We have the tools and know the motives, but how do we give our churches Jesus? By preaching the gospel to ourselves and to one another.
“What you really need is good news,” I told him. He didn’t understand. We had met time and time again and unknowingly, he was trying to perform his way into the kingdom. “You can’t do that,” I exhorted. “Otherwise you miss the entire point of Jesus and His performance on your behalf!”
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all need good news. Not just good news, but better-than-anything news. News that announces something spectacular—like nothing you could ever imagine or fabricate. And until you recognize this need, you’ll be helpless. Like an engine with no gas, your life, without a constant barrage of Jesus-is-King news, will stall.
I often tell my congregation that I have thirty-four years left in my ministry here, and for those thirty-four years, you will hear the gospel over and over again, not because you don’t know it in your brain, but because knowing it in your brain isn’t enough. We must know it—I must know it—in our hearts, and in our hands. Remember, the gospel isn’t the starting point—it is the point. It’s the point of everything! And until we understand this truth, we will continue to be lured away, enticed by other false gospels that over-promise and under-deliver. These things distract us from making war.
Martin Luther is reported to have said that he continues to preach the gospel each and every week because each and every week his people forget it. I’m sure he would include himself in this assertion because let’s face it, we’re all guilty as charged.
Because of this, there are five simple reasons why we need to hear about Jesus and His glorious gospel each and every day. “Give us Jesus” ought to be the rally cry of the church. If we are to make war, we must do so here. Over and over again, our hearts should be yearning to hear the gospel again and again—like my two-year-old daughter begging for a “horsey-ride” on my back, let us go back to the truth that sets us free. We make war using the preaching of the gospel to ourselves and each other:
1. So Our Affections Are Stirred
Our emotions are impressed with many things. Whether a good movie, television show, football game, or shiny new Apple product, we love an emotionally stirring experience. We thrive on it. But what happens when those emotions become sour? What happens when we just don’t feel like worshiping Jesus and finding joy in him? What do you do when your affections are clouded with bitterness, jealousy, envy, and anger? What happens in war if you are tired and just don’t “feel it”?
Jonathan Edwards is helpful: “Upon the whole, I think it is clearly manifest, that all truly gracious affections arise from special and peculiar influences of the Spirit, working that sensible effect or sensation in the souls of the saints.”
It is the Holy Spirit that drives our affections towards gospel holiness and one of the means by which He does so is through gospel proclamation. We need it. Fighting for joy is absolutely that—a fight; but joy in Him is absolutely worth it (Ps. 16:11). Only when old affections have been expunged by greater, far superior affections can we be free from idolatry.
You see, in war time, your affections can take a beating. You can be side-tracked by other things. You don’t have time to sit around and worry about those distractions. Making war is an all-out declaration that the only thing that matters in this moment, at this time, is that the gospel takes precedence against the enemy. You will feel overwhelmed. God gives you more than you can handle because the idol of self-sufficiency is destructive. You can’t make your heart feel good towards God. You need something from the outside, namely, good news. The gospel stirs up affections, like bubbles in a glass jar, so that what comes out of you is holy.
2. So Our Identities Are Clarified
Whether it is a counseling appointment with a young man trying to understand what he should do with his life, or a newly engaged couple looking for some premarital help, I am convinced that the root issue with all of our problems is an issue of identity. For example, no matter the marital issue, I can always trace the issue between the husband and wife back to the problem of a husband not being a biblical husband, and a wife not being a biblical wife. Identity matters tremendously.
If you think about it—sin is a loss of identity. When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden, they lost their identity as a covenant people with their covenant God. Subsequently, because of their transgression, their lives were marred by sin and ever since then, man, made in God’s image, has simply forgotten who he is in relationship to God. Everyone knows He exists (Rom. 1:20); however, the issue is identity amnesia.
Take the example of the pursuit of holiness. For the Christian, the battle of sanctification is a battle to be who you are. If you’re a redeemed saint, then act like one! When we give ourselves to sin, we lose our identity—hence the need for the gospel. We need a constant reminder that we are freely justified in Christ to rest in Him. Wartime has a tendency to distract us, so it is important to know who you are.
3. So Our Idols Are Uprooted
John Calvin wrote, “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.”32 Calvin was on to something. Every time we lose sight of the gospel it is because we have taken our eyes away from Jesus and placed them on an idol. Idols can be subversively deceptive, or they can be patently obvious. Either way, this side of glorification will undoubtedly be marked by a constant fight with idols. That’s what happens in war.
An idol cannot be uprooted by mere moral effort. It has to be uprooted and replaced by something far superior, namely, the gospel. And what better way to see an idol uprooted, than the goodness of the good news? The intensity of pain we feel when an idol is removed from us is directly proportionate to how far away we walked from belief in the gospel. If sin and idolatry is trusting, confiding, believing, and gaining identity from something other than God, then it follows that we ought to, through repentance and faith, trust, confide, believe, and gain our identity in Jesus. Idols are destroyed when good news is heeded.
4. So Our Covenant Is Kept
As talked about in the previous chapter, the New Covenant instituted by our Lord is meant to be kept. Sometimes we do not often talk like this, mostly because in portions of our culture we’ve lost the key concepts behind covenant. Regardless of unconscious ignorance, it is our duty—indeed it is commanded of us!—to “be holy” (1 Pt. 1:15-16; cf. Lev. 11:44). To be sure, Christ is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). However, we are still called to the covenant obligations of obedience. And because of the indwelling power of God the Holy Spirit, we can follow Jesus in obedience (Jn. 14:21) because the law has been written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33; cf. 2 Cor. 3:6). This happens through the work of the Spirit leading us to truth (Jn. 17:17) and glorifying Christ (the power of the gospel in us). You need to hear it, because the Spirit uses it to drive your obedience.
5. So Our Mission Is Spurred On
So having had our affections stirred, our identities clarified, our idols uprooted, and our covenant in check, what do we do? The answer? Make disciples. This is our mission. The gospel is news; therefore, it should be proclaimed. Boldly, I might add. After all, Jesus has been given all authority—we need not fear (Matt. 28:18; more on this in the next chapter).
If we do not continue to go back to the good news again and again, we will lose sight of our identity and purpose. The gospel is the engine that drives this whole thing. Without it, we are lost. Again and again, we need to hear, see, believe, experience afresh, enjoy, and understand the good news of Jesus’ work on our behalf: His virgin birth, His perfect life under the law of God, His perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures (Israel’s story), His substitutionary death, His resurrection, His ascension to the throne, and His current mediation—this is our gospel! Let it spur us on to do His work.
“I have stored up your word in my heart,” the writer says, “that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The issue is not just hearing the gospel, but marinating in it as well. Whether proclaimed from the pulpit or shared over a cup of coffee, the gospel must take center stage, because we do not want to sin against God. When it is stored in our hearts and minds, we get all of the benefits mentioned above. But the ultimate benefit is that we get God. We need the good news because we need God. The war against sin is not a war against sin in and of itself. The war against indwelling sin is a war to get God. He is the prize worth pursuing.
Will you rest in the righteousness of Christ credited to your account? Will you walk in peace, knowing that peace is at the heart of gospel? Will you put on the helmet of salvation, knowing that your salvation has been secured because of Christ’s perfect work? Will you tighten the belt of truth so that your life is held together by the truth of God’s word? Will you hold fast and “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)? Will you boldly take up your sword, trust in the authority of Scripture, and wield it with humility? If so, then you must wage war knowing the battle has already been won. Christ is victorious. Christ is King.
Rev. Jason M. Garwood (@jasongarwood) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter.
Excerpt from Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification available from G4S Books (2014).