The church in the West is sleepwalking. Why? We don’t lack for dynamic preachers, innovative church models, entrepreneurial spirit, wealthy benefactors, high technology, or widespread media and cultural saturation. Yet while the biggest churches get bigger, the number of Christians in America is shrinking, and even in those big churches, leaders are discovering a discipleship deficit of emergency proportions. I am not an expert in missiology or ecclesiology or sociology, but I can read what the Bible says. In its pages I read that the source of the church’s power is the Holy Spirit working through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No other source is credited with transforming power, not even intelligence or good works, much less creativity and good marketing. Uneducated men with stuttering tongues and unclever speech set the world on fire because they were content to simply arrange the wood and trust the torch of the gospel to do its thing. What we are left to deduce is that either we are faithful to gospel-centered ministry but God doesn’t work that way anymore—in which case the Bible’s claim that the gospel is power needs a retroactive expiration date—or else our half-hearted, defeated, apathetic Christianity is a result of our gospel-deficient Christianity.
What can wake us up? A better vision. The gospel does not merely give us a ticket to heaven, a lifeline to stuff in our pocket for safekeeping—it gives us a new worldview. It gives us eyes to see and ears to hear; it expands our vision to behold the vistas of eternity and deepens our vision to see the world through redemption colored glasses.
Isaiah was undone by the vision of God’s glory in the temple. Paul was hijacked by a blinding light. Peter was shaken by the descending linen. The disciples fell on their faces during Christ’s transfiguration.
None of them was unchanged by what they saw, and while none of them followed God perfectly after their vision, they certainly saw God, themselves, and the world differently even after the vision had faded.
When John the Baptist began preparing the way for Jesus’s entry into public ministry, he cried out in the words of Isaiah 40:3–5:
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
What a beautiful cataclysm this foretells! When the king comes, his arrival is earth-shaking. The gospel changes the landscape.
When we behold the gospel’s bigness, we behold the true bigness of everything else. There are three primary things the gospel expands our vision of, and I see them embedded in these words of Peter:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet. 2:9)
Peter is admonishing the church to abstain from fleshly talk and actions, to obey diligently in order to commend the gospel and reflect the holiness of God. It is as if he’s saying in 1 Peter 2:9, “Besides, don’t you know who you are?” And his declaration of who they/we are evinces the gospel’s threefold vision.
The Gospel Gives Us a Secure View of Self
Many Christians’ problems of fear, doubt, and complacency stem from forgetting who they are, which is to say, who they are in Christ . Paul is quite clear: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). It is true that we are simultaneously sinners and saints, but when we are not operating according to the gospel’s resurrection power, it is because we believe that greater is the world than he that is within us.
Even the Christian with his nose to the obedience grindstone can miss out on this transforming positional view. I may outwardly look very diligent in the faith and dutiful in good works, good words, and good manners, but if inwardly that is all the result of an insecurity about my standing with God, the hardest work I can muster will be both worry-inducing and worthless. The performance treadmill simply leads to exhaustion.
But the gospel says I am free from the curse of the law, which means I am free from the burden of the law’s demands. Christ has met them for me. Christ’s righteousness is credited to my account. Christ hides me within himself. If all this is true, I am as secure as Christ is. God’s affection does not have to be earned; in fact, it can’t be earned (by us, anyway). God’s affection is freely given. When we really grasp that the gospel is saying this about God and about ourselves, our sense of identity will blossom, swell, and strengthen.
Look again at how 1 Peter 2:9 describes our position, thanks to the gospel of Jesus.
A Chosen Race
This means that God picked us. In the days of my youth in Houston, Texas, I played pick-up basketball or football with my buddies nearly every weekend at our favorite park. When it came time to form teams, I enjoyed very often being the first or second pick. I had serious game, I assure you. Then my wife and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I stopped playing sports every weekend.
Several years later on a visit back home, the old gang decided to get together to throw the pigskin around. We began to form teams, and even though I had given no more demonstration of my current fitness level than simply walking from the car to the field, I was picked second to last. Oh, how the mighty had fallen! I was humiliated. All these guys had done was look at me; I guess several years had taken the sheen off their memories of my athletic prowess. I suddenly looked less Tom Brady and more Tom Bosley.
I felt very keenly in that moment how good it feels to be picked. Everybody wants to be picked. The gospel tells an interesting story about being picked. If I had to relate it to my weekend football humiliation, I would put it this way: God looks at the available selection, sees that I have no evident talent or ability and that in fact I give all indications of being a liability to the team, not an asset, and says, “I’ll take him first.”
He does this for all of us. He picks us. Not because we’re great players, but because Jesus is. We can contribute nothing to God; he is not needful of us. There’s nothing that he can’t get done without us. But there he goes, picking us. And he purposefully picks the scrubs, the benchwarmers, the C team. In God’s economy, he chooses the last to be first, blesses the poor in spirit with riches aplenty, and exalts the humble.
You thought this whole deal was your idea? Nope. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). You think you were picked based on your ability? Nope. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). You think you were picked when you entered the draft? Nope. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
A Royal Priesthood
God doesn’t just take the scrubs; he takes the scrubs and turns them into frontline warriors. He makes the C team the A team. He raises our estate. He makes us not serfs in the kingdom, but brothers and sisters of the King, princes and princesses under his lordship. He has seated us with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6); the gospel gives us the royal treatment, and one day we will have the crowns to show for it (James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4).
But we aren’t just any kind of royalty; we are royal priests. We’re made ambassadors for Christ, go-betweens charged by God to bring the ministry of reconciliation to the lost, commissioned to make disciples of the nations. We pour out our lives as Christ did his own, in order that we might testify to the saving sacrifice of him who makes our sacrificial witness a glory to God. In the days of old, we needed priests to make atonement for us. Now that the High Priest has made atonement once for all, we have become priests ourselves, given full access to the throne of grace inside the holy of holies. Indeed, our bodies are now the temples of the Spirit.
Are you catching yet just how much God makes of us? There is more.
A Holy Nation
When God tells us “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” it is a command, but it’s also a promise. And because we can’t make ourselves perfectly holy, he does it for us. The blood of his Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Christ’s goodness is set to our account, and we are set apart from the condemnation hanging over the world. We are set apart for special use, consecrated by our saving God whose plans for us include demonstrating the expansiveness of his perfect holiness throughout the world.
A People for His Own Possession
Put simply, God owns us. Of course, God really owns everybody, but he treats those trusting in his Son as his own children. He treats them differently, specially. He marks them out, covers them, secures their future, and gives them a hope. He sends his Spirit to indwell, convict, teach, and comfort them.
And here’s the deal: nobody steals God’s stuff. If he owns you, he owns you. Those whom Christ has purchased for the Father will not get lost or be forfeited (John 6:39; 10:28).
Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. How are we not staggered by this minute by minute? Look how saved we are!
While I do not agree with all of what Neil Anderson has written, I greatly appreciate the following list of gospel affirmations he includes in his book Victory Over the Darkness, and have used it personally and in counseling:
Since I am in Christ, by the grace of God . . .
- I have been justified—completely forgiven and made righteous (Rom. 5:1).
- I died with Christ and died to the power of sin’s rule over my life (Rom. 6:1–6).
- I am free forever from condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
- I have been placed into Christ by God’s doing (1 Cor. 1:30).
- I have received the Spirit of God into my life that I might know the things freely given to me by God (1 Cor. 2:12).
- I have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).
- I have been bought with a price; I am not my own; I belong to God (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).
- I have been established, anointed and sealed by God in Christ, and
- I have been given the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing my inheritance to come (2 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 1:13, 14).
- Since I have died, I no longer live for myself, but for Christ (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).
- I have been made righteous (2 Cor. 5:21).
- I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I am now living is Christ’s life (Gal. 2:20).
- I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).
- I was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and am without blame before Him (Eph. 1:4).
- I was predestined—determined by God—to be adopted as God’s son (Eph. 1:5).
- I have been redeemed and forgiven, and I am a recipient of His lavish grace.
- I have been made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5).
- I have been raised up and seated with Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:6).
- I have direct access to God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:18).
- I may approach God with boldness, freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12).
- I have been rescued from the domain of Satan’s rule and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13).
- I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. The debt against me has been canceled (Col. 1:14).
- Christ Himself is in me (Col. 1:27).
- I am firmly rooted in Christ and am now being built in Him (Col. 2:7).
- I have been spiritually circumcised . . . (Col. 2:11).
- I have been made complete in Christ (Col. 2:10).
- I have been buried, raised and made alive with Christ (Col. 2:12, 13).
- I died with Christ and I have been raised up with Christ. My life is now hidden with Christ in God. Christ is now my life (Col. 3:1–4).
- I have been given a spirit of power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7).
- I have been saved and set apart according to God’s doing (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5).
- Because I am sanctified and am one with the Sanctifier, He is not ashamed to call me brother (Heb. 2:11).
- I have the right to come boldly before the throne of God to find mercy and grace in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
- I have been given exceedingly great and precious promises by God by which I am a partaker of God’s divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).
Isn’t this cause for confidence? This is not self-help. This is God-help. This is not self-esteem, because none of these affirmations can come from self, none can be accomplished through pulling up of bootstraps or the turning over of new leaves. These statements—and many more found in the Scriptures—are God-esteem, because they are what God does for us and what God says about us.
Jesus says something remarkable about us by virtue of something remarkable he says about himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). There is no more secure position than this. If you are in Christ, you cannot be stopped even if you are killed.
Because of Christ, I am free to confess that I am a sinner deserving the wrath of God, but I am also free from both sin and wrath. Why do some Christians think that to seek our identity in Christ, the way the Scriptures say we ought to, is thinking too much of ourselves? Why are they afraid to trust what God says about them? When God says to his people, “Whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye” (Zech. 2:8), am I to think he doesn’t mean it? In fact, to live in insecurity (or to insist upon it doctrinally) is to side with the accusations of the Devil, whose chief end is to convince us that our sin is greater than our God’s promise to forgive it.
In Martin Luther’s “Letters of Spiritual Counsel,” we find this word of encouragement written to a young correspondent:
When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there shall I be also.”
When you see who you are through the lens of the gospel, it changes everything.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Jared Wilson’s book, Gospel Deeps, posted here with the authors permission.
Jared C. Wilson (@jaredcwilson) is Becky’s husband and Macy and Grace’s daddy, and also the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont and the author of the books Gospel Wakefulness, Your Jesus is Too Safe, Abide, Seven Daily Sins, and Gospel Deeps. He blogs almost daily at The Gospel-Driven Church.