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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Preaching the Gospel to Yourself Daily

In commenting on a recent post called 18 Years, Danny noticed that I mention "preaching the gospel to yourself" quite a bit, and he asked where that comes from. I think I probably picked it up by listening to the likes of Jack Miller and and Tim Keller. What matters most, though, is what it means.

Basically, it's a reminder that the gospel is more than just that which makes us a Christian (at the beginning of our spiritual lives). The gospel is also the thing that we must live by each and every day of our Christian lives - the gospel makes us more Christian. To put it in slightly more technical language - the gospel that saves us (moves us from spiritual death to spiritual life) is also the gospel that sanctifies us (creates meaningful change within me).

To state the matter bluntly - I don't become a Christian by faith, and then clean myself up by works, by effort, by trying harder. Christ is the one who cleans me up - change happens when I cling to him, embracing him in faith. Just as I am justified by faith alone, so too am I sanctified by faith alone, and even my worship is by faith alone.

Enough theology already - what's it look like in real life? Let me give you an example. Last night I went to Starbucks to study, and when I got ready to head home, my car wouldn't start. We have one vehicle; there is no one to come get me. I am stranded, it's cold outside, and the shop is closing in 20 minutes. So how do I respond? With trusting confidence that God is in control?

Heck no. I panic (this sounds silly, even as I describe it, but it really is the best possible description). I am a creature of routine, comfort. I can have faith to move mountains, as long as it all fits nicely into my schedule, and someone else handles all the logistical details (especially the mundane ones). You see, I HATE calling people, I HATE administrative stuff, I HATE being stuck someplace. And so what do I do - I get frustrated with my wife (she's the administrative one in our family) because she can't fix the situation for me. You see, what I really want is to call her up, and have her say "Ok, a tow truck's on the way..." (see, I told you this is silly). But she can't. Which means I have to. Which means I have to find a phone book, I have to take a wild guess at which tow truck company to call, I have to pay $75 bucks to have it towed, I don't get to do all the stuff I was planning that evening, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I am frustrated with Marilyn, frustrated with Ford, frustrated with not having any friends who are able to jumpstart a diesel truck, frustrated I'm not home in Montana, frustrated my schedule is busy. Mostly I am frustrated with God, because I have a wonderful plan for my life and he seems to have missed my memo for how things were supposed to go.

What's really going on here? Do I really believe God is in complete control of the situation? Sure I do on one level - intellectually, theoretically (and I could probably do a pretty good job of proving it to you from Scripture). But my real world response when I'm in the midst of ttrying situations reveals something significant about my heart - there are places within which are still dark with unbelief, where I am on the throne, not God. And so when he rattles my cage I come out snarling.

And that's where the gospel comes into play. I need to see my sinful response, recognize it for what it is, and I need to repent and believe (Mk 1:15). The answer is not suppression - it's confession. I need to remind myself of the gospel message. God is in control. I am not. I am still an unbelieving sinner in many areas of my life, and these difficult times are actually God's grace to me - they illuminate what's going on inside my heart, they reveal me for what I am.

Anyone can look spiritual when life is going well, when things are easy. But it's the hard times that act as the best mirror, showing us for what we really are, rooting out the unbelief that remains, bubbling it to surface for all the world to see: "UGH! Where'd that come from???" Well, duh, it came from inside (Mk 7). The problem is not really with my car - it's with me.

So I need to preach the gospel to myself daily, recognizing that I am still a sinner who is constantly in need of God's grace and mercy, reminding myself of the promises of God, throwing myself on him rather than trying to make it on my own.

That's the essence of what the phrase means (to me at least) - maybe others would like to share how they see it applying to their lives.


At 9:59 AM, March 15, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Along these lines, I just ran across this Q & A over at Resurgance:

Gary Shavey: What is the biggest issue that Church Planters are facing today?

Tim Keller: Church planters need to preach the gospel well. We also need to ask Church Planters if they are preaching the gospel at all.

Darrin Patrick: Themselves.

Gary Shavey: How should we address this issue?

Darrin Patrick: We need to teach Church Planters to preach the gospel to themselves. They must learn to believe the gospel and its implication and use the gospel to deal with their past baggage, their present trials and their future strategies.

At 10:26 AM, March 15, 2006, Blogger Anne said...

I was introduced to "preaching to yourself" in D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression, where he admonishes us not to listen to ourselves but to preach truth to ourselves.

This has changed my life! Very slooooooowly, I'm learning to rely less on my feelings/emotions and more on the truth of the Gospel. When I find myself feeling discouraged or frustrated, I'm learning (though I fail far too often!) to battle it with truths from Scripture instead of wallowing in it. I'm also trying to teach this to my children while they're still young so that they establish the habit early on.

Thanks for posting on this. It is a good reminder for me as the next few days will be jam-packed for me and I've been worrying about how I'm going to do all that I'm supposed to do. I've found myself anxious, frustrated, and snapping at those I love. I need the Gospel!

At 12:12 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger Molly said...

At our staff devotions this morning, we heard from several Puritan prayers in "Valley of Vision." This passage stood out to me as a reminder that what "gets us in" is also what "keeps us in" and grows us in the Kingdom -- it's the same truths that we learn to apply increasingly to every nook and cranny of our lives:

"Open for me the wondrous volumes of truth in his, 'It is finished.'
Increase my faith in the clear knowledge of:
...atonement received, expiation completed,
...satisfaction made, guilt done away,
... my debt paid, my sins forgiven,
... my person redeemed, my soul saved,
... hell vanquished, heaven opened, etermity made mine.
O Holy Spirit, deepen in me these saving lessons.
Write them upon my heart, that my walk be sin-loathing, sin-fleeing, Christ-loving;
And suffer no devil's device to beguile or deceive me."


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