For the past couple of months, I have been focusing on the functional centrality of the gospel. Tim Keller rightly argues, “The gospel is not just the A-B-C-‘s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.”
The gospel way of progress in the kingdom is repentance toward God and faith in Jesus. If the gospel is simply the A-B-C-‘s, then repentance will be emphasized only at the point of conversion, and, much like the gospel, will be shelved and replaced with rededications and resolutions directed to self-determination rather than self-crucifixion, to looking inwardly for resources that are not there rather than looking to Christ whose gospel promises are everything we need for life and godliness.
What followers of Christ desperately need is transformation from the heart, not behavioral modification. Deep transformation is perpetual when repentance is regular, and repentance is regular when the gospel is central. We need to address not only the fruit of our sin but the root out of which it grows (the heart). And only see ourselves through the lens of the gospel can enable us and give us sufficient courage to transparently expose our sin for what it is in the eyes of God (wickedness) while at the same time providing boundless hope and comfort in the greater grace abundantly supplied the atoning work of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Repentance will be seen as negative and foreign to the same degree that the gospel is assumed or forgotten. And yet a life of repentance is the normal Christian life. Substituting gospel-induced repentance with any other counterfeit robs you from the joy in the faithful and fresh mercies of Christ and prevents you from experiencing renewal in the heart wherein the character of Christ is to be formed. The same Spirit who convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment is the same Spirit who sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:5) and causes us to revel in the adoption we have received as sons and daughters of God.
When the gospel is central in our lives, we will grow in our awareness of the holiness of God and at the same time our awareness of our sin and depravity. What this means is that we recognize how much we need Jesus Christ–his death (to atone for our sin and pitiful pretending to be okay) and his life (to be clothed in his righteousness instead of performing out of self-righteousness). The more we understand the character of God and his ways, and recognize more and more areas in our lives that do not conform to His purpose, will, and ways, then repentance will necessarily become greater and more regular. If the gospel is not central, we are prone to create a new standard than God’s character and law and give superficial treatment to sin by avoiding the idol factory that is our heart. As those who are called to reflect God’s glory, we simply cannot afford to do this. His kingdom is established from the inside out, and the evidence of the reign of King Jesus will be seen when we take seriously and apply regularly his first word . . .