Confessions of a recovering Baptist, part 2 – The centrality of the gospel

I’ve come to a conviction that the gospel is much more critical and central than I had previously understood.

As I’ve written before, my wife and I both grew up in Baptist churches but do not attend one now. I have seen my beliefs somewhat changed from those I grew up with.

As I’ve also written before, I don’t want these articles to sound like I’m trashing Baptists or more specifically the churches that my wife and I grew up in. I’ll quickly admit that our former churches may indeed have been teaching us the very things I’ve come to decide are important in the Christian walk, but I just never “got it” while attending there.

The centrality of the gospel

Baptist churches are very clear about the gospel. Just ask nearly any serious attender of a Baptist church about the gospel, and I’m sure you’ll get a good response detailing what God does and what man must do to be saved.

But I have found that my former attitudes about the gospel centered around the salvation experience. My view of the gospel was very much limited to the message of salvation itself and not really anything more. The gospel was something to be studied, and of course it was hugely important (you don’t come to faith in Christ without it!), but once you’ve been saved the gospel has done its job.

To me the gospel was one of many things to study as you learn the various doctrines that the church believes. You need to study things like the gospel, the characteristics of God, the sacraments, the gifts of the Spirit, the history of Old Testament Israel, the doctrine of the end times, etc., etc. The gospel was put in there as just one of the many items to learn about. It didn’t have any more or less significance than any of the other doctrines.

I’ve come to understand that the gospel is central to Christianity and cannot be properly understood outside of its centrality. My relationship to God after salvation has as much to do with the gospel as my salvation itself.

God’s goodness to man is shown in the gospel. This is more than just His goodness in saving mankind. But also the reason that God is good to man at all — even after salvation. Why does God look down upon His children and accept them? Because of the gospel. Why is He pleased with our worship? Because of the gospel. And why does He continue to work towards our good? Because of the gospel.

In fact, scripture teaches that the gospel is the basis of other doctrine, not just one of many doctrines. I Timothy 1:10-11 says that sound doctrine is “. . . doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel.” Here are some examples:

  • Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.

The gospel is brought into each of these as the basis for the teaching.

The gospel is also to be the motivation for our conduct. Here is a quick sampling of the way the Bible weaves the gospel into other teachings:

  • I Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. . . You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
  • Ephesians 4:32 . . . forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
  • II Corinthians 8:7,9 . . . see that you excel in this act of grace also . . . for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Over and over again, scripture pulls the gospel back into its message. It is so much more than just the way of salvation!

One of the practices that has helped me in my Christian walk has been to “preach the gospel to myself” every day (well, I try to follow this practice daily). I need to get up in the morning and literally tell myself, “You are a sinner, saved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His sacrifice was sufficient to pay for all your sins. God’s attitude toward you today is based solely in Christ’s finished work on the cross…” and so on. When I can really get this idea into the core of my being, the Christian walk becomes much easier. How can I be prideful with the gospel message resonating in my heart? How can I run to sin for pleasure and/or satisfaction with a very practical awareness of the gospel on my mind?

And actually, when I do fall into sin (or jump headlong into it), the gospel comes right back to rescue me. I remind myself that “This is why I need a Savior. This is why Christ died for me. And Christ’s death on the cross is the basis for forgiveness of this sin also.”

I’m a much more gospel-centered Christian now. And I’ve come to believe that that is what true Christianity is about.