The Great Paradigm Shifting Gospel

I have been reading through John Calvin’s Institutes. I picked up a read through the Institutes in a year plan, and it has been a blessing. Even though he wrote hundreds of years ago, his writings are still applicable to our times.

Right now, I am reading in chapter 8, where Calvin is establishing the credibility of Scripture. In talking about Sacred Scripture, Calvin says,

“Nevertheless it [Scripture] clearly is crammed with thoughts that could not be humanly conceived”[1].

He is right. Scripture is crammed with thoughts that those writing without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would never conceive. The reason a non-inspired writer would not conceive of them is because Scripture is often paradigm shifting in nature.

What does it mean for Scripture to be paradigm shifting?

It means what we think should be the case is not. How we think things should go is not the way God thinks they should go. Our normal model is not God’s model. I believe we do not have to look far to see where our model is different than God’s.

The Gospel

We do not have to look any further than the gospel message. You see, the gospel tells us that God’s Son left His heavenly abode, descended to the earth by being born of a virgin. He lived a holy and sinless life, being 100% God and 100% man. Instead of people worshipping Him for who He is, namely, God. He was ridiculed, mocked, beaten, and crucified. Even so, His crucifixion was not contrary to God’s plan, it was His plan (Eph. 1). Through Jesus’ person, life, death, and subsequent resurrection from the tomb, we, sinful man, who deserve nothing but punishment, can have life, if we believe it is Jesus who reconciles us to God.

The Paradigm Shift

Here is the paradigm shift in the gospel message. It is not through our works, our goodness, or our own self-righteousness that we are reconciled to God (Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot clean ourselves up, thinking somehow our works will earn us favor with the Father. The Pharisees tried, but Jesus condemned them (Luke 11:37-44).

Even after salvation, we cannot earn favor with God through our works. God has poured out His grace on us. He has filled our grace tank full. Our works cannot add anything to the tank.

Even though our works cannot earn us favor with God, we often live as if they do. Thinking if I don’t read my Bible or pray first thing in the morning, somehow I have lost God’s favor, and His hand will not be upon me that day. The gospel tells us that type of thinking is wrong.

Even though it is wrong, that type of thinking is natural to us. It is how we are hardwired. We do something and we expect it to earn us something. Not so with God. Instead of living the Christian life to get something from God, which would be a way for us to control God.

We live the Christian life not to get something from God, but because we can.

When God saves us, He changes our heart, releases us from the bondage of sin, and provides us with the Holy Spirit, empowering us to follow His commands. Commands we follow, not because they will earn us favor with God, but commands we follow because we are now able to and desire to (Phil. 2:13).


The Scripture is often paradigm shifting. Taking what we think to be the case, and showing us what we thought was the way things are, is not how they are with God. The gospel is the greatest example of a shift from man’s model to God’ model. We often believe we have to earn our salvation, but God tells us we are freely given salvation. All we have to do is believe, which is also made possible through God giving us the faith to believe (Rom. 8:28-30).

Even after we are saved, we believe we have to do good works to keep our salvation, or we have to do good works to merit God’s favor. The gospel tells us that is simple not true. We have been saved by God’s grace and we are kept until the last day when He will pour out a final measure of His grace on us, bringing us into a state of glorification and ushering us into eternal life (1 Peter 1:13). There is no amount of works we could do to earn our salvation, and there are no amount of works we can do to keep our salvation, or merit God’s favor.

This does not mean we do not live differently as Christians. It means the reason we live differently is a complete paradigm shift from what we thought. We live differently because we are now able and willing to. When we are saved, we are released from the bondage of sin, given a new heart, new desires, and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do the will of the Father. In short, we live the Christian life because we delight in God and God is most glorified when we are most happy in Him.


[1] John Calvin, The Institues, Book 1, Ch. 8, Sec. 2, pg 83.

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6 thoughts on “The Great Paradigm Shifting Gospel

  1. Thank you for the great reminder! We broke our relationship with Him and I am so thankful that He has provided a way for us to re-connect with Him. Thank you Father for your grace and love.

  2. I agree with you about the gospel being a paradigm shift and that we cannot work our way into heaven. However, I think too many church leaders (ministers and Lay leaders) tend to stop at salvation is through Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – there is more. Once we accept Him then we must follow Him. that means complete obedience and we (especially Americans) want to be in charge and follow our dreams.

    i have felt God calling me to do something about this and have started 3rd Line Ministries to try to make a difference.

    1. George,
      I agree with your comment that we have to believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior, which should lead us to obey the commands He puts forth in His Word. I read your website and I appreciate what you are seeking to do – call others to realize professing Christ as our Savior should also lead to a changed life.

      However, it seems by the way you have phrased what it means to be a Christian – consciously crossing three lines to be a complete Christian – adds to the gospel message. While I agree all Christians should go to church, read their Bible’s, obey the Lord’s commands, and serve as often as they can, making these the criteria for one to be a Christian is putting stipulations on the gospel that Jesus Himself did not place.

      Placing certain criteria on becoming a Christian besides believing in Jesus’s person and work for salvation can serve to give one false hope or cause one to live in fear. False hope because they may believe all that is necessary to be a Christian is to do certain things. Fear because they may not be doing those things as often as they think they are supposed to.

      While obedience to God’s Word is necessary and we can be assured of our salvation by observing the changes in our life (the book of 1 John), I believe one is saved by their belief in the gospel message alone. Yes, one’s life should change afterwards, but making these changes necessary for salvation is putting one’s sanctification in the place of their justification.

      I would encourage you to read through Galatians. Paul is dealing with Jews who thought you must be circumcised in order to be a Christian. Essentially, they were adding to the gospel message, placing criteria on one’s justification that Paul did not agree with.

      In addition, I would encourage you to read through Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Gospel? and J.D. Grear’s book Gospel: Recovering the Power that made Christianity Revolutionary. Lastly, I would recommend Tim Keller’s book Prodigal God.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      With brotherly love,

      Casey Lewis

      1. I will go back and look at my literature, because I do not believe that salvation (or being a Christian) requires anything but acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior (3rd Line is not a “works ministry”). Acceptance of Jesus as Lord is crossing the 1st line. Crossing the other 2 lines should come naturally after that. If you love someone, in this case Jesus, you should want to do everything that Jesus wants you to do. Unfortunately, the Devil has used (and changed) the American culture to a point that we are sinning without realizing it.

        I know too many Christians that watch the sex and violence that is TV and Movies, listen to music that probably makes God shed a tear and uses language that is not acceptable. They do this because it permeates and dominates our culture and, therefore, becomes a way of life. Put on top of that the materialism of our culture and we have Christians replacing perfectly good items just because they have been convinced that they need (not just want) the newest gadget (cell phone, big screen TV, or car). Then they do not have money to support the Christian organizations that are attempting to make a difference in the world.

        The Goals of 3rd Line are to have people discover what the Bible teaches about obedience to God, then look for the direction that God wants them to follow. While they are doing this, take that back to the leadership in their church and have their church become more intentional in preaching and teaching obedience to God.

        1. George,
          I agree with what you have written here. I do believe you are on the right track. Maybe you could clarify these thoughts on your web page. It seems like you are wanting to provide people with tests or actions they should follow after believing in Jesus as their Savior, which serve to challenge those who are merely professing Christ alone. I don’t believe that is wrong.

          The Bible itself provide us with tests to assure us of our salvation. 1 John is a perfect example. There are three types of test in the book: (1) The Moral Test – Do we obey the Lord’s commandments, (2) The Doctrinal Test – Do we believe the doctrine put forth in the Bible, and (3) The Relational Test – Do we exhibit love for one another? As you read through 1 John, you see John hitting these tests several times. By the time you finish reading the book and examining yourself, you should either be assured of your salvation or understand you are not in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

          The difficulty arises when we try to express that one’s life should change after they profess Jesus as Savior. Both James and Paul tell us that works should follow Salvation. However, in explaining that, we must walk a fine line, not seeking to be legalistic, nor relying too much on grace. As well as, we have to be careful when creating lines one must cross, in order to be a Christian. At the same time, we do want to challenge others to follow the commands of the Word and provide them with a guide to what a mature Christian looks like.

          I pray you are able to walk that line in your ministry, remaining faithful to the Word and providing clear instruction, while also challenging others to resemble their Savior.

          Casey Lewis

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