In his book How People Change (co-authored with Tim Lane), Paul Tripp identifies seven counterfeit gospels- ways we try and "justify" or "save" ourselves apart from the gospel of grace. I found these unbelievably helpful. Which one (or two, or three) of these do you tend to gravitate towards?
Formalism. "I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I'm always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do."
Legalism. "I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don't meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated."
Mysticism. "I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don't feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I'm looking for."
Activism. "I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what's right than a joyful pursuit of Christ."
Biblicism. "I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge."
Therapism. "I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs."
Social-ism. "The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships."
As I said a few months ago in one of my sermons, there are outside-the-church idols and there are inside-the-church idols. It's the idols inside the church that ought to concern Christians most. It's easier for Christians to identify worldly idols such as money, power, selfish ambition, sex, and so on. It's the idols inside the church that we have a harder time identifying.
For instance, we know it's wrong to bow to the god of power—but it's also wrong to bow to the god of preferences. We know it's wrong to worship immorality—but it's also wrong to worship morality. We know it's wrong to seek freedom by breaking the rules—but it's also wrong to seek freedom by keeping them. We know God hates unrighteousness—but he also hates self-righteousness. We know crime is a sin—but so is control. If people outside the church try to save themselves by being bad; people inside the church try to save themselves by being good.
The good news of the gospel is that both inside and outside the church, there is only One Savior and Lord, namely Jesus. And he came, not to angrily strip away our freedom, but to affectionately strip away our slavery to lesser things so that we might become truly free!
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