If you have been around Grace Redeemer for any length of time, you may have heard the terms “gospel-centered” or “gospel DNA” in how we describe ourselves. What does this really mean? If I were to try to sum it up in a few words, I would say: the gospel of Jesus Christ is the key means by which meaningful spiritual growth in life happens.
In contrast, here is what it does NOT mean: once you hear and accept the gospel, its use in your life fades as you mature by learning moral lessons; applying Scripture to your life as if you had walked through the “door of salvation” and once you are in that door, it is no longer relevant. Rather, the gospel is the blueprint of the entire house: the door, the rooms, the structure, the foundation, etc. Here are some examples:
You do not identify yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ.
The gospel reveals that we are all sinful and unacceptable on our own before a Holy and perfect God (Rom 3:23). Our current trajectory is eternal death (some people call it “hell”, but it is not so much a physical place, as it is a spiritual state to be completely removed from the goodness and grace of God) (Rom 6:23). But God has given us a way, actually The Way (John 14:6) by clothing us with the righteousness of Christ who lived a perfect life but died a sinner’s death thereby showing us what love is (Rom 5:8). The gospel speaks to you and is the expression of the love that God has for you, just as you are. You are invited by God to receive His free gift of grace by believing in what He has done and putting your faith in Christ.
You’re a new Christian but what’s next?
It may be tempting to then read the Bible, listen to sermons, and look for some moral lessons to help you live better. The problem with that approach is it might lead you down a cycle of living in shame and guilt when you fail to live up to those new standards, or on a road to self-righteousness – if you actually think you live up to those standards – where you look down on others (e.g., the Pharisees in Jesus’ day). The gospel shows another way: to aspire to live holy (1 Pet 1:16), but with the freedom that you are justified by your faith and not your works (Gal. 2:16, Eph. 2:8-9). Yes, we ought to read the written Word of God and listen to the spoken Word of God, but do so in humility of our dual identity of sinner and saint. God will grow us in faith not based on the merit of what we do, but based on the merit of Christ.
You’re a seasoned Christian.
It sounds so basic to hear, sing, and say the same thing over and over: I’m a sinner; God loved me enough the send Christ to save me; I’m saved. Lather, rinse, repeat. Do you feel it’s time to move on from Christianity 101 and delve into dissertations from seminary professors, philosophers, and sophisticated theologians? Tim Keller wrote in his book, Center Church: “It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard according to biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then transformed in every part of our minds, hearts, and lives by believing the gospel more and more deeply as life goes on.”
By analogy, it is simple enough to say eating a nutritious diet in the right amounts along with exercise will produce a healthy lifestyle. One can even believe it. But to adopt it into your everyday life so that you live, eat, and breathe, it takes sacrifice, discipline, occasional setbacks, and perseverance, but the original basic formula stays true and unchanged: eat healthy and exercise. The same is true for our faith. We discipline ourselves with a healthy diet (Word of God) and exercise (worship, prayer, fellowship, and witness in word and deed). The gospel at work is power. As Paul stated in Rom 1:16:”For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
As each of us is a reclamation project for God individually, so are we as a church, a work in progress. But if we have the gospel in our DNA, then we can have faith in God’s promise that He will complete the good work that He began in us (Phil 1:6).