Evangelicalism: Salvation is viewed largely as conversion; corresponding emphasis on the gospel as what brings about conversion. Less clarity on what comes next. The absence of clarity often leads to error, namely, that we relate to God through the gospel at first, but then through law.
J.D. Greear: “The gospel is not the diving board. It is the pool itself.” Christian growth is going deeper into the gospel, never beyond it to something else.
Three-step argument to make this point:
I. The Christian Life Is a Life of Holiness.
- 1 Thess. 4:3: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
- 1 Pet. 1:14-16: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
- 1 Pet. 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
But what is holiness?
- It is often defined in negative terms, as being set apart from things that are common, unclean, or sinful. This definition might lead to the conclusion that holiness is primarily about what we don’t do.
- Taken to an extreme, it can lead to legalism, the imposition of rules that are not biblical. “I’m holy because I don’t dance, play cards, or watch television.”
- Defined this way, holiness is something we can manage and evaluate.
- Holiness does include abstaining from sinful activities (1 Thess. 4:3ff.), but that is really more an implication of holiness than the definition of it.
- It does not primarily mean “set apart,” but rather “consecrated to God.” Exodus 3:5: the ground was space devoted to the meeting of God and man. Thus, it was holy.
- Holiness will entail, therefore, being “set apart” from the world, but that is because we are specially devoted to God. We must define holiness first in relation to God, and only then in relation to the world.
II. Holiness Is Characterized by Love.
- Love for God and for neighbor, who is made in God’s image; Matt. 22:34-40.
- Are we ethically obligated only to abstain from certain things, or is there more to it? Matt. 19:16-22: the rich young man abstained from outward sins, but Jesus asked for a heart devoted to him.
- Every moment we fail to love God fully and our neighbor as ourselves, we sin. We grow in holiness as we grow in love.
- Augustine: The City of God is defined by love for God above all; City of Man by love for other things (even good things) above God. Sin is when our loves are out of order.
- If your love is properly ordered, Augustine’s advice is sound: “Love, and do as you will.”
III. Our Love Is a Response to God’s Love for Us in the Gospel.
- Why do we love our parents? Because they love us. Normal human development usually requires the feeling of security that comes in the context of a loving family. Insecurity breeds defense mechanisms that are psychologically destructive. Parallel to our spiritual well-being.
- 1 John 3:16: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” We didn’t really know what love is until we saw it in the gospel.
- 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”
- Gal. 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love…”
- Gal. 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Faith (in the gospel!) is the engine that drives love.
- Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21: a prayer for power. Power to do what? To work miracles? To preach the gospel far and wide? To cast down the kingdom of Satan?
- No, power “to comprehend” something. What? The incomprehensible love of Christ!
- Result: knowing the depths of Christ’s love brings us to “all the fullness of God” (v. 19).
- Connect the dots: if the gospel produces love for God and others in us, and love for God and others is what characterizes holiness, and the Christian life is a life of holiness ? the gospel is central to the whole Christian life, not just the beginning.
- This is why the Christian life is driven by faith (Heb. 11): a response of trust to God’s promise in the gospel.
- The times I have felt a deepest love for God are the times when I feel his love for me at the deepest level. The security of a relationship to God as Father draws me toward him. When I sin, I think of the way I relate to my own children when they sin. I love them and am eager to embrace them when they turn from it.
- The gospel, then, is our primary motivation for turning from sin throughout our lives.
- But if we relate to God primarily through the law as judge and taskmaster, waiting to pounce on us, that will not produce love for God (and, therefore, it won’t produce holiness); it will drive us away from God when we realize we can never measure up.
- Luther’s testimony on Romans 1:17:
“For I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically of the formal or active justice, as they called it, by which God is righteous and punishes sinners and the unrighteous. Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt I was a sinner before God with a most disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, indeed, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners. Secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
“Finally by the mercy of God, as I meditated day and night, I paid attention to the context of the words, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. This, then, is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, viz. the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous one lives by faith.’ Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of all Scripture showed itself to me. And whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven. Then I ran through Scripture, as I could from memory, and I found an analogy in other terms, too, such as the work of God, i.e.,, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.”
- Our natural drift is away from the gospel; the Christian life is the labor of coming back to the gospel over and over and over, applying it to every dimension of life.
- Commit to hearing the gospel regularly; meditate on the gospel; pray on the basis of the gospel; sing about the gospel; renew your faith in the gospel Sunday by Sunday at the Lord’s table; speak about the gospel; let the gospel infiltrate every relationship in your life.