It humbles me to realize that I don’t get the gospel. I think back to a message by Tim Keller (I’m pretty sure it was this one). At one point he illustrates a point about a soda machine, explaining of putting coins into the slot but having to hit the side of the machine for the “coins to drop.” It’s like that with us, he says, “the coins haven’t dropped yet.”
That is, we get the gospel, but we don’t get the gospel.
I don’t get the gospel.
If I did, I wouldn’t find my identity in things like blog stats, paychecks, grade reports, cars I drive, the house I own, books I own or read, or even who I’m married to. I wouldn’t think that apparent righteousness somehow qualifies me as a son of God anymore than wretched sinfulness. I think maybe a single coin dropped this past weekend, making me realize the poverty of what so often functions as my own functional gospel.
Christians come to see that both their sins and their best deeds have all really been ways of avoiding Jesus as savior. They come to see that Christianity is not fundamentally an invitation to get more religious. A Christian comes to say: “Though I have often failed to obey the moral law, the deeper problem was why I was trying to obey it! Even my efforts to obey it has been just a way of seeking to be my own savior. In that mindset, even if I obey or ask for forgiveness, I am really resisting the gospel and setting myself up as Savior.”
To “get the gospel” is turn from self-justification and rely on Jesus’ record for a relationship with God. The irreligious don’t repent at all, and the religious only repent of sins. But Christians also repent of their righteousness. That is the distinction between the three groups–Christian, moralists (religious), and pragmatists (irreligious).
So here’s the rub: It hit me while singing “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” on Sunday that so often I think my own righteousness does something saving on my behalf. The Lord brought the above quote to mind. Here’s a concrete example: people who have read this blog (or know me) know that I have a problem with over-eating. In the last months the Spirit has convicted me about this — about my lust over and enslavement to food of all sorts. It is an uphill battle for me, and, quite honestly, I’m not sure what the most wise tack is. Right now we’re doing Weight Watchers (which I’ve done before), but I’m trying to incorporate the discipline of denying myself if I’m not hungry (even if, according to Weight Watchers, I “could” eat something). Ok, so, how does this intersect with the dropping of gospel coins and singing “nothing but the blood” on Sunday?
It hit me while singing that eating in a perfectly godly way (whatever that is) no one justifies me than the wickedness of gluttony. I realized my need to repent of my own righteousness; or the mindset that eating right will somehow make me more qualified before the throne of God than if I didn’t eat right.
That’s when the gospel started to drop (though I know I am far from “getting it”):
All my righteousness is in Christ. My life is hidden in him (Col 3:1-4) before God’s throne, where he is my only righteousnes. He intercedes for me on account of his perfect life, sacrifice, and resurrection. Let me say it again: I am only justified because of Christ’s righteousness. Eating or not eating does not justify me, not even a little bit. Somehow (and I think I’m like most folks here) I tend to think that doing what God calls me to — living a life of holiness — makes me just a little more justified than I would have been otherwise.
That, of course, confuses what the gospel is. It confuses justification and sanctification. I am right with God only because of Christ, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me. I have seen why people can misunderstand the gospel and think it would lead to licentiousness. It always will be an excuse for that — if you are not truly justified. But those who have been united to Christ in his death have also been united to him in his resurrection. We are dead to sin and alive to righteousness. Sin has no dominion.
So, by God’s grace, I think a few gospel coins have been dropping for me recently. I am starting to understand the gospel — to really get it. Of course, this will be a lifelong process, until I see Jesus.