Back in the day when the church I served in Miami still offered “The South Florida Easter Pageant,” an elaborate presentation depicting the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, a couple approached me with concerns about “the performance.” They wanted to know if “the show was going to be different.” Not sure what they meant, I asked for clarification. “Well,” they continued, “we have been Christians for a long time, and the last few years it has been the same show, and we were hoping it would be, well, you know . . . um, different.” I said, “He still rises from the dead. I hope that does not disappoint you.”
The couple wrongly viewed the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as elementary, as something they graduated from years ago. In their minds they needed something more, something new and fresh, something “different.” In essence they wanted something more advanced. But the last thing the couple needed was a different story. To the contrary they needed a better understanding of the story they inadvertently had dismissed as no longer applicable to their lives.
Sadly they are not alone in their thinking. Many Christians think the gospel was absolutely essential for justification (declared righteous by Christ) but has little to do with sanctification (the process of becoming more holy). The message often subtly communicated in churches is that the gospel is for unbelievers. Logically believers need more. Nothing could be further from the truth. If people in our churches graduate from the gospel, they are not advancing to spiritual maturity but rather to lifeless religion, moralistic self-righteousness, or performance-based faith inaccurately called Christian. Only Jesus has the power to melt our hearts; thus there is no transformation apart from the truth of the gospel.
The apostle Paul believed the gospel to be essential for both justification and sanctification. He reminded believers in Corinth about the importance of the gospel.
Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised ￼￼￼￼￼on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me. (1 Cor. 15:1–8)
The apostle says, “You have taken your stand on the gospel” because he trusts the sufficiency of the gospel for spiritual maturation and transformation. When viewing discipleship through the lens of the gospel, the goal is to apply the gospel to all of life, to continually stand on the gospel as the gospel impacts everything. The gospel impacts everything, but not everything is the gospel.
While we are grateful for the return to the gospel, the essence of the Christian faith, it is now hip to call anything and everything “the gospel.” The word gospel has often become the junk drawer for many things that are not the gospel; therefore, to see discipleship clearly through the lens of the gospel, we must be reminded what the gospel actually is.
Adapted from Transformational Discipleship (B&H Publishing Group, 2012)