What does it mean to be gospel-centered?
When I talk about us being a gospel-centered church, I mean that we are a church that is centered on the good news that Jesus came to save sinners like you and I. We are centered on the gospel, allowing it to drive how we operate as a church.
Centering on the gospel frees us to place our identity in Jesus and as well as it frees us to believe in, trust in, and rest in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus came to save sinners. Those who center on the gospel realize there is nothing they can do to save themselves. No amount of church work, right living, or giving can provide salvation or sanctification.
Sanctification is just a fancy word for growing to be more like Jesus. Sanctification occurs through the gospel, not through trying harder or by following a set of legalistic rules. We grow as we understand more and more about the grace of God in Jesus. As we grow in our understanding of the gospel, which includes God’s plan highlighted and worked out in Scripture, we should grow in thankfulness for what God has done for us. Our gratitude should propel us to know God more, to understand how He wants us to live, and to actually live in a way that matches God’s desire for our life as a way to glorify Him. If we want to grow as Christians, we must reflect on the gospel, viewing it from different angles like a diamond, and allowing it to do a work in our hearts so as to bring about change.
The only way we experience salvation and sanctification is by believing in, trusting in, and resting in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus saves sinners. That is wonderfully freeing news because it means:
- We don’t have to keep striving to maintain a self-image that is broken.
- We can rest from self-salvation and the worry of — have I don’t enough.
- We can love God for who He is and not for what He gives.
Opposite of the Prosperity Gospel
Being gospel-centered, then, is the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel centers on health, wealth, and material possessions. The end all be all of the prosperity gospel is prosperity, it’s not Jesus and the salvation He offers. Jesus is just a tool to get prosperity.
But prosperity isn’t salvation. It doesn’t provide the identity for which we long. Prosperity just leaves us empty, wanting more. While there is nothing wrong with being prosperous, it can’t hold the center. Only Jesus can. Only He provides us with a true identity and true salvation.
More than Social Justice
Being gospel-centered also involves more than fighting for social justice. The social justice gospel centers on social issues. Those who do social justice seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. You’ll find a social justice warrior fighting against all kinds of social issues including systemic racism. That is good and right. We should seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. We should fight against systemic racism.
But these actions can’t be the end all be all of our ministries. The good news, the gospel, is not solely centered on justice. To be sure, justice is part of the gospel. A desire for justice will flow out of the gospel, but it is not the gospel. The gospel centers on Jesus’ work on our behalf.
Being gospel-centered also involves rejecting a Progressive/Liberal gospel. Many in the progressive or liberal gospel movement deny the inerrancy or truthfulness of Scripture. As well as they teach that Christianity is just one of many ways to experience salvation.
But again, the gospel centers on Jesus’ death on our behalf. It teaches us that there is only one way to God, not multiple ways. Those who center on the true gospel don’t seek to progress into new ways of understanding. Instead, they camp out on God’s way of understanding the world, which is found in His word.
In contrast to the prosperity gospel, the social justice gospel, and a progressive/liberal gospel, a gospel-centered church urges its members and those who attend to believe in, trust in, and rest in Jesus’ work on their behalf. They do that by faithfully pointing their people away from sin and towards Jesus by preaching the true gospel, which results in true conversion.
The result of preaching the true gospel is true conversion.
In verse 12, Paul writes,
“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”(Col 1:12–14)
The true gospel tells us that we are sinners who have rebelled against God. Because of our rebellion we deserve God’s wrath. But God in His grace and Mercy comes on a rescue mission for us, truly saving us.
Every time I read this verse I can’t help but think of a group of Naval Seals sneaking behind enemy lines to rescue a prisoner of war. That image comes to mind because that is what Jesus does. He comes. He breaks into the kingdom of darkness and draws us to Himself. In doing so, He literally transfers us out of one kingdom and into another.
In God’s rescue mission, Jesus is the actor. He is the One who comes. He is the One seeks. He is the One who draws us to Himself and out of the domain of darkness. In Jesus, we are redeemed from God’s wrath. We are forgiven. We are released from the bondage of sin and death. For the first time, we can actually follow Jesus. Not just follow Him out of self will or to gain the approval of others, but we follow Jesus because we desire Him.
Once Jesus draws us to Himself. Once He rescues us out of the kingdom of darkness and transfers us into His kingdom, our affections are changed and we actually want what He wants. Our desires change so that we no longer desire the things of the world but the things of God. We are no longer self-centered but God-centered.
The only way a church’s attendees and members will see true change is if the church centers on the true gospel, preaching it so that those who hear it experience true conversion, and then true change as they learn about and live out their newfound identity in Christ.