Does your congregation believe the truth about the gospel?
by Aaron Armstrong
I had been a Christian for less than a year when I realized something was missing. I read my Bible, I prayed, I served—all the things I was supposed to do. But something was wrong.
When I saw people raising their hands, clapping and weeping as they sang on Sunday mornings, I felt somber. When I listened as others shared how challenging and inspirational they found the message, I felt hopeless.
What was wrong with me? Was I the problem, or was something more going on? I did the thing that made the most sense: I started reading my Bible to see if it had the answer to what I was missing.
And I found it.
I began in Genesis and didn’t stop until I read to the end.
As I read, I began to notice a difference between the sermons I heard and what I saw in the Scriptures themselves, a difference between how the psalmists spoke and the songs we sang each week.
Every week, I heard only about things I had to do. But the Bible also kept telling me what God had already done.
My books and the sermons I heard focused on my need to be brave, be committed, seek justice, and do good. All those things are in the Bible.
The Bible, however, also kept showing me how God was rescuing, redeeming, restoring, and doing good on my behalf. Scripture said He would empower me to do what I could never do in my own strength.
The problem was that I believed the lie of moralism—the belief that the chief implication of the gospel is behavior modification.
I was hearing the Bible taught as a collection of disconnected stories and principles to help me live as a good person—but not as a changed one.
I was trying to earn God’s love instead of obeying Him because of His love for me in Christ (1 John 4:9-11). I thought I could work up enough willpower to obey instead of trusting in Christ’s finished work and the Spirit’s power.
I was told to slay my giants with a slingshot, when I needed a King to slay them for me.
I was told to be a hero, when I needed a Hero to rescue me.
I was told God loved me, but not how He loved me.
I was told to obey, but not given a foundation for my obedience.
I was missing the gospel. And I wasn’t alone.
Many Christians are taught in this way. We come to the Scriptures seeing them as morality tales, as a means of helping us live as good people.
Many of us live this way our whole lives, not realizing God has something better in mind for us. We fail to understand that our behavior isn’t the standard by which God measures us—that it isn’t the reason He loves us.
Now, it’s never a question of whether we are to obey God. As a church leader, you should encourage your flock to engage in spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible regularly, sharing the gospel, and praying consistently. These are things we should do as we grow in the faith.
But whenever we teach the Scriptures, it is crucial to stress this point: God doesn’t begin with commands. He begins by demonstrating what He has done for His people.
Throughout the Bible, the gospel story—God’s plan to rescue and redeem His people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—is told.
To the first humans, a Son is promised who will crush the head of a serpent. To Abraham, a Descendant who will bless all the people of the earth.
To David, a Son who will reign forever from an eternal throne. To the Judeans, a Servant who will bear their iniquities. To all who long for restoration, a Messiah who will rescue and redeem them.
This is the story that transforms us, the story told through every story in the Bible—the story that not only brings us into the Christian faith but also continually grows us in it.
That takes away our need to earn God’s favor because He lavishly pours it out upon us through Jesus. That calls us to “work out [our] own salvation,” knowing God is at work in us “both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
That tells us God first loved us, and He loved us in this way: “He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This is the good news God gives us. The good news you can share with people who are weary from continually trying to earn what can only be given. The good news that crushes the lie that seeks to crush His church.
AARON ARMSTRONG (@AaronStrongarm) is brand manager of The Gospel Project, the author of several books including Devotional Doctrine (LifeWay, 2018), and the screenwriter of “Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.”