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The Gospel to Christians: Breaking Free from the Fog of Self-Reliance

You might be at least somewhat intrigued by the title: The gospel to Christians. The hope of this article is to communicate the truth that our greatest need in the Christian life is to see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Our need is the gospel.

Many Christians have unknowingly relegated the gospel to be something only for the unbeliever. We tend to see the gospel as the truth concerning Jesus that brings a person into the Kingdom. It is nothing less than this, for sure. However, the truth concerning Jesus in the gospel is also the basis for victory, joy, and power in the Christian life. The gospel is everything!

Losing Sight

Here is what often happens in the Christian life: we slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, lose sight of the treasure we once knew in the gospel. The means of grace that God has given us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ—reading scripture, ministry involvement, prayer and fellowship—begin to be seen as duties instead of the means by which we see and enjoy the glory of God.

Soon enough, besetting sins, sins of omission, doubt, fear of man, blinding pride, and lack of joy become the reality of everyday life. We can become apathetic and lazy towards spiritual disciplines. Over time we find ourselves trapped in sin and living in despair not knowing how we got there. We also tend to cut ourselves off from the relationships that God has provided to help keep our eyes on Jesus. The very relationships that God has provided in the church become our greatest hurdles and hold our greatest fears. We are paralyzed by the thought of someone finding out or discovering our sin. Underlying all these are attitudes of self-righteousness, self-reliance, and persistent guilt.

What has happened to us? We have taken our eyes off of the gospel.

“The means of grace that God has given us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ—reading scripture, ministry involvement, prayer and fellowship—begin to be seen as duties instead of the means by which we see and enjoy the glory of God.”

The truths concerning Jesus in His gospel are what the Spirit opens our eyes to see in salvation and what He continues to reveal to us in order to give us power in the Christian life. When we take our eyes off the gospel, our dependence has shifted from the Spirit and the power that is ours in Christ to our own inner strength and resolve.

Maybe you can identify with some of these questions: Why do I find it so hard? Why do I lack joy to live the Christian life? Why can’t I break free of besetting sins? Why do I find it so hard to find time to spend with God in His Word and to commune with Him in prayer? And even when I do, Why do I still feel empty inside? Why do I seem to always be wrestling with the assurance of my salvation?

Beholding His Glory

The answer to these questions is not found in simply gaining more knowledge. The problem at the root of these questions involves our affections, our motivations, and the treasures of our heart.

Here is a better question that underlies all of the questions above. If God promises to put His Spirit within us to transform us into the image of Jesus, why do I lack the desire to live and be like Him?

“2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that beholding this glory is what transforms us.”

2 Corinthians 3:18 has our answer, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

This verse and the context around it has transformed my life. Without the space to go in to much detail, let me say just a few things here: This whole passage in 2 Corinthians has its roots in Exodus chapters 33 and 34. After spending 40 days in the presence of the LORD Moses had the Glory of the LORD shining on his face in some visible way that made the people afraid to come near him.

Moses put on a veil to hide the Glory of the LORD that shown on his face. What does God’s glory look like? Sometimes I think we have a very vague notion in our minds about what is the essence of the glory of the LORD. That is why I am so thankful for Exodus 33:18-19. There we find out what God declares to be His glory. He communicates the most important and wonderful characteristics, actions and attributes to know about Him. In this text Moses asks the LORD, “Please show me your glory.”

You have to pause here for a moment and think of the magnitude of Moses’ request. You need to take in what is about to happen. God is going to answer our question, what is His glory? And God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

When the Lord decided to grant Moses’ request and show him His Glory, He distilled it down to these things: First, His Name: He is The LORD, Yahweh, the great I AM. And wrapped up in His name is the fact that He is the Eternal, Sovereign, Self-Existent, Creator. Then, His Character: His Goodness, Grace and Mercy. Out of all that God could have revealed, He chose to declare His Name, His Goodness, His Grace and His Mercy! These attributes are the essence of God’s Glory!

Knowing God’s Glory in Christ

In light of all that, let’s go back to 2 Corinthians. This time to chapter 4, verse 4 where it says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And then in verse 6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In other words, God’s glory is found, today, in the light of the knowledge of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The light of the gospel is the glory of Christ. Christ is the image of God. Christ’s glory is God’s glory! When we put this together we find that the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God is in the gospel!

The gospel is the Glory of God! It is the preeminent display of God’s infinite Goodness, Grace and Mercy toward infinitely wicked and vile sinners like you and me! 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that beholding this glory is what transforms us. Or as John Piper simply puts it, “Beholding is Becoming!”

John Owen states in his book, The Glory of Christ:

“Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from Him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience...It will fix the soul to that object which is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction....When the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and His glory, when the soul cleaves to Him with intense affections, they will cast out, or not give admittance to, those causes of spiritual weakness and indisposition...And nothing will so much excite and encourage our souls in this as a constant view of Christ and His glory.”

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This article is based on the content from the Gospel-Centered Sanctification Class which will begin April 10. Learn more and register here.