My book Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels comes out in a few weeks but, as of two days ago, I have a few copies now in my hands. My publisher for this book, Crossway, has done a phenomenal job with the presentation of this book. It looks really, really good. I'm very proud of it and excited about it. You can pre-order it here.
As I say in the acknowledgments, this book started out as a series of sermons I preached during the most difficult season of my life. As I reflect on that season now, I can honestly say that I am genuinely thankful for all of the pain I experienced. For, it was during this trying time that God helped me recognize the practical relevance of the gospel.
Through their writing and their friendship, I am indebted to seven men in particular who, as I was preaching through Jonah, helped me make the life-saving connection between what Christ accomplished for me and my daily internal grind: Scotty Smith, Edmund Clowney, Tim Keller, Paul Tripp, Bryan Chapell, Reggie Kidd, and Jerry Bridges. These seven men have been used by God to massage the gospel deep into my bones and I am forever grateful to them.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting some excerpts from the book to give you a taste of its content. The following excerpt is taken from a section entitled "Good News for Losers."
The way God mightily used a weakened Jonah is a foreshadowing of how Christ accomplished his work of redemption: "For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God" (2 Cor. 13:4). In the cross, Jesus proves that there's great power in defeat. Christ, "though he was in the form of God," became small—"made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7). He thereby accomplished a cosmic rescue, the greatest feat in human history: his magnificent defeat on the cross guaranteed the elimination of sin and death. His loss guaranteed that one day every wrong will be righted and every tear wiped away.
A decade ago, some people were offended when media mogul Ted Turner called Christianity "a religion for losers" (he later expressed regret for that and similar remarks). But the fact is, in one sense Ted Turner was exactly right. Christianity is for losers.
For a long time, we Christians have spent time and energy and money trying our best to convince the world we're cool, and that we're winners. And in our world, cool means being just as prominent and prosperous, just as smart and stylish, just as successful and savvy as anybody else. Just look at how Christians swell with pride when a successful athlete or actor or politician professes his faith. It's as if we shout to everyone, "See! This guy has everything, and he's a believer—so Christianity has to be cool." We want to parade these celebrities and their faith before the world.
In Too Good to Be True, Michael Horton asks, "Have you ever seen a janitor interviewed for his testimony?" The reason we haven't is that God-fearing janitors don't represent strength or intelligence or coolness in our culture. They're viewed as less valuable than the famous entertainer or the sports star or the rising politician. And we, as the church, have adopted the same categorization.
The gospel, however, is not just for the all-star and the illustrious and the legendary. It's for the loser. It's for the defeated, not the dominant. It's for those who realize they're unable to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders—those who've figured out that they're not gods. It's for people who understand the bankruptcy of life without God. It's for people who recognize that while they're definitely deficient, God is more than sufficient.
Jesus came to show us that the gospel explains success in terms of giving, not taking; self-sacrifice, not self-protection; going to the back, not getting to the front. The gospel shows that we win by losing, we triumph through defeat, we achieve power through service, and we become rich by giving ourselves away.
In fact, in gospel-centered living we follow Jesus in laying down our lives for those who hate us and hurt us. We spend our lives serving instead of being served, and seeking last place, not first. Gospel-centered people are those who love giving up their place for others, not guarding their place from others—because their value and worth is found in Christ, not their position.
Do you remember, in Gethsemane, when Jesus told Peter to put away his sword (Matt. 26:52)? He did this to show us that in God's economy, winning this battle involves dying rather than killing.
When we understand that our significance and identity is in Christ, we don't have to win—we're free to lose. The gospel frees us from the pressure to generate our own significance and meaning. In Christ, our identity and significance are secure, which frees us up to give everything we have, because in Christ we have everything we need.