If a picture is worth a thousand words, then unfortunately the gospel is often graphically represented in ways that actually defame the Gospel, defame Christ, defame the Holy Spirit and defame the church. Let me offer a few examples:
Many have promoted “The Train” illustration of the gospel. This illustration highlights ‘the intellect responding to fact’ as the seat of the gospel. It suggests that education is the answer for promoting adherence to the gospel. Get the intellect right, and behaviors and feelings follow behind. Yet, there is no cross in this illustration. No repentance. No Holy Spirit. I have known so many who would intellectually agree to the fact that Christ is Lord. They would even be able to articulate and defend the Gospel without a hitch. Yet, they confessed that they did not know Christ or bow the knee to Christ as Lord.
In short, this perspective elevates compelling factual information and the intellect above the work of the Holy Spirit that occurs in the heart.
Another graphic is “The Lordship” illustration. This illustration ultimately highlights Christ as the center, which is good. Yet, the illustration suggests several things that I disagree with. The Lordship illustration is given in three parts – the natural, the carnal, and the spiritual. Here are at least four things with which I disagree – the illustration suggests that:
1 – a person can know Christ while experiencing no change in his heart and life
2 – salvation does not require faith and repentance. Intellectual assent is enough.
3 – the Christian life is exclusively personal, not communal.
4 – when a Christian does recognize Christ as Lord, everything in his life is perfectly harmonized
Again, I feel that these perspectives are unbiblical and harmful.
Another popular graphic is used in “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem. Grudem uses the very familiar “Progressive Sanctification” illustration. I very much agree with Grudem’s emphasis on justification (or salvation) as a point action work of God and I also affirm the idea of progressive sanctification. However, I am bothered by the suggestion that sanctification progresses “away” from the cross. It give us the idea that sanctification is a work that aims toward personal perfection, that occurs apart from the grace Christ, that moves us away from the cross, and that progresses us above the gospel.
At the end of the day, this is not the best picture to have in mind.
Now, I am certainly aware that every illustration is imperfect. I also know that the graphic I call “The Dance of the Gospel” is also imperfect (by the way, it’s the one that I have submitted at the top of this post). Yet, I hope this picture helps to improve our perspective of what the Christ centered life looks like. Christ is Lord! This is true no matter what. He is at the center – period. This is the gospel. In the church, there are those who have been brought to life by the blood of Christ and are imperfectly dancing around that reality. Unfortunately, there are also those in the church that are dead and empty who, on the outside, often look no different from those who know and love Christ. This will be true until Christ returns.
Now, the thing that makes this gospel dance viable (or living) is not the perfection of the dance. Nor is it made viable by the complete participation of the church in the dance. The thing that makes the dance living is the presence of Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit, who resides at the center of the dance. We are invited into the dance when the Spirit manifests Himself to us through the preaching of the gospel, through the regeneration of our hearts, and through the exaltation of Christ before our eyes. As the Spirit does these things, we enter the dance through faith and repentance. As a community of believers, our faith is deepened by a continual growth in faith and repentance. By this, the dance, though imperfect and incomplete, becomes more and more powerful. As Christ is exalted before us, we grow in our ability to hear the music (our understanding matures), our hearts are continually moved by the song (our affection matures), and our hands and feet are enable by the Spirit to move in concert with the movement of Christ (our obedience matures).
Ultimately, the Lord Jesus will reconcile all things in creation to Himself. And He will also ultimately reconcile all of His Beloved in a dance around Himself. Until then, Christians dance an imperfect and incomplete dance. But it is a powerful, painful, beautiful, and glorious dance just the same.