There are many people who believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. They know that the story of Christ can be found in the Gospels of the New Testament. They know that belief in that Jesus can get you to heaven and out of hell. They know where to find that message preached. They may even “attend” a church, repeat the catchwords of grace, but have very little understanding of the gospel of grace. They have become too familiar with the gospel.
The Familiar Gospel
In his masterful work, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace reveals why this familiarity is so dangerous:
Since their understanding of justification is marginal or unreal—anchored not to Christ, but to some conversion experience in the past or to an imagined present state of goodness in their lives—they know little of the dynamic of justification. Their understanding of sin focuses upon behavioral externals which they can eliminate from their lives by a little will power and ignores the great submerged continents of pride, covetousness and hostility beneath the surface.
Gospel familiarity is dangerous. Being able to say the right words and espouse the right beliefs can bring us false comfort. Our comfort should not spring from knowing what is “right”. Nor should is arise from the sense that we have done right. This is “imagined goodness” before a very real and holy God. When our understanding of sin focuses on external beliefs or behaviors, we betray a very shallow understanding of the gospel. In fact, the gospel tells us that we are much more bent than we can imagine. The gospel is honest; it shows us who we are, unrighteous, imperfect, selfish sinners.
Fortunately it does not stop there. It moves us, by grace, into righteousness and love through constant faith in Christ, our righteousness. If this is the gospel, then we need reminding of it every day. We need the people of the gospel, the Church, around us giving us constant reminders of grace, verbal and non-verbal. If this gospel is this great and deep, then we must share it, tell it, and show it to others. I recently returned from Uganda, where I was frequently greeted by Christians who would say: “The Lord is good.” and the responder would say: “The Lord is good all the time.” I shared this with our church during a sermon a few weeks ago. Last week I was meeting with one of our City Group leaders and shared a challenge I was facing. Before saying much at all he said: “All the time.” I had to think a second. Oh, he was reminding me that the Lord is good all the time (Rom 8:28), even amidst my challenges. The Lord is good all the time for us in Jesus. He was giving me a gospel reminder over lunch. I was strengthened to trust the Lord no matter what happened.
Scorn of Missional Church
But if we are merely familiar with the gospel, with its facts and not through constant faith, we won’t remind one another of its depth. It looses it’s urgency. The gospel is not urgent, our moral acts are. Grace is not necessary, our beliefs are.If we simply add the gospel to our own behavioral improvements, then we will have very little need for the church or for her mission. When we are too familiar with the gospel, we scorn the church and her mission. If we don’t need the gospel every day, then why spend time with the church or attempt to advance the good news through mission? Lovelace writes:
Thus their pharisaism defends them both against full involvement in the church’s mission and against full subjection of their inner lives to the authority of Christ.
Familiarity with the gospel breeds missional contempt. If we know the gospel as a set of spiritual facts and a code of morality, then we have very little use for the Church and her mission, the community and evangelism. But if the Gospel is deeper and more honest than we have imagined, then we must be desperate for more. More gospel talk from our friends, more gospel community from church, more gospel songs with fellow saints, and more gospel news for our neighbors. If the gospel is this great, then is must be shared. What we need is not gospel familiarity but gospel depth. This kind of depth remakes us into outwardly focused people, people who love their neighbors and their city. Press into the gospel of grace. Gospel depth will produce missional drive. If it doesn’t, then something is wrong with your gospel. Perhaps you are too familiar with it?