We talk a lot about being gospel-centered at The Summit Church, and we encourage gospel-centered living among our people. “What exactly does that mean? What does it look like?” Here is a brief explanation.
Before we jump into gospel-centeredness we need to be clear about the gospel itself.
In the simplest of terms the gospel is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that accomplishes redemption and restoration for all who believe and all of creation. In his life, Jesus fulfilled the law and accomplished all righteousness on behalf of sinners who have broken God’s law at every point. In his death, Jesus atones for our sins, satisfying the wrath of God and obtaining forgiveness for all who believe. In his resurrection, Jesus’ victory over sin and death is the guarantee of our victory over the same in and through him. Jesus’ saving work not only redeems sinners, uniting them to God, but also assures the future restoration of all creation. This is the gospel, the “good news,” that God redeems a fallen world by his grace.
GOSPEL-CENTERED: THE BIG PICTURE
Therefore, to be gospel-centered means that the gospel – and Jesus himself – is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and joy, and our most passionate song and message. It means that the gospel is what defines us as Christians, unites us as brothers and sisters, transforms us and sends us as God’s people on mission. When we are gospel-centered the gospel is exalted above every other good thing in our lives and triumphs over every bad thing set against it.
THE GOSPEL-CENTERED LIFE
More specifically, the gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols. The gospel centered life produces:
Confidence (Heb. 3:14; 4:16)
When the gospel is central in our lives we have confidence before God, not because of our achievements, but because of Christ’s atonement. We can approach God knowing that he receives us as his children. We do not allow our sins to anchor us to guilt and despair, but their very presence in our lives compels us to flee again and again to Christ for grace that restores our spirits and gives us strength.
Intimacy (Heb. 7:25; 10:22; James 4:8)
When the gospel is central in our lives we have and maintain intimacy with God, not because of our religious performance, but because of Jesus’ priestly ministry. We know that Jesus is our mediator with God the Father and that he has made perfect peace for us through his sacrifice, allowing us to draw near to God with the eager expectation of receiving grace, not judgment.
Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13)
When the gospel is central in our lives we experience spiritual transformation, not just moral improvement. Through the power of the gospel and the indwelling Holy Spirit, believers are led to cooperate with God in His work of transforming us into the image of Christ. Our hope for becoming what God designed and desires for us is not trying harder, but trusting more – relying on his truth and Spirit to sanctify us as we obediently follow Him.
Ministry (Rom. 12:3-8, 1Cor. 12:4-11, Matt. 28:18-20, Matt. 22:37-40)
When the gospel is central in our lives, we desire to serve others with our gifts. We make loving God and loving others a priority, reflecting the transforming power of the gospel as we minister to needs and hurts in our community and beyond. We also long to share and make known the gospel of Christ to the lost around us and around the world.
Community (Heb. 3:12, 13; 10:25; 2 Tim 3:16, 17)
When the gospel is central in our lives, we long for and discover unity with other believers in the local church, not because of any cultural commonality, but because of our common faith and Savior. It is within this covenant community, if the community itself is gospel-centered, that we experience the kind of fellowship that comforts the afflicted, corrects the wayward, strengthens the weak, and encourages the disheartened.
THE GOSPEL-CENTERED CHURCH
A gospel-centered church is a church that is about Jesus above everything else. That sounds a little obvious, but when we talk about striving to be and maintain gospel-centrality as a church, we are recognizing our tendency to focus on many other things (often good and important things) instead of Jesus. There are really only two options for local churches; they will be gospel-centered, or issue driven.
Issue-driven churches can be conservative or liberal, and come from any denominational tribe. A church can get the gospel “right” on paper and still not be gospel-centered in practice.
Gospel-centered churches do not forsake the issues that are present, but they are not driven by them. They are driven by a love for Jesus and his work on our behalf. Therefore gospel centered churches are so focused on Jesus and the hope of redemption that they are passionate and articulate about their theology. Their desire to know and make known Jesus demands doctrinal precision and leads them to want and work toward as many people as possible repenting of sin and trusting in Christ. When the gospel is central in a church it leads them out into the world on mission, while preserving their countercultural character as the people of God. The gospel-centered church is driven by love (for God and others) and this leads to joyful obedience that points back to God.
In saying this we do not want to suggest that we don’t struggle with being issue driven. That temptation is always present, and it is why we work hard to maintain gospel centrality by keeping the gospel always before us in our work and worship.
The gospel is not merely one of many possible themes we can touch on as we come to worship God. It is the central and foundational theme. All our worship originates and is brought into focus at the cross of Jesus Christ. Glorying in Jesus Christ means glorying in his cross. That doesn’t mean looking at some icon or two pieces of wood nailed together. Nor does it imply that every song we sing has the word cross in it. The cross stands for all that was accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. It focuses on his substitutionary death at Calvary but includes everything that gave meaning to that act: His pre-existent state in glory, His incarnation, His life of perfect obedience, His suffering, His resurrection, His ascension, His present intercession and reign in glory, His triumphant return.
There is an important connection between the Gospel and discipleship. Our theology has a direct effect on our ministry and discipleship. In many ways, our discipleship is the fruit of our theology. In other words, the way we “behave” is just a symptom of what we really “believe” . Therefore, church leaders can use church growth principles to add people to the church, but only the Gospel can grow people into disciples of Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, a Gospel-centered church does not just preach the Gospel. The Gospel is not an addition to our ministry or even a beginning point. The Gospel must saturate every part of our church’s life. Each stage of our discipleship process should also be Gospel-centered. From assimilation, to preaching and teaching, to counseling, to leadership development, the Gospel must be central. Even our worship should be Gospel-centered.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Gospel is what it is all about. It is why we exist as the people of God. So, we at the Summit Church must be Gospel-centered in all our endeavors for His glory.