The gospel isn’t about us. It’s a message for us, yes, but it’s ultimately a royal announcement about Jesus. Even if you were never to have existed, the gospel would still be true.
It is, as we saw in the previous column, “public truth.” And as the cosmic announcement of the crucified and risen Jesus as King, this message stands at the heart of the Scriptural Story of our world.
Public Truth, Minimal Change
Still, one of the problems we face as the church in the West is that many people nod their heads and give assent to the basic facts of the gospel but then go right on living with habits that reinforce the primary story that revs them up and gives them direction, as we saw with the three characters I mentioned in the first column.
- For Cameron, the primary story keeps him focused on the next mountain to conquer in his career path.
- For Pam, it’s the battle in Washington, D.C.
- For Greg, it’s the countdown to the next major game or movie release.
In each of these cases, the public truth of the gospel is affirmed, but it is not central in the experience of these Christians. Another story has taken center stage. The public truth is affirmed, with minimal personal implications.
Using the Gospel
What’s worse, it’s possible to use the Scriptural Story—the public truth of the gospel—as the basis for whatever primary story you prefer.
For example, it’s possible for Cameron to take hold of some of the promises of Scripture—divorced from their original context—and to claim God’s favor and Jesus’s victory as a way of propelling him forward in his career path. Every “step forward” is a sign that God is blessing his pursuits.
In Pam’s case, the truth of the gospel gets twisted into justification for all her political positions. Even in areas where the Bible is silent and where people with wisdom may come to different conclusions, Pam remains confident in her righteous cause. She may feel more emboldened in her political efforts because she sees her country (rather than the church) as God’s chosen people and her party as the primary instrument of God’s will being done. God must be on her side.
For Greg, the gospel takes care of the spiritual part of life, which then frees him up to pursue a life of consumption without hesitation. The public story of the gospel means that everything is going to work out in the end, and with a heavenly afterlife assured, Greg can safely remove the gospel from everyday life and turn his attention to earthly enjoyment, falling asleep usually by the soft glow of the TV streaming ever onward to the “next episode.”
In each of these cases, we minimize the personal implications of the public truth of the gospel, or worse, twist the truth of the gospel into something that justifies our choices and decisions. In this way, we affirm the basics of the gospel announcement, but our life stays intact. The gospel gets relegated to the periphery, or worse, becomes the basis for whatever primary story we’ve chosen to live by.
Reevaluating Your Personal Story
Here’s where we must reevaluate the primary story we live by.
If the Scriptural Story of the world is public truth with personal implications, then we must evaluate our individual life stories in light of the greater one. The public impacts the personal. And, as we read the New Testament, we not only see the Story of our world, but also how our lives make sense within that Story.
The gospel alters our life story. When we trust in Christ, the new story begins, a narrative in which we are gradually being remade into the image of Jesus. It is a story of becoming like Christ. This is the personal side of the gospel—that Christ died for you and me personally, and that God has promised to make us more and more like our Savior.
Setbacks and Steps Forward
This means that “setbacks” and “steps forward” cannot be measured ultimately in terms of career advancement, or political wins, or entertainment options, but must be viewed in light of our ultimate purpose on earth: to reflect the glory and goodness of the God who created us and the Savior who redeemed us. The personal side of the Scriptural Story for the individual Christian is a journey toward greater holiness. It is a story of being conformed into the image of Christ through the power of the Spirit.
It’s possible, then, for Cameron to experience a “setback” in his career that actually represents a “step forward” in the Story that matters most: his dependence on God and his growth in Christlikeness. It’s possible for Greg to take a “step forward” in gaining more leisure time, but for the distraction to dull his senses to the things of the Lord, resulting in spiritual apathy. It’s possible for Pam to win an election and take a giant leap forward politically, while failing to love her neighbor according to Christ’s command. “Setbacks” and “steps forward” must be reinterpreted around a journey of becoming more like Christ.
The personal side of the Scriptural Story confronts us daily with the call to take up the cross, follow Jesus, and reflect more and more his glory and goodness. Who are we becoming? Are we more like Jesus today than last week, last month, or last year? These are the questions that matter.
Too often, we think of worldliness only in terms of sinful acts. But worldliness shows up whenever we conform to the pattern of this world, whenever we choose to make primary the same, lesser stories as unbelievers, adding just a dash of Christianity to our lives so we can consider ourselves “faithful.”
What is the solution?
How do we break free from these chains that keep us focused on earthly things rather than setting our minds on things above?
There’s one way that will blow up the lesser story and remind you of the primary one, but it’s not something you can make happen or something you necessarily want. More on that in the next column.