The Bible is living and active (Heb. 4:11), inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), and given for the purposes of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The Bible is all about God’s story of redemption centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the church where I serve, we say the gospel is all about (1) who Jesus is, (2) what Jesus has done, and (3) why that matters.
The gospel is the power of God (Rom. 1:16), and that power is demonstrated not only in our past rescue, reconciliation, and redemption but also in our present faith, hope, and love. Christians who truly get the gospel discover its power again and again on a daily basis. They get it in all three areas of text, context, and subtext because the gospel changes everything. The “living and active” nature of the Word is doing its effectual work as the Spirit convicts, renews, and reforms our lives in ways that demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus.
Text • Context • Subtext
The text addresses biblical revelation. God reveals Himself through His written Word and in His Son, the Word made flesh. The gospel is the message, the text above all texts, that reveals God’s sovereign purposes in history to unite all things in Christ. Truly getting the gospel means we understand that the gospel is normative and supreme in God’s dealings with us, and we humbly submit to the authority of God’s Word and what it says about us and our need for Him. We are committed to knowing the gospel truly and articulating it clearly because God has spoken on the issue definitively.
The context addresses life orientation. These are matters pertaining to what lies outside of us and how our lives relate to them and orient around them. Context includes our relationships to other people, daily circumstances, seasons of life, spheres of existence, etc. Truly getting the gospel means we recognize that context is the place where the gospel is applied. Living in light of the gospel is learning to work out our new identity in Christ in specific places, in specific situations, and with specific people so that the reign and rule of King Jesus is manifested in His Lordship through the context of our existence.
The subtext addresses heart motivation. If context addresses what lies outside of us, subtext deals with what lies inside of us–our hearts. Subtext matters include motivation for actions, pursuit of pleasure, and aim in personal ambition. Subtext reveals the areas where unbelief remains in the life of a Christian, showing where functional idolatry and other forms of god-replacements are substituted for happiness, joy, peace, and contentment. Subtext is the canvas of our life story, and when we truly get the gospel, we see how the story of the gospel rewrites the story of our lives as we move from unbelief to belief in all matters of the heart.
Failing to Get the Gospel
One of the greatest dangers for Christians today is to be content with getting the gospel merely with biblical revelation (text). In my (Reformed) tribe, a great deal of energy is expended on getting the gospel right here, and rightfully so. The best books available on “what is the gospel message?” are coming from theologically-astute pastors and scholars. Nevertheless, if we fail to get the gospel message from our heads to our hearts and lives, then we are failing to truly get the gospel.
The normative nature of the text should have direct application for the context and personal implication for the subtext of our lives. Maturing gospel-centered Christians are discontent to correctly know the doctrinal aspect of the gospel; they are driven to a life dominated by the gospel. Those who love the gospel will not only find it a message to contend for, but also a message to live by. That means theological conversations are not enough. Bible studies are not enough. Books and commentaries are not enough. Superb head knowledge and theological acumen are not enough.
We simply cannot cut off the gospel’s power from the very places it intends to work – ongoing life-transformation. Those who truly get the gospel are those who confess how little of the gospel they truly get – and how much more they desire to embrace. They know that confessing Jesus is Lord means something in the context of their lives and subtext of their life story, and they want a congruency with what the gospel reveals, what their heart desires, and what their life demonstrates.
Those who truly get the gospel have gotten the most use out of the gospel. They have wrestled with how to apply the gospel to marriage or parenting, to adversity or success, to loneliness or stress-filled days. They are not afraid to deal openly and aggressively with areas of unbelief in their heart–doubts, fears, and all the ways the brokenness of the fall has caused them to look elsewhere to find hope, healing, and happiness. There’s an honesty that is refreshing because the gospel is so gripping. When you get it, it won’t let you get off believing a glossy, artificial, photoshopped version of you, because Jesus did not die for fake sinners who dress in fig leaves. He came for real sinners who have real need for real power from a really risen Savior.
The question I have to keep asking myself is, “What areas of my life in the context (externally) and subtext (internally) that I am cornering off or building a fortress around so that the text of God’s gospel is not actively working? How is this not revealing how I am ashamed of the gospel?” A gospel community presses one another into the context and subtext, as messy as it is, because of the mercy we have found at the cross. A gospel community that truly gets the gospel will celebrate faith and repentance in the ongoing renewal that comes from Spirit who graciously magnifies Christ in our hearts.
I want to be numbered among those who truly get the gospel so that the world may know how glorious Jesus is and how amazing I’ve discovered His grace to be.