Thankfulness in Spite of Failures and the Power of Hearing the Gospel Every Day
This morning as I looked over what I have read during the course of the week, I was focused once again to a wonderful reminder from The Gospel Primer For Christians by Milton Vincent.
The more absorbed I am in the gospel, the more grateful I become in the midst of my circumstances, whatever they may be.
I know there is so much talk these days of gospel this and gospel that. For example.....gospel centered preaching, gospel centered parenting, gospel communities etc. Last year one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Challies, wrote a blog post titled, The Gospel Centered Everything, explaining the use of this trendy Christian word and listed all the books that had been recently written with the word gospel in their title. With so much talk and usage of the word gospel, I'm sure people are left wondering what it means exactly.
The word gospel, in its' most basic definition is quite simply the "good news" of Jesus Christ saving a people.
If you were to ask a person that has been in church for any length of time
"What does the gospel mean?" or "what is the gospel?"
every time people will just say "the good news of Jesus Christ".
What I appreciate about Vincent's definition of the word gospel in his book is that he not only includes the part of the definition that the majority of Christian would say, but he also includes "for hell deserving sinners", which I believe to be a very important component to the saving work of Christ.
Gospel. n. (god, good + spel, news) good news of salvation for hell-deserving sinners through the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
It's important to remember where we have come from. To be reminded that our blindness and our deadness in sin was leading us to hell and we are no longer under the wrath of a righteous God because His grace and mercy alone saved us and continues to save us.
This gives us magnificent appreciation to unreservedly rest and be utterly and humbly thankful to see where we are presently.....which is securely saved in Christ.
At times we grumble and complain about our life circumstances because, in our eyes and in our flesh, we want our life or our circumstances to be something else. We crave for more meaning, or more significance. We want our lives to make a difference and many times we see that our present circumstances do not "do it for us".
We forget to look around at the blessings we do have...no matter how small or seemingly insignificant....or....we make every effort to make our lives have meaning.
Many times, as Christians, we will try to gain significance by jumping into ministry or "church work". There is nothing like the "feel good" endorphins we get when we lead a Bible study, or lead a church service in worship. We tend to feel pretty significant when people come to us for Biblical advice. We easily move into all kinds of ministries, leadership positions in our church, working in humanitarian organizations, leading our peers in Bible studies, mission fields, adopting kids, etc and believe and trust that all this good work will grow us and give us significance.
There is a tendency to think that we only needed to hear the gospel to initially save us. We don't think to look at how it can add to our spiritual growth or maturity in our ministries or church work. We can't grasp the power in telling ourselves the gospel every day of our lives.
Even those that have been Christians all their lives, there is a tendency to think that there is no need to hear the gospel because they were raised hearing the gospel.
The word gospel....gets pushed to the back of our now saved Christian lives.
However.....there is power in reminding ourselves where we used to be in light of the gospel. There is power in reminding ourselves where we are now, in light of the gospel. There is power in the gospel itself because it reminds us that Jesus alone, His work alone, is what saves us and gives us ultimate significance.
Viewing life's blessings as water in a drinking cup, I know that I could discontentedly focus on the half of the cup that seems empty, or I could gratefully focus on the half that is full. Certainly, the latter approach is the better of the two, yet the gospel cultivates within me a richer gratitude than this.
The gospel reminds me first that what I deserve from God is a full cup of churning, with the torments of His wrath. This is the cup that would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserve each day.
Whoa!!!!......churning torment? What???
Before I go on let me just add that many are prone to think
"well that's a little extreme. I don't sin much anymore. Ever since I became a Christian, I don't do the things that I used to do so why should I dwell on getting God's wrath".
Or....for those that were raised in a Christian home
"I have heard the gospel all my life. I have always been a Christian. My whole family are Christians and even some are pastors. I have never broken the commandments. I definitely don't have to worry or think about the wrath of God."
I have even heard people say things like
"I've been bought with the blood of Jesus so I have victory!"
(hand and fist raised up signaling a victorious stance)
Heck...I could say this myself.
The outward sins that used to enslave me no longer do and I am thankful for that.
But...by the grace of God, we can see things from a deeper perspective.
So let's look at it another way.
Is promiscuity worse or greater than envy?
Is sexual sin worse or greater than anger?
Is not going to church on Sunday's worse or greater than self righteousness?
Is lying worse or greater than selfishness?
In the book of Mathew, a Pharisee, (aka- super religious holy guy), who happened to be a lawyer, asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment.
The answer Jesus gave him was
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
In Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, he writes-
Using Jesus' response to the Pharisee as a standard, how good has your good day been? Have you perfectly kept those two commandments? If not, does God grade on a curve? Is 90 percent a passing grade with God?
As Christians, we all like to think we obey these two commands pretty well. How does one exhibit loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind?
If we are honest, we will admit to not really knowing what it looks like to tangibly love God with all our heart, mind and soul so naturally we will default to the other commandments that allow us to outwardly show that we are good obeying Christians that love God.
We probably don't exhibit much, if any outward sins. If we have been Christians all our lives or even for a little bit of time, we have probably figured out that blatant outward sins, like sexual sins, stealing, adultery, lying, using God's name as a cuss word are all pretty bad and we can safely say we don't do any of it.
We can also pat ourselves on the back because we don't literally bow down in worship to actual carved or painted idols like some other people in the world.
We can also boast that we do a pretty good job going to church every Sunday (keeping the Sabbath) and we probably think we get extra points for going to mid week services or participating in a small group.
On the outside...everything looks pretty clean and pretty good....right?
What about when Jesus says:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mathew 5:48)
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10)
What do we do about those verses? Do we ignore them and simply cling to the good things we do in obedience because they are easier to show outwardly?
What about the single Christian gal that stores up envy in her heart because all her friends are getting married and she is still single? On the outside she exhibits a "masking smile", which is what non-verbal communication researchers define as a gesture that conceals negative feelings. This masking smile conceals her envy and pain that she is still single.
Is she breaking the commandment that says we are not supposed to covet...which in this case would be coveting the life of another. Is she sinning?
What about the Christian guy that struggles with self righteous pride because he sees his fellow brothers in Christ struggling with porn and he just doesn't understand why they are so weak. Is this self righteous prideful guy loving his neighbor, who in this case are his fellow Christian brothers, as himself?
What about the Christian mom that bows down to her children's chaotic extracurricular activities because she thinks putting her kids before anything else makes her a better mom. Could this be considered a "good mom idol".
What about the Christian working mom that looks down on the stay at home mom for not having any ambition in life?
What about the youth pastor that struggles secretly with porn but outwardly is great with the kids and the parents think he is a "great guy"?
What about the Christian woman who does all she can to keep herself looking fit, young, and attractive so that she can feel good about herself? Has she crossed the line and turned her physical appearance into an idol?
What about the stay at home mom that looks down on the working mom for not being selfless enough?
What about Christian women that gossip about or self righteously looks down on other Christian women who don't have perfect cookie cutter lives?
The list is endless....but the premise is the same.
If we can look at ourselves honestly, we realize that our attempt to keep some of the commandments, even the ones we think we are good at is actually a big fat FAIL.
So where does that leave us? Where does looking at all our failures or grumbling dissatisfaction with our circumstances leave us?
It leads us back to the gospel. The life saving gospel of Christ.
Vincent goes on:
The gospel reminds me first that what I actually deserve from God is a full cup what would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserve each day. With this understanding in mind, I see that to be handed a completely empty cup from God would be cause enough for infinite gratitude. If there were merely the tiniest drop of blessing contained in that otherwise empty cup, I should be blown away by the unbelievable kindness of God toward me. That God, in fact, has given me a cup that is full of every spiritual blessing in Christ and this without the slightest admixture of wrath, leaves me truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy. As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty of want, I can see them always as infinite improvements on the hell I deserve.
When I look at any circumstance that God apportions me, I am first grateful for the wrath I am not receiving in that moment. Second, I am grateful for the blessings that are given to me instead of His wrath. This two layered gratitude disposes my heart to give thanks in all things and it also lends a certain intensity to my giving of thanks. Such a gospel generated gratitude glorifies God, contributes to peace of mind and keeps my foot from the path of foolishness and ruin.
Bridges adds to this
Regardless of our performance, we are always dependent on God's grace. His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath. Some days we may be more acutely conscious of our sinfulness and hence more away of our need of his grace, but there is never a day when we can stand before Him on our own two feet of performance, when we are worthy enough to deserve His blessing.
The good news of the gospel is that God's grace is available on our worst days. That is true because Christ Jesus fully satisfied the claims of God's justice and fully paid the penalty of a broken law when He died on the cross in our place. Because of that the apostle Paul could write "He forgave us all our sins". (Colossians 2:13)
Yes....all of them..even the ones that are nestled deep in our hearts.
So that should lead us to being thankful...in spite of our failures.