Does Gospel = Jesus?

Much is being said about “Gospel-centered” ministry. This is a good problem, by the way! I could not think of a better substitute for other problems brewing in our churches on a weekly basis. Still, definition is needed.

My concern is that the term “gospel-centered” can almost objectify what is ultimately intended to describe a relationship. Even the word “grace” can serve in a similar way. Each word is accurate, but a relationship with the person of Christ is inadvertently eclipsed.

Why is this so important? If you are not careful, you can make the Christian life about what you believe rather than in whom you believe.  In other words, rather than focusing on the Blesser, you focus on the blessings.  It’s a subtle shift. This can impact the way we think about the change process.

One may "meditate" on their justification, adoption or their regeneration (or any of the other blessings that are ours in Christ). These are wonderful realities to reflect upon but not apart from talking to and interacting with the One who has made these blessings possible. Without knowing it, Christian growth is driven by right thinking and not right relating. While right thinking and doctrine is important, right relating is foundational. Right thinking may leave you in your own mind while right relating takes you outside of yourself.

My standard definition of change goes something like this: A thoroughly Christian understanding of change is not less than behavioral but more; it is not less than cognitive, it is more; it is covenantal. The word “covenant” means relationship. Christian change has at its center, not a discipline or some secret knowledge or technique but a Person, Jesus.

In his helpful book, The Work of Christ, Robert Letham says, 

As far as we are concerned, union with Christ begins to be a reality when we trust in Christ for salvation….Union with Christ is, in fact, the foundation of all the blessings of salvation. Justification, sanctification, adoption and glorification are all received through our being united to Christ (p.80)

I think that sums it up. Union with Christ is key. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, repetitively uses the word "in." We are in Christ. What a strong way of describing how intimate this relationship is.

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Present Grace

But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 2 Peter 1:9

Facing your present sins and lack of growth can be downright unproductive. It doesn't have to be but it certainly can be. I was talking to a friend recently who was struggling in his Christian life. He had grown very depressed and had turned inward. Nothing seemed to help. As we talked, I found him pre-occupied with his present failures and lack of growth in grace. He was stuck because he could only think about his current situation and immediate state of mind.

U2 writes a song about being stuck in a moment and not being able to get out of it. Sadly, it is a song about suicide. You don’t have to be suicidal to feel stuck, though. There are degrees, suicide being the worst. As I reflected on my friend's situation, I was reminded of 2 Peter 1:9. It is a picture of being stuck in the present with no perception of the past or future.

It is a simple verse where the apostle Peter avoids a truncated Gospel. He maintains an appropriate focus on past grace, present grace and future grace. Without this, getting stuck is inevitable. The phrase, “but if anyone does not have them” is referring to the previous verses where Peter highlights various character qualities like goodness, self-control, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. If these character qualities are not evident in your life, albeit imperfectly, Peter says that it is because you have a truncated understanding of your relationship to Christ.

First, you are nearsighted and blind. What could that mean? Someone who is near-sighted can only see things that are up close. A blind person can’t even see that. In other words, neither have the ability to see things in the distance. There is no sense of hope or a future orientation. John says in I John 3:3 that “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” You have to see future grace to live in the present.

But Peter also says that this person has forgotten something in the past. He has forgotten that he has been cleansed (past tense) from his sins. You have to see past grace, too, to live in the present. In his commentary on 2 Peter, Martyn Lloyd Jones has this to say, “This is a person who not only cannot see forwards, he cannot see backwards either.”

This simple re-orienting of my friend's gaze helped him get unstuck. As he gazed backwards and saw the reality of the forgiveness of his sins, he was grateful and began to talk to God with gratitude. As he gazed forward to the promised hope of complete deliverance from sin and suffering, he became hopeful. This did not happen overnight nor did it happen without seasons of doubt. Still, real progress was made. What do you look to in your past that brings stability in the present? What do you look to in the future that brings stability in the present? These two orientations will drive how you live right now and how you will relate to God.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.