The gospel devours the very motivation you have for sin. It completely saps your very need and reason to live any way you want. Anyone who insists that the gospel encourages us to sin has simply not understood it yet, nor begun to feel its power.
The gospel is not that Jesus Christ comes to earth, tells us how to live, we live a good life, and then God owes us blessing. The gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.
What did you have to do, Jesus is asking, with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation is by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.
Look again at the uniqueness of Christianity. Only the Christian worldview locates the problem with the world not in any part of the world or in any particular group of people but in sin itself (our loss of relationship with God). And it locates the solution in God’s grace (our restoration of a relationship with God through the work of Christ). Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. (And if we did , we would certainly have to count ourselves among the latter as well as the former.) Without an understanding of the gospel, we will be either naively utopian or cynically disillusioned. We will be demonizing something that isn’t bad enough to explain the mess we are in; and we will be idolizing something that isn’t powerful enough to get us out of it. This is, in the end, what all other worldviews do.
The Christian story line works beautifully to make sense of things and even to help us appreciate the truth embedded in stories that clearly come from another worldview. The Christian story line, or worldview, is: creation (plan), fall (problem), redemption and restoration (solution):
The whole world is good. God made the world and everything in it was good. There are no intrinsically evil parts of the world. Nothing is evil in its origin. As Tolkien explained about his archvillain in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in the beginning ‘even Sauron was not so.’ You can find this ‘creational good’ in anything.
The whole world is fallen. There is no aspect of the world affected by sin more or less than any other. For example, are emotion and passions untrustworthy and reason infallible? Is the physical bad and the spiritual good? Is the day-to-day world profane but religious observances good? None of these are true; but non-Christian story lines must adopt some variations of these in order to villainize and even demonize some created thing instead of sin.
The whole world is going to be redeemed. Jesus is going to redeem spirit and body, reason and emotion, people and nature. There is no part of reality for which there is no hope.
Here then is how the Spirit makes us wise. On the night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that he would send the Holy spirit and ‘when he, the Spirit of truth, come … he will glorify me …’ (John 16:13-14). The Spirit does not make us wise in some magical kind of way, giving us little nudges and insider tips to help us always choose the best stock to invest in. Rather, he makes Jesus Christ a living, bright reality, transforming our character, giving us new inner poise, clarity, humility, boldness, contentment, and courage. All of this leads to increasing wisdom as the years go by, and to better and better professional and personal decisions.
Another mark of the moral-performance narrative is a constant need to find fault, win arguments, and prove that all opponents are not just mistaken but dishonest sellouts. However, when the gospel is deeply grasped, our need to win arguments is removed, and our language becomes gracious. We don’t have to ridicule our opponents, but instead we can engage them respectfully.
People who live in the moral-performance narrative use sarcastic, self-righteous putdown humor, or have no sense of humor at all. Lewis speaks of ‘the unsmiling concentration upon Self, which is the mark of hell.’ The gospel, however, creates a gentle sense of irony. We find a lot to laugh at, starting with our own weaknesses. They don’t threaten us anymore because our ultimate worth is not based on our record or performance.
Martin Luther had the basic insight that moralism is the default mode of the human heart. Even Christians who believe the gospel of grace on one level can continue to operate as if they have been saved by their works. In ‘The Great Sin’ in Mere Christianity, Lewis writes, ‘If we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the Devil.’
The Bible calls us to be a community of the King. How are you doing? You can’t be a city by yourself. You can’t be a family by yourself. You can’t be a church by yourself. You’re called to be a city. You can only do that with other Christians, not just Christians you go to meetings with, but Christians you know and are related to. There’s a structure to your relationship. There’s a structure to your community.