By J.D. Greear
Of the 538 different variations of Batman my generation has had to endure, I think Christopher Nolan’s 2005 mega-hit, Batman Begins, is the best one. In it, young Bruce Wayne falls down an old well that apparently had been covered up for years.
The surrounding brush had grown over so much that the opening to the well was completely invisible. It wasn’t until years later that Bruce returned to the well. What he found was it was actually the entry to a vast, underground cave with unspeakable treasures and the secrets to becoming “the Batman.”
There was so much more to Wayne Manor than what could be found above ground. To experience the full riches of the Wayne family estate, one needed to go deeper.
This is how we must treat the gospel.
We may think we see and understand all that’s on the surface of the gospel message–but there’s more to be discovered in the depths.
The more we look, the more we’re transformed. The more we discover, the more we see. The Apostle Paul says we grow spiritually as we gaze into God’s glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we behold the glory of Christ in the gospel, we become more like him. We grow from glory to glory.
Think about your own journey with Christ. How did you first become a Christian? You beheld the glory of God in the good news of what Jesus had done for you.
And now, how do you, as a Christian, become more and more like Jesus? By continuing to gaze at the glory of the God who did these things for you. By believing it remains finished.
Just as we are saved by believing the gospel and beholding Jesus with eyes of wonder, so we are sanctified in the same way. The gospel gets us in, and the gospel gets us all the way home.
Which is why we all still need it.
And why we need it more than anything else.
Of First Importance?
Evangelical Christians have always been gospel people, of course. After all, it’s in our very name. The word evangelical is a transliteration of the Greek word “gospel.” So, in that sense, the gospel has always been our “brand.” It’s been the heart of Christianity from the beginning. It’s what gives our faith life.
But now it seems like we are tempted to turn elsewhere for renewal and for life.
You foolish (Evangelicals)! Who has cast a spell on you? … Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? (Gal 3:1–3, CSB)
Our failure to see renewal isn’t a result of holding the gospel so tightly that we’re rusty on modern techniques. Rather, it’s a result of holding techniques too tightly and getting rusty with the gospel. We’ve removed the gospel from its place of first importance. It no longer is supreme. It no longer is our first priority.
We must turn back to the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus if we want to go forward in mission.
None of our goals for personal growth will take off without the gospel. None of our calls for renewal will endure if they are not grounded in the gospel. The fire “to do” in the Christian life comes only from being soaked in the fuel of what has been done.
When people in our communities think about and talk about us, they should think and talk about the gospel. It should be both the ultimate point and the basis of every ministry and endeavor of our churches.
Think about your own church for a moment—what’s the one thing your church is about?
Is the gospel what you leave your church and your neighbors talking about?
Or do you talk about your pastor’s insights, your great worship band, your guest services, your massive pipe organ, your care for the poor, or your courageous proclamations against sin? Do others see your church as that place that gives really practical, helpful advice about life? Or as a classroom with theologically robust, original-languages-savvy preaching?
There is nothing wrong with most of these things—but none of them are the power of new life. They can be means of responding to or living out the power of God, but none of them are the raw power of God. Only the gospel, according to Scripture, is power.
Apart from the gospel, our ingenious life-change strategies will lack staying—and saving—power.
Apart from the gospel, our kindness to the poor will only make people comfortable for a while before as they perish eternally.
Apart from the gospel, the world we reshape through our politics will be every bit as bad as the one we are trying to reform.
Apart from the gospel, self-help strategies will only lead us to pride (if we succeed) or despair (if we fail). After all, “10 Steps Toward a Healthy Marriage” won’t transform your marriage nearly as much as learning, understanding, and meditating on the 10 billion steps Jesus took toward you will.
What does this mean for us and our churches? It means it’s possible to lead people astray not just by teaching wrong things, but also by giving true things—good things—too prominent a place.
We’ve covered your church, but what about you? What’s the one thing you’re about? What is of first importance to you? Are you leading others astray by putting emphasis where it doesn’t belong?
The devil would like nothing more than to divide and distract us with secondary matters.
We have a gospel too great and a mission too urgent to be distracted by any secondary thing. Everything we do in our own lives and in our churches must be run through the filter of how well it enables and deepens our gospel mission.
J.D. GREEAR (@jdgreear) is pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and currently serves as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Excerpted from Above All: The Gospel Is the Source of the Church’s Renewal, Copyright © 2019 by J.D. Greear. Published by B&H Publishing Group.