If you think you really understand the gospel – you don’t. If you think you haven’t even begun to truly understand the gospel – you do. As important as our ‘gospel theologizing’ is, it alone will not reach our world. People today are incredibly sensitive to inconsistency and phoniness. They hear what the gospel teaches and then look at our lives and see the gap. Why should they believe? We have to recognize that the gospel is a transforming thing, and we simply are not very transformed by it. It’s not enough to say to postmodern people: ‘You don’t like absolute truth? Well, then, we’re going to give you even more of it!’ But people who balk so much at absolute truth will need to see greater holiness of life, practical grace, gospel character, and virtue, if they are going to believe.
Traditionally, this process of ‘gospel-realizing,’ especially when done corporately, is called ‘revival.’ Religion operates on the principle:I obey; therefore I am accepted (by God). The gospel operates on the principle: I am accepted through the costly grace of God; therefore I obey. Two people operating on these two principles can sit beside each other in church on Sunday trying to do many of the same things – read the Bible, obey the Ten Commandments, be active in church, and pray – but out of two entirely different motivations. Religion moves you to do what you do out of fear, insecurity, and self-righteousness, but the gospel moves you to do what you do more and more out of grateful joy in who God is in himself. Times of revival are seasons in which many nominal and spiritually sleepy Christians, operating out of the semi-Pharisaism of religion, wake up to the wonder and ramifications of the gospel. Revivals are massive eruptions of new spiritual power in the church through a recovery of the gospel. In his sermon on Mark 9 Lloyd-Jones was calling the church to revival as its only hope. This is not a new program or something you can implement through a series of steps. It is a matter of wonder. Peter says that the angels always long to look into the gospel; they never tire of it (I Pet. 1:12). The gospel is amazing love. Amazing grace.
– Tim Keller