This is the time of year when we traditionally look back and reflect on where we've been. We celebrate victories and try to learn from mistakes. It is also the time we look forward to the coming year and make plans, resolutions to change ourselves, our organizations, and even our churches. We try to fix our problems and figure out how we can do it better. Pragmatism is tempting. The temptation is: "if I can learn how to do this best, then people will grow, disciples will multiply, and the church will grow." However, when we continually apply this line of thinking, we end up more dependent on strategies and programs than the gospel of Jesus. To be sure, programs and strategies are not bad, but they are bad at for injecting authentic community and real mission into the church. Only the gospel is sufficient for that. Paul said the gospel is of first importance, and that he decided to know nothing but Jesus crucified (1 Cor 2:2, 15:1-4).
A common misconception is that the gospel of Jesus is only for salvation and not sanctification. What I mean is that people think the gospel is the 'intro class' to the Christian life. Instead, the gospel is the whole Christian life--it is the whole program. Tim Keller describes the gospel this way: "We are so sinful that Jesus had to die for us, yet so loved that Jesus was glad to die for us." The gospel not only makes me a disciple of Jesus but also brings me into a community of people (i.e., the Church) who are also experiencing this life-giving offer of Jesus' grace.
When we experience Jesus's love for ourselves, we naturally want to tell others about it. Think about the first time you fell in love with someone. Your heart was so captured by their beauty and love that you couldn't help but tell others about them. When the gospel captivates our hearts, our only natural response is to proclaim Jesus (2 Cor 5:14-21). This is a gospel sufficient enough to make disciples, form community, and ignite mission.
The Gospel Makes Disciples
After Jesus' victorious resurrection he visited his disciples one last time. "Go and make disciples," he told them. Jesus called his disciples to be disciples who multiply by going, teaching, and baptizing. They were sent by Jesus, under his authoritative rule, to go. They were sent by the 2nd person of the trinity, who rose from the dead and accomplished salvation for his people. Jesus called them to teach the good news. Jesus told his disciples that the gospel is enough to make disciples. Proclamation of this good news makes disciples (Acts 2:14-41). We proclaim the message of Jesus' sinless life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. We then call and persuade people to repentance and faith in Christ ( 2 Cor 5:18-20). Then we baptize. Baptism is a tangible representation of the work of Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:1-6). Being on Jesus' mission is all about the gospel. The gospel is enough to make disciples.
The Gospel Forms Community
Revival breaks out in the book of Acts. In the beginning of the book Jesus told his followers to be his witnesses to the world. The disciples were a small group of about 120 people. Peter then proclaimed the message of the gospel to many who were gathered at Pentecost. The Lord added 3,000 disciples that day as a result of the preaching of the gospel. The very next part of the narrative we see those couple thousand disciples with different backgrounds meeting together scattered throughout the city (Acts 2:42-47). Luke records for us that "they had everything in common."
How is that possible? Think about it. These people from different cities and backgrounds all of a sudden have everything in common. Why? Because of the gospel. They had Jesus. They experienced his grace. The gospel created and formed a vibrant community of people. You may ask, "How does the gospel apply to our communities today?" Take pride, for example. If someone in our community is struggling with pride, the answer is not to try harder to be more humble. Behavior change will not last. At best we will lie about the pride deep within our hearts and become discouraged. At worst we will become more prideful, doing acts of humility simply for ourselves. The gospel gets to the heart. The gospel teaches us that Jesus became a servant (Mark 10:45). As God in the flesh, he came humbly (Philippians 2:1-8). As we behold the humble servanthood of Jesus, our prideful hearts are changed. The gospel grows us in humility--forming a counter-cultural community, radially transformed by grace.
The Gospel Ignites Mission
The Holy Spirit changed the disciples. They became bold followers of Christ after he rose from the dead and gave them the Spirit. The gospel is enough to ignite Jesus' followers to be on his mission of going and making disciples of all nations. We don't have to manipulate people or guilt them into being on mission. That sort wouldn't last anyway. The only way people will be motivated to be on mission and stay on mission is by a heart that is saturated and transformed by the gospel. Charles Spurgeon said, "Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor." Disciples of Jesus, made alive by the gospel are by nature missionaries. It is their very identity (1 Peter 2:1-10). The gospel gives us the identity of children of God. It also gives us the identity of a redeemed people-- empowered by God's Spirit, and on God's mission of making disciples.
The Gospel Sends Help.
Finally, remember you have been given the Spirit. He has sent you on mission to proclaim his message of redemption. He has all authority. He calls his people to go and make disciples by telling them of his life, death for sin, and victorious resurrection. Jesus has given your community a new identity as a missional people (1 Peter 2:1-10).
The gospel is sufficient enough to make disciples, form community, and ignite mission. Before you implement better techniques, diets, or strategies in 2013, consider the power and purpose of the Gospel.
Garrett Ventry is a church planting intern at Vintage 21 Church in Raleigh. He serves under the regional director of the Acts 29 Network’s southeast region. He is also a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Megan live in Raleigh. Twitter: @GarrettVentry
A helpful book: Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson.