Teaching & Preaching Biblical Principles is NOT Enough: we must connect the text to the Gospel

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Tim Keller in his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (Riverhead Books, 2008, pgs. 129-130):

We habitually and instinctively look to other things besides God and his grace as our justification, hope, significance, and security. We believe the gospel at one level, but at deeper levels we do not. Human approval, professional success, power and influence, family and clan identity—all of these things serve as our heart’s ‘functional trust’ rather than what Christ has done, and as a result we continue to be driven to a great degree by fear, anger, and a lack of self-control. You cannot change such things through mere will-power, through learning Biblical principles and trying to carry them out. We can only change permanently as we take the gospel more deeply into our understanding and into our hearts. We must feed on the gospel, as it were, digesting it and making it part of ourselves. That is how we grow.

The end of teaching and preaching cannot be biblical principles from the text. We must make connections with the Gospel with every text from which we teach. If all we do is teach biblical principles from a text (even if they’re all true) and do not connect the text to the Gospel, then we are implicitly telling our audience: “the key is to now go and do what I just taught you.” If our audience wasn’t reminded that it’s through the Gospel of grace that God empowers us to obey His Word, then likely many will try to obey out of sheer will-power. This kind of response would be the opposite of what we should encourage in people. Obeying out of will-power will neither lead to actually doing what the text requires nor to pleasing God.

As we prepare to teach Scripture to others, we must remember this about our audience (to slightly alter Keller’s words):

They cannot change [whatever the text says or implies they should] through mere will-power, through learning Biblical principles and trying to carry them out. They can only change permanently as they take the gospel more deeply into their understanding and into their hearts. They must feed on the gospel, as it were, digesting it and making it part of their selves. That is how they grow.

As I reflect on the various opportunities over the years that God has graciously given me to teach God’s Word to others, I am deeply convicted by these words. I realize that much of my teaching has been just about biblical principles. Don’t get me wrong—that’s good on one level. Without trying to be prideful, I do believe I can say that I have taught a lot of truthful principles from Scripture (although I haven’t been without error). But, many of my messages were not clearly connected to the gospel. If I dare be honest, probably even most of my messages lacked gospel-centrality. Sure, I often talked about how to get saved—through repentance and faith in Christ. But, for the Christians who were present, my message for them was largely a challenge to live a certain way.

My great failing has been that I didn’t connect those challenges with the Gospel. I didn’t explain how they could obey. I merely explained that they should obey. I doubt that many listeners left the meeting thinking deeply about how God would empower them through His grace to follow His Word. Rather, if any thought about the implications of my message for their lives, their thoughts would have been along the lines of “how will I ever do what the Bible says I must?” with perhaps accompanying guilt when realizing that they couldn’t or haven’t.

One of my great hopes for going to seminary is to learn how the Gospel is at the forefront throughout all the Scriptures, and to be equipped to effectively teach and preach Scripture to others in this faithfully gospel-centered way. I cannot undue my mistakes in the past. Only God in His sheer mercy can redeem what others have heard from me that was not saturated with His Gospel of grace. From here on forward, I want any future speaking opportunities (should God graciously grant me some) to be saturated with God’s Gospel of grace. May God empower me through His grace to do so. After all, I can’t do this by sheer will-power. And I’m so thankful that despite all my failings, by His doing I rest in His grace and unchanging love for me.

Christians Should Preach the Gospel to Themselves Daily

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The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges

The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges

I am excited to introduce to my blog readers the first book which I am reading through:

The Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross…Every Day by Jerry Bridges!

If you are interested in reading a description of the book and/or purchasing it, feel free to click the cover image to the left to go to its product page at Westminster Bookstore.

I have picked this book as the first to read through and interact with here on my blog for at least two reasons:

  1. I received this book free from its publisher NavPress in exchange for reading it and a review.
  2. I thank the Lord for how He has used previous books by Jerry Bridges in my own life. His more recent book The Bookends of the Christian Life has been extremely helpful to me in understanding the two “bookends” upon which I should lean all the elements of my life: the perfect righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life. I am hopeful  that reading through another Bridges book will be extremely edifying for me, and I hope the same for my readers.

The book at hand, The Gospel for Real Life, is mainly about the implications of the gospel (i.e., good news) for the Christian’s present life. While Christians are well aware of the future impact of the gospel (e.g., going to heaven), many of them have little or almost no idea of how the gospel relates to their everyday lives. Furthermore, while some (if not many) Christians have the mistaken idea that the gospel is primarily for unbelievers, Bridges contends that we as Christians must “preach the Gospel to ourselves every day.” As Bridges summarizes in his preface, his book is intended to answer three questions:

  • What is the gospel we should preach to ourselves?
  • Why do we, who are already believers, need to preach it to ourselves?
  • How do we do it?

Personally, this book looks very exciting to me. For a while I have had the hunch that believers should never grow weary of or “get over” the simplicity and beauty of the gospel. I am not suggesting Christians should prolong their time with spiritual milk when they should be pressing on to solid food (cf. Hebrews 5:11-6:1). Rather, I am arguing that in pressing on Christians never truly leave behind a love for the gospel. On the contrary, that love ought to be deepening as the Christian understands more fully the rich implications of the gospel for his present life and eternal state, as well as the inestimable cost to Christ to accomplish all of what He did at the cross.

I am really hoping that Bridges supports his idea that believers should preach the gospel to themselves with a ton of Scripture verses. Let us see whether he does this, and if so, how he does it. It is important to consider what verses he uses as well as the methodological presuppositions he employs in the task of interpreting Scripture.

As I hope has been already conveyed, I am just thrilled to read through this book and blog on various parts of it with a review to follow.  Are you thrilled about it?

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