Preaching the Gospel to Yourself Everyday

Preach the Gospel to Yourself Everyday…

* Check out the comments section of this post.  There are some pretty good thoughts offered by Rev. Jason Van Bemmel and Amy Hauck.

Several years ago I attended a Christian conference that powerfully changed my perspectives on the gospel.  This conference, which addressed the Christian’s “Sonship” and adoption in Christ, was offered through the ministry of World Harvest Mission.  It was here that I learned that the gospel was more than a “front door” to the Christian life, but was in fact, the very heart-beat of Christianity.  From that point on I have grown more and more in my understanding of the vital and essential nature of the centrality of Christ and the ongoing need I have of the gospel in my Christian life.  I have also learned the importance of “preaching the gospel to myself everyday”.  I first heard this phrase during that Sonship week in Chattanooga over 15 years ago.  This was a phrase that was introduced by Dr. Jack Miller of World Harvest and popularized by Jerry Bridges in his books “Discipline of Grace”, “The Transforming Power of the Gospel”, and “The Gospel for Real Life.”  The perspectives of these men along with Dr. Timothy Keller and the good folks at the CCEF Christian counseling foundation, have revolutionized my walk with Christ.  They have blessed me with a perspective of ongoing Christ dependence by which I am able to experience the deep mercies and love of Christ, even in the midst of my ongoing battle with sin.  They have helped me to understand my sin as heart idolatry and encouraged me to engage in repentance that aims at authentic worship of Christ and not mere behavior modification.   They have helped me to understand that even though I am more messed up and evil than I would have ever thought possible, I am also more loved than I could ever dare to believe.  They have taught me to preach the gospel to myself every day.  Much thanks to these beloved men and women of the gospel.

Unfortunately, there are number of preachers and teachers who oppose the teaching of Gospel centrality.  (If you would like to read one such unfortunate critique, you can do so by clicking HERE.)  The opposition says that the idea of “preaching the gospel to yourself” is unhealthy and unbiblical for the “normal” believer and should only be reserved for those who are very weak and immature in their faith.   If this is true, then count me among the weak and immature crowd.  Count me as one who needs more than one Sunday morning Gospel reminder per week.  Count me as one who needs gospel reminders every day…every minute.  Count me as one who needs Jesus today, more than I needed Him yesterday.  Count me as one who is a foolish person that God has gracefully chosen to shame the strong and wise (I Cor 1:27).

To those who criticize, I would plead with you to consider that the idea of “preaching the gospel to yourself every day” is a vital Christian practice.  It is a simple encouragement for the believer to continually turn to the Savior in renewed repentance and faith.  It is not a so called “return” to justification.  No.  It is a dance with Christ that is learned upon the “foundation” of Justification.  It is knowing that my house was built upon the rock of Christ’s Love yesterday and continues upon that rock today.  It is being reminded of the gentle nature of Christ who says “Come unto me…”.   It is a daily reminder of my pride, but Christ’s humility; my shame, but His glory; my wretchedness, but His power; my eternal need, but His infinite provision.

We who preach the gospel to ourselves, do so because we forget the gospel so easily.  We preach the gospel to ourselves because our faith is weak, and will continue to be so, but the Eternal Object of our puny faith is not weak, but gloriously powerful.  We preach it because the Magnificent Savior who rescued me the hour I first believed is the very same Savior who rescues me this very moment.  We preach the gospel to remind ourselves that we are foolish and vacuous and supercilious and that using words like vacuous and supercilious is vacuous and supercilious. We preach the gospel to ourselves because we believe that we are cunning beyond our knowing; and that we would take the very things of God – the Word, the table, the church, and the waters of baptism – and use them to harden our hearts against the Blessed Caretaker of our souls. We preach the gospel to ourselves because when Christ is lifted up, the affections of our hearts are drawn to Him and lifted out of the squalor of idolatry, especially religious idolatry, which is the insidious friend of every pastor and every seasoned believer.  We do so because without the good graces that come through continual preaching of the gospel to ourselves, our hearts would become a notorious factory of idols, producing more errant thoughts and behaviors than we could ever hope to harness.

Finally, we preach the gospel to ourselves every day for the same reasons that gospel preachers preach it to us every Sunday morning – so that by the foolishness of preaching it, the Holy Spirit might equip us for every good work; and so that the Spirit-filled, Gospel-saturated, Biblical exposition and application of God’s word will speak to our hearts, drawing us to the Savior in a way that renews repentance and deepens our worship.

We preach it because it is the truest and bestest news that our starving hearts have ever known – that we are indeed more messed up and sinful than we know, and we are more loved than we could ever dare to dream.

* Check out the comments section of this post.  There are some pretty good thoughts offered by Rev. Jason Van Bemmel and Amy Hauck.

13 thoughts on “Preaching the Gospel to Yourself Everyday

  1. Tim,

    I guess you’d have to count me amonng those concerned by the Sonship/”Grace” movement, which has become the dominant movement in the PCA. Yet I have to say that I have a critical appreciation for the emphasis of many of those within the movement. In fact, my sermon this Sunday (on Matt. 5:48) will have a lot of Biblical truth which I hope will be relevant to this issue. I will try my best to post it on the web site on Monday or Tuesday.

    I have no problem with preaching the gospel to yourself daily or of constantly reminding yourself that you stand on Christ and His righteousness always. I need this myself. I also like and respect many of the pastors who would fall under the “Sonship” label. I have benefitted from their books and sermons and have often recommended them to others, but my concerns are real, too –

    1. The Sonship Movement seems to have no real place for the “Third Use of the Law” – the role of the Moral Law as an instrument of grace in the sanctification of the believer. The grace of God not only justifies us by the imputed righteousness of Christ, but then it also grows us to be more like Christ as His righteousness is infused into our lives and we become more and more Christ-like. To become more Christ-like is to live a life in keeping with God’s Moral Law, the 10 Commandments. If we want to know what it means to live a Christ-like life, we need the 10 Commandments. That’s why such a large portion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is focused on explaining and applying the 10 Commandments.

    The real problem I see most is a neglect of the Law in the life of the believer. The extreme manifestation (which is rare, but which I have seen) comes from those who would declare that all preaching obedience to God’s Law is “legalism.” Our obedience to God’s Moral Law is not the grounds of our justification in any sense. It is also not something we can do on our own but is only possible by the grace of God and through the infused righteousness of Christ. In other words, “sanctification is a work of God’s free grace” (to use the language of the WSC), the fruit of which is obedience to God’s Moral Law. We should strive, long, yearn, seek and even work hard for such obedience, remembering always that we work by God’s power and not our own and by Christ’s perfect righteousness and not our own.

    2. The Sonship Movement also seems to forget (or neglect to emphasize the fact) that the heart of a believer is fundamentally and radically different from the heart of an unbeliever. Our hearts have been transformed by the grace of God. We now love God instead of hating Him; we now treasure Christ instead of ignoring Him. We now see the wonderful good news of the Gospel and its fruit in our lives. Do we need to be reminded of this daily? Yes! But our hearts have been changed and we are in Jesus’ hands and nothing can ever separate us from His love or snatch us out of His hands. We are secure in Christ.

    3. The Sonship Movement seems to have a rather flat and hollow understanding of grace, one which seems to neglect the idea of real growth in the Lord, progress in sanctifcation. While our sanctification is always incomplete in this life and we always have sin and idolatry in our lives which need to be repented of and forgiven by the grace of God and while we never “out-grow” the Gospel, we do mature in Christ by His grace. If we are not making progress and maturing in Christ, then something is wrong.
    And I guess this is the heart of the problem: By denying/neglecting all preaching and teaching of the law and duty in the name of “avoiding legalism,” the Sonship Movement keeps God’s people from the growth that is found in the true, full grace of God, a grace which justifies us and sanctifies us by the righteousness of Christ, which is first credited to our account in our justification and then infused into our lives by God’s grace in the progressive grace of sanctification.

    Notice my language – “seems” – is key. I cannot judge anyone’s heart nor do I know the full scope of anyone’s theology. I think the fears of legalism that drove the founding of the Sonship movement are real and clear: Many, many church-going Christians earnestly believe that they must obey God in order to earn a place in heaven. Many labor under a burden of legalistic obligation and fear of eternal punishment and do not walk in the joy of the freedom found in Christ. I fully agree that we cannot emphasize the Gospel enough, but the full Gospel does not just announce the good news of release from the penalty and punishment for sin but also from sin’s enslaving domination over our lives. To truly walk in the freedom secured by Christ is to walk in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, paths laid out by God’s Moral Law.

    I hope you know that you have my respect and support as a brother and fellow pastor. I just wanted to share my heart.

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    • Jason,

      Thank you so much for responding to my post on “preaching the gospel to yourself”. I very much respect your concerns and I will take some time to respond over the course of the next week (I’m a slow processor).

      In the mean time, I am attaching the theology paper that I wrote for my ordination exam, which dealt with this topic from a different angle. Whereas the aspect of “preaching the gospel to yourself” is more focused on a particular application, the paper addresses sanctification by faith in general and addresses the common and unfortunate indictment of antinomianism, which, if I understand you correctly, is the nucleus of your concerns.

      I for one have not met or read any “Sonshippers” who de-emphasize the third-use of the law or relegate obedience to the moral law of Christ. (I’m sure there are some out there. I just haven’t come across them). Actually, the opposite has been my experience. Those that I have read (Paul David Tripp, Dan Allender, Ed Welch, Tremper Longman, Tim Keller, Jack Miller, Jerry Bridges, David Powlison, Tim Lane, Phil Rhyken, Sinclair Ferguson, and Joe Novenson) do not ever seem to “lower” the law by externalizing Christ’s commands, but rather they “elevate” the moral law to include and emphasize the internal nature of Christ’s commands in the same way that Christ does in Matthew 5-7 (“You have heard it said…but I say unto you”). I’m sure that you would agree that the moral law exceeds mere external compliance with the ten commandments. Actually, I can think of no command more daunting than “Be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect” – Matthew 5:48 (yikes!).

      So, if we are going to take the internal nature of God’s commands seriously, and if we are going to take the idols of our hearts seriously, and if we are going to take seriously God’s command to worship Him in spirit and in truth, then we should also take the gospel more seriously. This means that I should realize that simply preaching the moral law will not do. The moral law gives us direction in obedience. It helps us to see the shape of obedience. It reveals aspects of God’s character. It convicts us of sin. It puts us on our knees. These are all in accordance with a reformed view of the third use of the law.

      But, I believe that preaching the moral law does absolutely nothing – nothing – to provide the power or the desire to follow, trust, love, and obey Christ. I would also add that a regenerate heart, while imperative to pursuing a life of obedience, does not provide the power to obey. If so, then Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 makes no sense to me. No. A regenerate heart gives me a living, spiritual, gospel “receptor”, but in order to live a life that is well pleasing to Christ (faith, hope, love), I need the gospel itself to be appropriated in my heart again and again. I must repent again and again. The Holy Spirit must fill me and empower me again and again. And my affections for Christ need to be renewed again and again.

      All this to say – I need to be constantly refreshed in the Gospel. If not, I become just like those poor and prideful believers in Ephesus, who do everything right, but whose hearts grew hard and calloused by dead religion – “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

      By daily preaching the gospel to myself (and having it preached to me by others), I hope to be daily renewed in coming back to my first love – Jesus Christ – who loved me and gave Himself up for me. If this is not my ultimate aim in sanctification, then certainly, though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, I have gained nothing at all (Phil 3:8, 1 Cor 13:1-3).

      I’ll write more later in response to your concerns. Please know that I too have great respect for you and I am grateful for the opportunity to defend my thoughts. In so doing, I pray that I say nothing that might communicate disrespect or dishonor to you, my brother in Christ. If I inadvertently do so, please forgive me. Many blessings to you Jason. My prayers are with you as we labor together in the cause of Christ.

      Tim

      Here’s the link to the paper: https://sacrosanctgospel.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/sanctification-by-faith-a-continual-work-of-the-gospel-that-produces-ongoing-hope-filled-repentance-and-a-growing-dependence-upon-christ.pdf

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      • I think we’re in complete agreement. Paul Tripp and Tim Keller are among my favorites in the area of sanctification, so I agree with the inward application. In fact, that’s what I’ve been preaching as I’ve been working through Matthew 5. Indeed, the command of Matthew 5:48 is absolutely impossible and is given to break us of any shred of self-righteousness. So, in sum, I don’t think we disagree at all. I would say that some people I’ve heard (Paul Kooistra, Tullian T. and even, to a lesser extent, Michael Horton) do minimize the role of the law.

        You can read my recent blog post on the moral law as our GPS and see that we agree on this issue nearly 100%.

        http://ponderingsofapilgrimpastor.blogspot.com/2012/07/moral-law-is-our-spiritual-gps.html

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      • Jason,

        Thanks for getting back with me. I went over and read your blog post on the Moral Law. Very good thoughts on the whole. I think you did a good job emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit at is it pertains to sanctification. You said:

        “The Law is still not the power of God for righteousness. It is not the gas in the tank of our vehicle. Neither is it the motivation that keeps us on track. It is the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit that give us the desire and ability to drive according to God’s GPS (see Philippians 2:13)….The Spirit’s leading will keep us in step with God’s Law, as the Spirit leads through the Word.”

        Very good stuff! That’s a slam dunk. The Spirit works together with God’s Word to renew our affections for Christ and gives us the ability to obey. Beautiful. However, I would add that we also need to practice continual repentance and renewed faith so that we might not default toward a “fleshly” relationship with God’s law, which diminishes our need for Christ and ultimately diminishes the law. By continually being renewed in God’s Word with a posture of repentance and faith (*), we appropriate the Spirit’s work and we are able to joyfully and clearly gaze at the Law of Christ as a gps.

        In regard to the article that you wrote on Friday, July 27, I guess my one reservation to your overall critique of the grace movement is that you seem to fail to delineate between Sonship (and by default World Harvest Mission) as an organization (**) and those who have abused the teachings of Sonship. In other words, I would completely agree with your post if you just had said, “This is not what Sonship teaches about sanctification, but these are three ways in which many of their followers seem to unwisely misapply what they have taught.”

        I also would add that I think the emphasis of Sonship, among other things, is not technically a response to legalism as much as it is a response to self-reliance. I make this distinction because I don’t know that anyone has ever accused me of being a legalist, yet I have been, and often continue to be incredibly self-reliant, self-determined, prideful, angry, self-adulating, and joyless. The teaching of Sonship has helped me to address these and other debilitating sins by encouraging me to repent – to turn to Jesus – who is my perfecter and the lover of my soul.

        Much love my brother! Keep up the good work!

        Tim

        (*) When I allude to repentance and faith: I mean repentance to be understood as a continual turning to Jesus in worship and confessing my sin and heart idolatry. I mean faith to be understood as renewing my belief in God and His promises and confessing my need for Christ-dependence and grace.

        (**) I don’t know if you have this document, so I’m attaching it. This booklet was written as a response to Jay Adams after he wrote a book attacking Sonship and specifically addresses some of your concerns.

        http://cdn.whm.org/whmassets/eRcQPF3CTwKvMzbmcsIfdg/Theology-of-Sonship-WHM.pdf

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      • Tim,

        Thank you so much for your very thoughtful, thorough and Christ-honoring response. I agree whole-heartedly that we are always fighting the battle of self-reliance vs. Christ-dependence. We must obey by His grace and for His glory and we must strive with all the energy He supplies. On our own, we make no progress and whatever progress we seem to make is Pharisaical self-exaltation. Yuck!

        Thanks for the WHM response to Jay Adams! I appreciate it.

        Jason

        PS – I guess my biggest concern overall may just be a lack of emphasis on the proper, Christ-centered, grace-empowered teaching of the law as the pattern of life for believers. In other words, we should delight in God’s Law and strive for obedience to God’s character as reflected in it. I don’t think that’s outright denied as much as terribly neglected.

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  2. The directive would be more compelling if we as a people, could define the Gospel. Hint: it ain’t John 3:16. In other or better words; we must repent of the bending and twisting of God’s word and His purposes in order to defend our own holy hobby horses. The Gospel is alive and active IN THE WORLD today fulfilling the will of God. The gospel is NOT simply Christianity’s answer to the fortune cookie, who’s purpose is to bring men to a deeper experience in navel contemplation.

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    • True enough. I couldn’t agree more. But the Gospel at work in the world must be lived out by those who have the gospel at work in their hearts. So let’s not look at our navels. Instead let us consider the idols of our hearts and the merciful God who rescues us every day and every moment. As for a good working definition of the Gospel, John Frame says that it is simply “Jesus is Lord!” That works for me.

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      • Amy, in regard to how we should live gospel lives around the reality of “Jesus is Lord”, I think I’ll be learning the depths of that for as long as I’m drawing breath. However, I created a John Frame-ish “gospel sanctification triad” that I think is somewhat helpful. In the triad, the central reality is the cross along with the statement that Jesus is Lord and Savior. This perspective is in keeping with Colossians 1:15-20 that emphasizes the central supremacy of Christ as Lord of Creation and Redemption. Flowing out of that reality are the three points of the triad – which are:

        1) a maturing affection for Christ (priestly),
        2) a maturing obedience to Christ (kingly), and
        3) a maturing understanding of Christ (prophetic).

        All three of these points are kept in tension with one another around the central perspective of believing the Gospel – that Jesus is Lord and Savior. I would say that your particular emphasis of “the Gospel being alive and active in the world” fits under the kingly aspect of gospel sanctification. Yet, the other two aspects of “affection for Christ” and “understanding of Christ” are also imperative. We certainly see this in a passage like Psalm 51 where David is repenting of his disbelief of the Gospel. He addresses his sin and unbelief (v. 1-7 – “Against you and you only have I sinned), his mind’s need for understanding (v. 6 0 “You taught me wisdom in the secret place”), his hearts’ lack affection (v. 10 “create in me a pure heart – a broken and contrite heart), and his need for obedience (v. 12-13 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you”). In this we David’s repentance and renewed faith ‘dancing’ around the reality of Christ as Lord and Savior in a way that renews his affection, enlightens his understanding, and enlivens his obedience.

        I tried to represent this in a graphic on the gospel. You can see this by clicking: https://sacrosanctgospel.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/a-symbol-for-my-life-a-dance-around-the-cross/

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      • I grew up in DC and I used to LOVE going to theatre in the round, especially Arena Stage. Even a play you may have seen many times would take on new and deeper meaning simply because you watched it from a different perspective. So may I add my two drachma to this discussion from my perspective in the cheap seats? I agree with all you’ve said but because ULTIMATELY the Gospel isn’t just about me and my poor heart, I always appreciate the purposes of God, id est- global domination, be emphasized in any explanation of the Gospel. The old adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” is exactly WRONG! God said it, THAT settles it whether you believe it or not. We must remember the ” in order to’s” of the Bible. God saves a man “in order to” fashion him for Kingdom work, “in order” that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. His Kingdom comes, His will be done when our religion has shoes. So my life is not and cannot be a closed set, there must be expression of the grace I’m a recipient of in this world. Growing in this grace, yes! But growing simply to grow? No. We must be ever mindful of all the verbs of the Bible. They tell us we have work to DO, as we continue to reshape this New World Christ has ushered in. Paul helps us with this vision in 1 Cor. 15 finishing with,” Therefore, my beloved family, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in THE WORK OF THE LORD, inasmuch as you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” So if we’re dancing, it’s a worldwide square dance with untold partners as Christ calls the tune. OK….I’m off to the lobby for Milk Duds……

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      • I couldn’t agree more with all that you have said! I love the phrase “world wide square dance.” That’s good stuff Amy. I believe we are simply emphasizing different aspects of the same perspective. However, all three aspects must be kept in tension. If not – if we ignore heart affection for Christ and marginalize continual repentance and brokenness, then our kingdom work will become fleshly, angry, unloving, misguided, and idolatrous (I Cor 13, James 4:1-10). On the other hand, if we ignore the kingdom aspects of the gospel, then our repentance will turn to idolatrous self-absorption and endless self-analysis. Further, if we ignore heart affection and kingdom aspects of the gospel, and turn instead to understanding, then our walk will become idolatrously intellectualized. Again, this is why all three aspects need to be held in tension, individually and communally, around the central reality of the Supremacy of Christ as Lord and Savior.

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