As I’ve read The Explicit Gospel over the last month I’ve been struck afresh by the wonder, power and beauty of the gospel. I’ve been reminded of the magnificent glory of God, the weight of our sin in light of this, the personal and universal redemption brought about by Jesus’ blood and the renewed creation in which we will dwell with the Lord forever. These truths are glorious and life-giving, yet the question is, what will we do with them? In the final section of the book, Chandler helps us think through this question by firstly addressing what happens when we fail to understand the gospel in its fullness and reduce it to something that it’s not.
Chandler says, “the explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary…[but] when we don’t hold them together…we create an imbalance that leads to all sorts of biblical error” (p. 175). He then proceeds to, with great discernment, speak about a series of dangers that Christians throughout history have grappled with, and which Christians today ought to be aware of if we seek to hold fast to the true gospel. Things like creating a rationalized or self-centred gospel, which can come from focusing on the ground too long and reading ourselves at the centre of God’s word and plan. Or allowing culture to become an idol that defines the Scriptures, and even taking Christ and his death out of the gospel in order to make it more palatable for others.
As I read through all these potential dangers, I was surprised by how conflicted I felt – saddened that we, sinful humans, so distort God’s message of truth and grace to serve our own purposes, yet humbled as I reflected on instances in my own life where the gospel I’ve either held to or shared has more closely represented these distortions than I would like to admit. I know there have been times when I’ve made the gospel too much about my own personal relationship with God and lacked the desire to see his entire world renewed. I know there have been times when I’ve let the prevailing attitude of our culture shape the way I think about certain issues more than what God says to us in his Word. I know there have been times when I’ve made the gospel more about the pursuit of my own intellectual knowledge than growing in fellowship with the Lord.
Maybe some of these things hit a nerve with you too. Maybe you also felt uncomfortable as you reflected on your own tendency to alter the gospel, sometimes not even consciously. If you, like me, did feel these things, I really urge you to keep reading to the end, for in Chandler’s final chapter there is great encouragement for us as we keep trying to work out how to live out and hold to the true gospel. As Chandler tells us his own story of wrestling with an assumed gospel, in his case, moralism versus repentance and grace, he reminds us that the progress and maturity that we desire in our Christian lives always revolves around “Christ’s saving performance on our behalf” (p. 210). As the Word and Spirit of God work in our lives, we do change. We are transformed, by the grace of God.
This brings great comfort to me as I reflect on my own tendency to forget the message by which I’ve been saved and to rest in my own efforts. But it is the explicit gospel of God’s love for sinners shown in Christ, not the assumed, and false, gospel of moralistic, therapeutic deism, that saves us, and that our world needs to hear. Ultimately, just reading this book will not change us, but it is definitely a helpful start, and I am thankful to God for Matt Chandler’s encouragement to keep coming back to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that has saved us, that we must stand firm in, and that we proclaim.