The Days I Need the Gospel Least and more.
Preach the gospel to yourself! Preach the gospel to yourself every day! I think we are all growing accustomed to being told that Christians need to center their lives upon the gospel and that one of the keys to doing this is to be continually reminded of what is true by preaching the gospel to ourselves every day. I’ve been hearing this for years now and to varying degrees have been practicing it. However, just last week I had a bit of a breakthrough in my thinking about it. (Though this is a breakthrough for me, it is may well be one of those things you have understood for years.)
I have always understood that when I have sinned there is value in preaching the gospel to myself. When I sin I am prone to wallow in feelings of guilt and despair, as if negative feelings are in some way redemptive or as if they accomplish something. How could I fall into this sin again? Would a real Christian ever do something like this? In those moments I can summon the truth of the gospel to reassure myself that because of what Christ has done I am not condemned and cannot be condemned. In those moments I simply recount the gospel—that I am a sinner, that Christ died to take away the guilt of my sin and to give me his righteousness, that Christ has defeated sin and death, that I am a new creation, that my sin is no longer counted against me. There is freedom in apprehending and applying the gospel as a response to my sin.
What I haven’t understood to the same degree is the value of preemptively preaching the gospel to myself. I have heard many people say that there is value in preaching the gospel to myself every day, whether or not I find myself carrying the guilt and shame of sin. I’ve always thought of preaching the gospel to myself as a reactive thing, but Jerry Bridges has helped me to see it as proactive. Here’s why: The gospel does not merely correct bad thinking in the past and present, but also prevents bad thinking in the future. The gospel does not just speak to forgiveness of sins, but convicts me of the value of avoiding sin and reminds me that I now have the power to overcome it.
As I’ve read The Discipline of Grace Bridges has called me to see that I can only love God if I believe that God loves me first. “We cannot love God if we think we are under His judgment and condemnation.” Of course this is why I must be continually preaching the gospel to myself. I cannot truly and freely love God as long as I remain unconvinced of his love for me. For me to love him, I must believe that I am uncondemned and that I relate to him by grace instead of by law. “The extent to which we realize and acknowledge our own sinfulness, and the extent to which we realize the total forgiveness and cleansing from those sins, will determine the measure of our love to God.”
This makes the gospel the antidote to the works-righteousness that is always so close at hand, the works-righteousness that tells me that if I just do the right things and avoid the wrong things, I will be acceptable and accepted in God’s eyes. However, when I preach the gospel to myself every morning, I recall to my mind and my heart that I am loved by God, that he relates to me as a father relates to a son, that I am saved by his grace rather than by adherence to any law. This then generates the love that I need to feel and long to to feel and the love that will work itself out in action.
Preaching the gospel to myself reminds me that I am loved and on that basis allows me to love in return. But there is more. Preaching the gospel to myself in a proactive way also generates humility. The gospel reminds me who I am, it reminds me that I am responsible for the death of the Son of God, and it reminds me that I am the recipient of an infinite measure of grace. This must then generate humility. How could I hear such news, how could I see the Son of God slain for me, and respond with anything but humility?
The breakthrough in my thinking is that the gospel has great power when preached proactively. As it reminds me of God’s favor toward me, it gives me the power to live this day overwhelmed by love and grace. As it reminds me of his favor, it generates the humility that allows me to live humbly before both God and man. The days I am convinced that I need the gospel least are undoubtedly the days I need it most