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A Cure for Gospel Confusion

  • Tullian Tchividjian Pastor, Author
  • Updated Jun 07, 2010
A Cure for Gospel Confusion
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As Christians today keep struggling to fully grasp the gospel's incredible breadth and power-both for themselves and for the changing world around them-Surprised by Grace carries a liberating message that forces us to come to grips with the shocking extent of God's compassion and mercy.  

This astounding truth is something God pressed into the epic life-story of a man who defiantly resisted it. His true story is retold in Surprised by Grace, a gripping presentation that will open your eyes wider than ever to God's relentless, promiscuous, and inexhaustible grace.  


[Taken from pages 15-17 surprised by grace, by Tullian Tchividjian, © 2010 Crossway Books.]



For good reason, Christian people love the word gospel. Tragically, however, multitudes of Christians fail to grasp what the gospel fully is. In fact, I'm convinced there's just as much confusion inside the church as there is outside it regarding the gospel's true meaning—sometimes even in churches where the gospel is regularly preached and taught. To get a better grip on the gospel, maybe what we need most is to be startled . . . surprised . . . even shocked by it. That's exactly what I believe our situation calls for. And one of the best books in the Bible for delivering such a jolt has to be Jonah—a story full of "shocking surprises and sensational elements," as one commentary puts it.1 And now, already, you're surprised. You're astonished that any author would offer a book-length look at Jonah for a popular audience. But for me, it was through probing this story of Jonah that I came face-to-face with one of the most life-changing truths in my experience. I came to grips with the fact that the gospel is not just for non-Christians but also for Christians. 



I once assumed the gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in order to be saved, but after they believe it, they advance to deeper theological waters. Jonah helped me realize that the gospel isn't the first step in a stairway of truths but more like the hub in a wheel of truth. As Tim Keller explains it, the gospel isn't simply the ABCs of Christianity, but the A-through-Z. The gospel doesn't just ignite the Christian life; it's the fuel that keeps Christians going every day. Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn't to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—and since Christians remain sinners even after they're converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel. 


This idea that the gospel is just as much for Christians as for non-Christians may seem like a new idea to many, but, in fact, it is really a very old idea. In his letter to the Christians of Colossae, the apostle Paul quickly portrays the gospel as the instrument of all continued growth and spiritual progress for believers after conversion: "All over the world," he writes, "this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth" (Colossians 1:6 NIV). 


After meditating on Paul's words here, a friend once told me that all our problems in life stem from our failure to apply the gospel. This means we can't really move forward unless we learn more thoroughly the gospel's content and how to apply it to all of life. Real change does not and cannot come independently of the gospel, which is the good news that even though we're more defective and lost than we ever imagined, we can be more accepted and loved than we ever dared hope, because Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again for sinners like you and me. God intends this reality to mold and shape us at every point and in every way. It should define the way we think, feel, and live. Martin Luther often employed the phrase simul justus et peccator to describe his condition as a Christian. It means "simultaneously justified and sinful." He understood that while he'd already been saved (through justification) from sin's penalty, he was in daily need of salvation from sin's power. And since the gospel is the "power of God for salvation" (Rom. 1:16), he knew that even for the most saintly of saints the gospel is wholly relevant and vitally necessary—day in and day out. This means that heralded preachers need the gospel just as much as hardened pagans. 


In his book The Gospel for Real Life, Jerry Bridges picks up on this theme—that Christians need the gospel just as much as non-Christians—by explaining how the spiritual poverty in so much of our Christian experience is the result of inadequate understanding of the gospel's depths. The answer isn't to try harder in the Christian life but to comprehend more fully and clearly Christ's incredible work on the cross, and then to live in a more vital awareness of that grace day by day. The main problem in the Christian life, in other words, is not that we don't try hard enough to be good. It's that we haven't thought out the deep implications of the gospel and applied its powerful reality to all parts of our life.


[Taken from pages 15-17 surprised by grace, by Tullian Tchividjian, © 2010 Crossway Books.]

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