst of honesty, the information may not be that useful in my life. I am all about gospel and gospel talk, but could we not as well and more personally refer to Jesus? I keep substituting “Jesus” when you write gospel. It does not “sound good” but to me it is more personal and real.
The biggest difference (between Christ-as-information and Christ-as-transformation) is this idea rampant in Christendom of the one moment that gets you out of hell for eternity. The gospel is Jesus drawing me back to his life, his cross, his call every day. It is never over. If it is compartmentalized or deadlined, we can be sure it is fundamentally misunderstood.
What!? infinitely-recursive self-similarity not useful information!?
I think it ties right in to what you value about the gospel, Jon. The reason I think of the gospel as a fractal is that I tend to start with the broader narrative. It helped a lot when I heard the gospel explained as “creation, fall, redemption.” That’s the overall shape of the gospel. Pretty simple. Just like a fractal can look pretty simple from a distance.
I quickly made the connection to the personal gospel that I heard over and over as a kid; the same shape and elements are there, but on another scale. I’ve come to think of the shape and elements of the gospel as existing on an effectively infinite number of scales with each permutation and iteration related to every other.
Like Justin? said (roughly), “simple enough for a toddler to wade into, deep enough to drowned us all.” also personal enough to apply to each of us, and universal enough to apply to all of us.
Right, Micah, and actually a lot of Christians don’t have any clue there is another scale to the gospel. The fractal is a good illustration, I was just giving you crap. It wouldn’t be a real effective metaphor for any of the sinners I hang out with.
hey, give me sarcastic crap, and I will make lemonade. how’s that for metaphor? jk
That’s a metaphor I can hang my hat on. Can you make Mike’s Hard Lemonade out of sarcasm?