How the Gospel Does What Religion Cannot | The Resurgence
How the Gospel Does What Religion Cannot
For many years Christianity was wearisome to me.
That’s a confession you won’t often hear from the pastor of a growing, evangelical church, but for many years it was true of me.
The List Goes On
It seems that the list of what "good Christians" should be doing never ended. Evangelism. Missions. Adoption. Radical generosity. Bold prayers. Audacious faith. Every time I turned around someone else was telling me something I should be doing that I wasn’t. So I’d get busy with whatever new program made you a “good Christian.”
My service for God was fervent, but my passions for Him were cold.”
But things were not right in my heart. My marriage kept revealing how selfish and petty I was. Seeing others more successful than me in ministry made me jealous to the point that I delighted in the thought of them falling into sin and being disqualified from ministry. I still seemed captive to the lusts of my flesh. My service for God was fervent, but my passions for Him were cold. I certainly didn’t desire to know Him more.
While I would never admit it, I was starting to resent God. Instead of a merciful father, He was the merciless taskmaster, always standing over me yelling, “Not enough! I want more!” Recently I discovered something, or should I say, “rediscovered something,” that has changed everything. The gospel.
I don’t mean that I didn’t really know it before. I did. I have a Ph.D. in systematic theology from a reputable, conservative seminary. I could have explained in great detail how Jesus paid for our sin, and I could preach for hours about the worthiness of Christ. But if my head knew the truth of those things, my heart didn’t feel them.
The gospel is able to do produce in our hearts what religion never could: a desire for God.”
The Puritan Jonathan Edwards likened his re-awakening to the Gospel to a man who had known, in his head, that honey was sweet, but for the first time had that sweetness burst alive in his mouth. Over the last few years, that is what has happened to me with the gospel.
“Rediscovering” the Gospel has given me a joy in God I never experienced in all my years of fervent religion. Now I sense, almost daily, a love for God replacing my love for myself. The jealously that once consumed my heart is being replaced by a desire to see others prosper. I feel selfishness giving way to tenderness and generosity. My cravings for the lusts of the flesh are being replaced by a craving for righteousness, and my self-centered dreams are being replaced by God-glorifying ambitions. A power is surging in me that is changing me and pushing me out into the world to leverage my life for the Kingdom of God.
Growth in Christ is the process of going deeper into the gospel, not in going beyond the gospel. As Martin Luther loved to say, “To progress is always to begin again.” The gospel is able to do produce in our hearts what religion never could: a desire for God. Those who crave righteousness will act righteously; those who love God will keep his commandments. This is the revolutionary power of the gospel: we do what we ought for God as we are captivated by the news of what he has done for us.
J.D. Greear is the pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. This article is adapted from his newly released book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary. Find out more info on the book here.