Here’s a piece I’ve posted at the GCM Collective website. In coming posts we’re going to be looking at some of the GCM distinctives. The first is this: “The gospel is the answer to every question”.
The story is told of a Sunday School teacher who asked her class, ‘What’s the animal with a long, bushy tail that lives in trees?’ One of her children answered, ‘Jesus. Though it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.’ The joke highlights the way the gospel of Jesus is the answer to every Sunday School question. In The Crowded House we have inverted the joke. When a question gets raised, someone will say, ‘It’s a squirrel.’ It’s our shorthand way of saying that the gospel is the answer to every question.
Well perhaps not quite every question – as the Sunday School joke highlights. The gospel is not the answer to the question of where I left my car keys.
But the gospel is the answer to the important questions of life and church life. The point is, as Tim Keller famously puts it, the gospel is not the ABC of the Christian life – it is the A-to-Z. The gospel is not just how we become Christians, but how we live as Christians. The church is created by the gospel and for the gospel. The gospel shapes both the content and conduct of our mission. The gospel defines our ethics and our pastoral care.
Consider a couple of alternatives.
Plenty of Christians believe, or at least live as if, we become Christians through the gospel, but we grow as Christians by keeping some kind of law. Law says, ‘You should not get drunk.’ Now it’s true that people should not get drunk. But if that’s all you say then you’re not bringing people good news. You’re bringing condemnation to those who cannot control themselves or inducing pride in those who can – neither of which leads to a life that pleases God.
In contrast the gospel says, ‘You need not get drunk because God offers more than drink.’ We can say, ‘I have good news for you. You don’t need to turn to drink to dull the pain because God is a better comforter.’ Or we can say, ‘You don’t need to turn to drink to escape responsibility because God is a better refuge.’ These truths lead to a life of sobriety and reliance on God and praise to his name.
Or consider another example. Plenty of Christians believe the gospel is not sufficient for pastoral care. They are overawed by secular psychologies and think these provide the answers for ‘hard’ pastoral cases. Now there is plenty we can learn from the secular world and some therapies offer genuine relief to people. But only the gospel brings lasting change. We must remain convinced that God knows the human heart better than any psychologist and that his word ‘living and active’. It is ‘sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12) ‘The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.’ (Psalm 19:7) If we want to restore damaged souls then we need to apply the gospel. This doesn’t mean change is quick or easy. But it is the gospel that brings change and restores people to a right relationship with God.
But what about my car keys? The gospel may not tell me where I left them. But even here the gospel is relevant. If I’m getting agitated by my inability to find my keys, the gospel reminds me that God is my sovereign Father. Everything is under his control, even lost keys. This is his discipline to teach me patience. Life is not under my control, but I can be calm because life is under his control. Or maybe my agitation arises because I’m worried about what someone will think of my lateness. Again the gospel reminds me that God is the glorious one whom I should fear, not other people. My emotions don’t need to be controlled by other people’s opinions of me if I see them in divine perspective. God’s opinion is the one that matters.
So even lost car keys are a gospel issue.