Why Shouldn’t We Change the Gospel? – Part 2

At times, change can be a good thing. I know it was for me. Over a decade ago, I made a change and moved to the DFW metroplex. Growing up, I never thought I would live in Dallas, but when the opportunity presented itself, I took it. I not only took the opportunity because I thought it would help me advance my career faster, but I also made the move because I felt like I needed a fresh start in order to work on my relationship with God.

While attending the University of Georgia I was caught up in the party scene. That scene spilled over into my time in Atlanta because a lot of my friends from college moved to Atlanta when they graduated. I even lived with the same roommate I lived with in college. Having all the same friends meant that it was hard to escape that scene. At times, I tried, but it wasn’t enough. I felt like I needed a fresh start in a new place with new friends. So when the opportunity to move to Dallas presented itself, I took it.

Moving wasn’t the magic bullet I was looking for. You see, if we don’t deal with the underlying sin, things aren’t going to change. We will just end up falling back into what we were doing. That’s what happened to me. But having the mindset of starting afresh caused me to get back into church, where I made new friends. God worked through those relationships to expose the underlying sin and call me back to following Him. And so, for me, changing cities provided to be a good thing.

But change isn’t always for the better. That’s especially true when it comes to the gospel.

How was the gospel changed?

In Galatians 1 starting in verse 6 we read,

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Ga 1:6–7)

The gospel was being distorted in Galatia by a group called the Judaizers. Essentially they were teaching that the Gentiles had to accept circumcision alongside the message that Jesus was their Lord and Savior. While it was a small change, it was still a change. A change that made all the difference. Remember the gospel tells us that we can do nothing to earn our own salvation, and here the Galatians were being taught that they had to do something.

While it’s a common assumption that we must do something in order to earn our salvation, that’s not, as Paul points out, the gospel. Instead the gospel tells us that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. It is a gift of God that’s freely given to those who don’t deserve it.

While it’s circumcision and possible dietary laws in the Galatian church, it’s something else in another church.

  • Maybe it’s baptism. You have to be baptized to be saved.
  • Maybe it’s that you have to change a certain behavior before you can be saved. Certainly, we should live differently as Christians, but a change in behavior isn’t required in order for us to be saved. Our behavior should and will change, but that change is the product of our salvation not the cause of us.
  • Maybe we would say someone needs to change their political affiliation in order to be a Christian.
  • Maybe we would say that all you need to do is be a good and loving person in order to experience salvation.

There are a number of things we can add to or replace the gospel with, but doing so changes and distorts the gospel so that it’s no longer good news. It is just another form of works based salvation labeled as the gospel. When we change the gospel today, we are essentially committing the same error as the Judaizers in Paul’s day.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you believe the true gospel?
  2. Have you distorted the good news?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Why shouldn’t we change the gospel? You can listen to it here.

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Reflections on Parenting as Gospel Ministry

Recently, the church I pastor, Sycamore Baptist Church, began a small group specifically devoted to parenting. The group is designed to encourage and equip parents to parent from a gospel-centered perspective rather than a man-centered perspective. To that end, we are studying Christ-Centered Parenting. Before we began the Christ-Centered Parenting material, we watched a talk Paul Tripp gave at The Gospel Coalition Conference entitle Parenting as Gospel Ministry. Tripp does a good job convicting parents, as well advocating for a gospel-centered approach to parenting. After the talk, however, I had several parents ask me in not so many words to put some feet to the material he covered. Of course, I attempted to do that but in thinking about those conversations on the ride home, I felt I left them with more questions than answers. So here is my second attempt after further reflection.

The Points

Tripp makes three major points in his talk:

  1. We must be willing to confess our own inabilities and need for God’s grace.
  2. We must realize that we are God’s ambassadors.
  3. We must seek our identity in Jesus not our children.

In his talk, he fleshes these points out, while providing a healthy dose of conviction along the way. As I thought about these points in relation to how we are to parent our children, I realized they provide a good model for us to follow in the heat of the parenting moment. Here is what I mean. When you approach your child, you should not only do so as an ambassador for Christ, speaking the truth of God’s Word into their lives, but you should also be willing to confess to your child your own struggle with the sin they are exhibiting. So for instance, if your child is being unloving to their sibling, you may approach them and say something like:

  • I understand it is not natural for us to love one another (you acknowledge the sin with which they are struggling).
  • I don’t always want to love others (you confess your own struggle with that sin).
  • But God has called us to love (you provide God’s biblical teaching).
  • In John 13:34 Jesus tells us that we are to love one another as He has loved us (you ground God’s teaching in Scripture).
  • The love Jesus exhibited was a self-sacrificial love. He gave Himself for us so that we might have the opportunity to have a relationship with God (you preach the gospel).
  • Without Jesus changing our heart, so that we love God, we will never be able to love others as God has called us to (you continue to preach the gospel, showing their inability to keep God’s command without Jesus first changing their heart)
  • After exposing their heart and need for Jesus, you provide an appropriate punishment or means of discipline.

That’s the Ideal, but Life’s Not Ideal

At this point, some of you are reading the list above and thinking, “That’s great, that’s the ideal, but life doesn’t usually happen in the ideal. What do I do then?” Point taken. The ideal can’t happen every time, I get that. I also get that some of your children aren’t old enough to understand all the concepts I’ve listed above. In those times, I think it is appropriate to do what the situation or age of your child allows.

Stepping Stone Approach

So say your child is young. They can’t stay engaged through all of the above steps, or they might not even be able to understand what you are trying to communicate. At that point, I believe we need to take a stepping stone approach.

In our backyard, we have stepping stones from our back porch to the trampoline. In order for our kids to get to the trampoline they must walk that path, stepping on each stone along the way. Each stone they step on gets them closer to their goal of reaching the trampoline. We need to view our parenting as the same. Instead of leaping to the trampoline, we need to walk the path stepping on each stone along the way. When your kids are young, you may only step one or two stones in. As they grow in their understanding, you may take a few more steps. As they grow more and more, you keep going in the same manner until you have reached your goal of helping them fully understand their heart motives in a grace and love driven way.

So for example, if your child has a problem with sharing. You may tell them that God calls us to share with one another. When we don’t share, we are being unloving and unkind.

Or if they are hitting their brother or sister, you may tell them that God calls us to be kind and loving to one another. Hitting your brother or sister is not kind and loving.

Or when you tell your child to say they are sorry, yet you can tell they aren’t. You may say, “I see that you are not sorry. Let me pray that God would change your heart and help you to see the right way to treat others and when we don’t treat others rightly we should be sorry for our actions.”

I know it’s simplistic, but when our kids are young, they need something simple. As well as we have to remember that our ministry to our kids should take a stepping stone approach.

Parenting is an opportunity to help your children see why they are doing what they are doing.

Parenting is more than bending your child’s will and activity to your own will. Certainly, we all have house rules we want our children to follow. There is wisdom in that, especially rules that are based off Scripture. But those rules are not their for the rules sake, just as the Law is not there for the Law’s sake. The Law in the Bible exists to show us our inability to keep it, as well as to point out our sin. The same with the rules in your house. Not only do they serve to provide structure, but they are there to show your child their inability to keep the rules, as well as to teach them what is sin. So don’t take rule breaking as an offense, instead see it as an opportunity to help your child see why they are doing what they are doing.

Your child didn’t load the dishwasher, clean up their room, or take out the trash when told because they have an authority issue. So when that time comes, instead of yelling at them in a fit of rage because it’s the fifth time this week they haven’t done their chores on time, you need to take the opportunity to point out to your child their issue with authority. And not just your authority, but ultimately God’s authority.

Parenting is an opportunity to point your children to Jesus.

As parents, we are to point our children to Jesus. But before we can point them to Jesus, they, just like us, need to see their need for Jesus. They need to understand they are sinners who need a Savior. The only way they are going to understand they are sinners is if we point out their sin in a loving, kind, graceful, and consistent manner. Hence, the suggestion to consistently point them back to what God’s Word says, even when they are young. As we point out their sin, we point them to Jesus. We may or may not do that in the moment. Other times of discipleship occur throughout the day. Reading the Bible with your children is one such time. Regardless of when you do it, our job as parents is to point our children to Jesus. He is the only One who can ultimately produce change in them, because He is the only One who can change their heart (mind, will, emotions, feelings, desires).

Parents, Respond Appropriately

Along with driving your kids back to the Bible and Jesus, we, as parents, need to make sure we are responding appropriately in the moment. Instead of flying of the handle in a fit of rage, we need to lovingly, yet assertively address them and their behavior. As well as we need to dispense the appropriate discipline, not being too harsh or too easy. Before we discipline, we need to explain to them the reason they are being disciplined and how much discipline they are receiving.

So for instance, we often give our kids a pop on the bottom when they misbehave. Before you call CPS on me for child abuse, the pops we give are not meant to hurt. Instead they are meant to get their attention. Before we pop them, we make it a point to talk to them and tell them how many pops they will receive and why. Afterwards, we always make sure to give them a hug and tell them that we love them. In doing so, we are attempting to mirror our heavenly Father’s discipline of us. God never disciplines us in a fit of rage. He doesn’t stop loving us in the moment. Nor does He walk away so that we feel shunned, disowned, or that we have to win His favor back. No, He disciplines us out of His grace, mercy, and love for us (Heb. 12:6). We should discipline our children in the same way because we are God’s ambassador. As His ambassadors, it is our job to model to our kids our heavenly Father’s response to us when we sin against Him.

It is about your heart

I believe Tripp drives hard at the parent’s heart instead of providing a list of techniques because it’s important our heart be right before we can deal with the heart of our kids in a biblical way.

Salvation

As parent’s, we must believe that we are saved by Jesus’ righteousness instead of our own. In other words, we must believe we do nothing to attain or maintain our own salvation. If we don’t, we will expect our kids to live a righteous life. That expectation will always lead to disappointment and frustration, because our kids, just like us, do not have the ability to manufacture a righteous life in and of themselves. Along with frustrating ourselves and our kids, we will end up producing self-righteous Pharisees who ultimately don’t see their need for Jesus.

Change

Closely related to the last, as parent’s, we must see God as the One who has and is bringing about change in our life through the Work of the Holy Spirit. If we don’t recognize that is how change comes about, we will try to change our kids in the same way we are trying to change ourself – through behavior modification. That mentality will lead to any number of parenting methods that are not healthy. We may try to bring about change through fear based parenting, will breaking parenting, or materialistic motivational parenting. While each of these may bring about the desired effect in the moment, they don’t address the heart, nor do they bring about long-term change.

Identity

As parent’s, we must find our identity in Christ, recognizing that we are God’s children and ambassadors. If we don’t, we may try to find our identity in our kids, which ultimately places a  burden on them they are not meant to bear. Also, if we don’t find our identity in Christ, we won’t be able to point our kids away from their own identity struggles to Christ.

So, when approaching parenting from a gospel-centered perspective, we must realize that parenting is first about our own heart. We must deal with it first before dealing with our kid’s heart. I know that makes parenting more difficult and time-consuming than we might have first thought, but we have to be willing to do the hard work of learning and dealing with ourselves so that we can deal biblically and gracefully with our kids. Remember, we must take the plank out of our own eye before we can take the speck out of another’s (Matt. 7:5). A few resources you may find helpful in dealing with your own heart, and in turn your child’s is:

Questions for Reflection

  1. What am I missing? What questions do you still have?
  2. Are you practicing gospel-centered parenting or man-centered parenting?
  3. What do you see as your goal in parenting?

Why Shouldn’t We Change the Gospel? – Part 1

At times, change can be a good thing. I know it was for me. Over a decade ago, I made a change and moved to the DFW metroplex. Growing up, I never thought I would live in Dallas, but when the opportunity presented itself, I took it. I not only took the opportunity because I thought it would help me advance my career faster, but I also made the move because I felt like I needed a fresh start in order to work on my relationship with God.

While attending the University of Georgia I was caught up in the party scene. That scene spilled over into my time in Atlanta because a lot of my friends from college moved to Atlanta when they graduated. I even lived with the same roommate I lived with in college. Having all the same friends meant that it was hard to escape that scene. At times, I tried, but it wasn’t enough. I felt like I needed a fresh start in a new place with new friends. So when the opportunity to move to Dallas presented itself, I took it.

Moving wasn’t the magic bullet I was looking for. You see, if we don’t deal with the underlying sin, things aren’t going to change. We will just end up falling back into what we were doing. That’s what happened to me. But having the mindset of starting afresh caused me to get back into church, where I made new friends. God worked through those relationships to expose the underlying sin and call me back to following Him. And so, for me, changing cities provided to be a good thing.

But change isn’t always for the better. That’s especially true when it comes to the gospel. Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us that. You see, there were some in the church who had distorted the gospel. Paul didn’t want the church to be deceived by them. So he writes this letter to address the problem. And he addresses that not only by calling out the false teachers, but also by throughly explaining the gospel. Since Paul talked about the gospel a lot, we are going to be talking a lot about the gospel as we work through this book. Which means that by the end you should have a good understanding of the gospel.

Since Galatians is primarily about the gospel, that’s where I’m going to begin our series. I’m are going to begin by talking about: What the gospel is; how it has been changed, and then I’m going to give you five reasons why you shouldn’t change the gospel. But before we to the five reasons, we need to make sure we are all on the same page with what the gospel is. So:

What is the gospel?

The gospel is shorthand for the good news. We have all experienced good news before. When I lived in Fort Worth, I had to have some pre-cancerous skin removed by the Dermatologist. After the surgery, they tested the skin they removed just to make sure they hadn’t missed anything in the initial biopsy. Once the tests were finished, they told me they would call with the results. If you have ever had a surgery that involved a biopsy, you know that you are anxiously awaiting that call. When they finally called, they told me that they didn’t find any cancer and they had removed all the pre-cancerous cells. Hearing that was good news. I’m sure many of you have received good news like that in the past as well.

While it’s always good to hear that we are healthy, the news that Paul writes about is even better news. Really, it’s the best news we could ever hear. Paul says starting in verse 3 of Galatians 1,

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Ga 1:3–5)

While these verses serve as an introduction to the letter, they also contain the content of the gospel. The gospel tells us that Jesus gave Himself for our sins. That sacrifice was necessary because we are sinners. If you have been in church for any length of time, you have heard that term. You have probably heard that term defined as one who misses the mark. While that’s not necessarily wrong, I don’t think it gives us a full picture of what it means to be a sinner. Sinners are those who live in rebellion to God. Living in rebellion involves more than just breaking a few rules here and there or missing the mark occasionally. Living in rebellion means that we have rejected God’s way of doing things for our own way of doing things. A rebel, then, isn’t someone who veers off target occasionally, they are someone who has charted their own course. They are someone who lives at odds with God. That’s not a good thing. You see, God is holy and His holiness requires He deal with those who are unholy, with those who have rebelled against Him. Which means that as rebels, as sinners, we are due to face God’s punishment.

But, and here is the good news, because what I just told you is bad news. It’s bad news, whether Hollywood glorifies it or not, that we are rebels. But the good news is that Jesus gave Himself for us. In other words, He took the punishment we deserve. On the cross, the Father’s wrath that was reserved for us was poured out on Jesus. All those who are willing to admit that they are sinners who deserve God’s punishment. All those who would repent — what that means is that we turn from our sin, from living in rebellion to God, to live under His guidance and direction. All those who admit they are sinners, repent, and believe that Jesus took their punishment for them, experience salvation. They experience peace with God, which means that we no longer have to worry about Him punishing us. Instead of being His enemy, we are His children and He is our Father.

Alongside peace with God, we also experience deliverance from the present evil age, which means that we are no longer under the control of Satan. He’s no longer our master. We are freed from his bondage and slavery. And we are able to live for God. That’s the gospel, that’s the good news, that we are saved from God’s punishment by Jesus’ work on our behalf. I want to be clear that it is through Jesus’ work on our behalf that we experience salvation. That means that we don’t contribute anything to our salvation. It’s all Jesus and none of us. That’s the good news. That’s the gospel.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you believe the gospel?
  2. Do you see it as good news?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Why shouldn’t we change the gospel? You can listen to it here.