The Gospel is the Only Thing that Can Change Us, Not Self-Help

I don’t know about you but I love books. Over the years I have amassed quite a collection. Not near as many as some of my friends, but I’d say it is a healthy collection.

As most book lovers do, I love bookstores. I can spend hours in a bookstore just looking. My wife used to come along, but it’s gotten to the point now that she refuses to go to a bookstore with me because she knows I will be in there forever.

One of the things I like to do when I am at the bookstore is peruse the self-help and spirituality sections. Not because I am interested in buying any of those books, but because I want to know what others are buying. What they believe will make difference in their lives.

In these sections you will find all kinds of books. Books that promise to help you:

  • Win Friends and Influence People
  • To become a Highly Effective Person
  • Stop Worrying and Start Living
  • Gain Happiness
  • To lead people
  • To fulfill your dreams in life

The list can go on and on.

While all these books promise to help you in these areas, I don’t believe they can ultimately drive the change they promise. Nor can they fix the mess this nation is in. That’s because these books focus on the self. They attempt to pull the best you out of you.

What is inherently wrong with that idea is that we are all broken people. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, we have experienced corruption. Because we are corrupted to our core, we cannot rise above in and of ourselves. We can’t uncorrupt ourselves no matter how many books we read, seminars we attend, or life coaches we hire. Self-help is a falsity.

If these books and the ideas behind them can’t change people and fix our nation, what can? The gospel — the good news that God sent a Messiah, who is Jesus. Jesus not only pays the penalty for our rebellion, but He also creates a new humanity that can experience freedom from corruption. Jesus saves us and changes us. He gives us hope.

By the Grace of God, you are a gift for Jesus’ glory

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,” (2 Thess 1:11)

We need the prayers of the saints for our growth. As believers, we are to look after and encourage one another. We should desire to see the best for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. What could be better than their growth in Christlikeness.

Becoming more like Christ means we become more like the people God originally designed us to be. When we live according to God’s designed, life generally goes well for us. Even if we experience difficulties such as persecution or set back, we can have joy. Joy because we have hope. Hope for a future when we will see Jesus in all His glory. Joy because even in the difficulties we are able to accomplish our purpose in life, which is to glorify God. In verse 12, Paul reveals the end to which he prays,

“so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 1:12)

The end is Jesus glory in us and us in Him. Jesus is ultimately glorified in us, not by our work, but by the grace of God. In this way, we are a gift to Jesus for His glory. What a privilege it is to be used by the Creator of the world, the King over all, the All Sovereign Lord as a gift to His Son for His glory and our own.

If you want to grow in Christ, you need others

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thess 5:14)

It is our responsibility to care for one another. We are to admonish, encourage, and help one another with patience. We can’t and we won’t grow in our faith, hope, love, and holiness without another speaking into our lives.

There are no Lone Ranger Christians. We can’t grow into maturity by just getting alone with Jesus and our Bible. Of course, we need time in the Word and prayer, but we need more. We need one another.

As we move out into the world, we need to make sure we have other brothers and sisters who are willing to speak into our lives, holding us accountable and encouraging us in the faith. If we don’t, we will remain stagnant and even begin to regress. If you want to grow in Christ, you need others.

Pastor, please the Lord, not self or man.

”For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thess 2:3-4)

True workmen for the Lord do not have ulterior motives. They should not be greedy. Their desire should not be to amass wealth, status, or position off the backs of those they are to serve and to whom they are to preach the good news. One should not enter ministry for riches or acclaim.

Ministers are entrusted with the gospel. They are speak the truth in love, not to please man, but to please God. Here in lies the difficulty. God is our boss/master not man. Sometimes those two are at odds. When they are at odds with one another, our default should not be to please man, rather our default should be to please God, trusting He will care for us.

Pastor, why do you preach? Why do you serve? Is it for your own gain or the gain of others? Do you trust God to provide or do you fear man? As Pastors, we serve an audience of One (God) to the pleasure of many (the congregation). Our focus must always be on pleasing the Lord not self or man.

A Gospel-Centered Church Preaches the True Gospel, Resulting in True Conversions

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.

Not Progressive/Liberal

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.

When the gospel is faithfully preached, taught, and lived, its your affections that restrict you

“You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.” (2 Cor 6:12)

When the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, taught, and lived it’s not the person proclaiming, teaching, and living that restricts others from following God’s Word. Instead, it is the person’s affections that restrict them from turning to the Lord.

Affections refer to what we love. They determine what we are drawn to and what captures our attention. When we refuse to turn to the Lord, our affections are captured by something or someone else.

If we claim to be Christian, we must allow Jesus and Jesus alone to capture our attention. We shouldn’t be drawn to anyone or anything else but Him.

When the gospel is being faithfully proclaimed, taught, and lived, that which restricts someone from coming to Christ or following Him in obedience is their own affections. To what are your affections given? Are they given to the world? Are they given to something or someone more than to Jesus? God desires our heart, our affections, our love.