A couple weeks ago, I argued that a gospel-driven church will have gospel-centered expectations when it comes to the Word. It is not enough that the preacher’s sermon is Christ-centered. The congregation should be trained to be, too. That entails not only expectations but also application, which is what I want to address in this post.
Before I explain the difference between morality-based application and gospel-centered application, let me briefly mention substitutes for application in general. If we are not careful, we can allow substitutes that fall short of actual application of the Word. One of them is meeting a knowledge quotient. You can come for the purpose of intellectual satisfaction (new insights, profound interpretation, etc) and still not have the Word applied to your life. In this case, we are creating smarter sinners and not transformed saints. Another substitute is emotional experiences. You can have your heart-strings pulled and not have your heart transformed by truth. Mountain top experiences only mean you have to come back down to level ground at some time. Another substitute is sentimentalism. This is close to emotional experiences, but it is different in that the message “works” only if it fits in your sensibilities or self-imposed template.
Having mentioned substitutes, perhaps the greatest enemy of gospel-centered application of the Word is moralism. It is answering the “What?” question while completely ignoring the “Why?” question. It is going to the “How?” question with too many assumptions about the “Who?” question. Moralism leads to man-centered “rededication” as opposed to gospel-centered repentance and faith. One is driven on the performance of man; the other is driven upon the performance of Jesus. Just so that we can see the difference and highlight gospel-centered application, consider the following:
Religion-based application focuses on what must I do first;
Gospel-centered application focuses on what Jesus has done first.
Religion-based application addresses only the fruit of our behavior;
Gospel-centered application strikes at the root of heart transformation.
Religion-based application says, “I must obey; therefore I’m accepted.”
Gospel-centered application says, “I’m accepted; therefore I gladly obey.”
Religion-based application explains that what you do defines who are you;
Gospel-centered application explains who you are defines what you do.
Religion-based application leads to emotional highs and lows based on shaky spiritual performances;
Gospel-centered application hitches your affections to your identity & acceptance in Christ.
Religion-based application has a philosophy of “try harder and do better”;
Gospel-centered application has a philosophy of “repent, believe, and repeat”.
Religion-based application says my problems are manageable and I can fit it;
Gospel-centered application says my sins are massive and only Jesus can fix it.
Religion-based application emphasizes my will power and assumed competency;
Gospel-centered application emphasizes God’s grace in my weakness and dependency.
Religion-based application takes ten looks at self and one look at Christ;
Gospel-centered application takes one look at self and takes ten looks at Christ.
Here’s the challenge. The default nature of man is to live on (a) religion-based application rather than (b) gospel-centered application. When I walked my disciple-making class through this, several of them confessed, “Tim, the (a) column is where I live, but I want to embrace the (b) column.” It was a great discussion and eye-opening time for us all. We cannot assume that simply because Christ is being proclaimed from the pulpit that the people are trained to apply the Word in a gospel-centered manner. But a great starting point is recognizing the difference between the two, exposing counterfeits and substitutes, and pressing one another in gospel community to live in light of the gospel in a manner worthy of the gospel.