Imagine with me that you’re seated in a plane as it speeds down the runway. You look out the window and see buildings going by faster and faster. And then, you feel it… you’re in the air. Your plane has successfully taken off. But what keeps your plane in the air? What propels it to its destination? The engines, of course–the same things that helped it take off in the first place. The point I’m drawing out here is that planes need an engine to take off, but they continue to rely on the power or thrust from that engine until the plane reaches its final destination.
This is true of the gospel as well. It’s something we never get beyond. It’s something we continue to need long after we become Christians. In an article called “The Centrality of the Gospel”, Tim Keller says it this way: “The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of Christianity.”
Connecting Gospel to Conduct
We see this idea at work in Galatians 2:11-14. Here, in an act of ethnic pride and fear of man, Peter separates himself from the Gentile believers and leads others to do the same. Paul’s charge against them in verse 14 is that “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” The NIV uses the wording “not in line with the truth of the gospel.”
According to Paul, the reason that Peter acts this way is because he has failed to apply the gospel. Sure, Peter believes that Jesus died on the cross for his sins, but in this moment he isn’t seeing the connection between gospel truth and gospel conduct. And when we fail to do this we end up in error or sin.
We may end up in moralism, which says that you are accepted by God through your good works. Being a moralist could cause you to feel superior or better than others because you keep the rules and they don’t. It could also crush you with the weight of knowing that you don’t actually live up to the rules.
We could also end up in relativism, which says that everyone just needs to determine what is right and wrong for themselves. For a relativist, God accepts us either because he is so welcoming or because we’re not actually that bad.
Both of these errors are like disconnecting an engine from a plane while it’s airborne. They avoid crowning Jesus as Lord and end up disconnecting the gospel from an area of life,
Seeing it in Flight
Like I said earlier, the gospel is needed for the whole “flight” of our faith, not just the takeoff. We should be able to look at anything and apply the gospel to it, and these 3 categories (Moralism, Relativism, & Gospel) can help us. Here are a few short examples based on Keller’s article:
|Every cultural expression is equally good.||Every person is made in the image of God, and so every culture will reflect that in unique ways. At the same time, every culture is subject to the fall, and so we are superior to no one.||My culture is right and yours is wrong.|
|Family||You have no need for family loyalty or keeping promises if your needs aren’t met.||God is our ultimate father, and we’re adopted into his family through Christ. Therefore we won’t be too dependent nor too hostile toward our parents.||You must meet your parents’ expectations|
|Worship||Casual worship that is short on reverence, often due to a shallow understanding of “acceptance” without a sense of God’s holiness.||Awe and intimacy in worship, the high and holy God is now our Father. Through Jesus Christ, we are both comforted and amazed.||Somber worship that is short on joy, often due to a high view of God’s holiness w/o a deep understanding of our own sinfulness.|
All of our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel or to live “in step with the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). So let’s work hard to make strong connections between our conduct and the gospel–God’s engine for life and renewal.