Click here for the introduction to this series.
“Many Christians love Jesus and the gospel but just don’t know how his incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, ascension, and reign ought to impact them in the ‘real world.’”
Have you ever heard the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”? Well, that proverb is unfortunately true, even when it comes to believers and the gospel. We have seen our sin, and how it deeply offends a holy God. We have recognized that our sin caused the death of God’s Son Jesus Christ. We have placed our trust in the truth that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sin. And now we have been restored to fellowship with God, and we are new creations!
But somehow, once we have acknowledged and believed all of those things, we lose sight of the application of those truths in the pursuit of “deeper” things, or some secret to living the Christian life in victory. The story of the gospel becomes old news, something that we “did,” and now we are ready to move on. We hear the gospel over and over, and soon we find ourselves tuning it out, waiting for the “good stuff.” We already know the gospel. Why do we need to hear it again and again, and how will it do us any good? Because of our familiarity with the truth, we stop allowing it to change our hearts.
In Counsel from the Cross, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson call our attention to Ephesians 5:1 and ask what stands out to us in it.
Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children.”
As humans, we have a propensity to look inward, and a need to try to “fix” our current, sinful condition in our own strength. We might look at this verse and see the command to “imitate God” and be tempted to despair at our failure to do that. Or perhaps we will see the command and strive harder to do better at it. It is all too easy for us to gloss over the “therefore” and “as beloved children” and go straight for the imperative. But “therefore” and “as beloved children” are placed there for a very important reason. If we gloss over those words, we miss the very truth that will enable us to live out the command–the gospel itself. But how is the gospel in those words? You see, they are so familiar to us that we cannot even hear them anymore.
“You see, if certain concepts in Scripture have become white noise to us, it will be all too easy to read a verse like Ephesians 5:1 and see only its obligations. I, too, can see myself using the verse to develop a list of the attributes of God and then mking a plan to implement those attributes in my daily life…This month I will concentrate on being holy. I’ll research what it means and then I’ll try to implement it in my life. Next month I’ll…Because I’m like you, if you asked me what I saw in that verse I would tell you, ‘We’re called to imitate God.’”
Our ability to block on what is familiar to us can cause us to miss life changing truths. ”We will be quick to strip out the familiar and boil down Scripture to a tidy little take-away list of do’s and don’ts.”
The key to understanding where the gospel is in this verse is by reading the verse immediately preceding it, which the “therefore” points to. Ephesians 4:32 says that “God in Christ has forgiven us.” Oh, what a glorious, beautiful truth! We have been forgiven! Ephesians 5:1 ought to inspire in us to obey out of love. That is the only acceptable motivation for obedience. Anything else is simply moralism. ”When we lose the centrality of the cross, Christianity morphs into a religion of self-improvement and becomes about us, about our accomplishments, and about getting our act together.”
“You might be wondering why it is so important to hear yet again what Jesus has already done…We need to hear it again because if we have forgotten his work on our behalf, it will skew the way we think of him, the way we think of ourselves, and the way we think of others. In addition, we will miss the emphasis on imitating God’s forgiveness that this verse is meant to communicate.”
But why is the gospel so difficult for us to see? ”Because we are so familiar with the gospel message, it gets shoved to the periphery of our spiritual consciousness and becomes nothing more than words to be remembered at Christmas and Easter.
“We naively press the gospel out to the margins of our faith because we have never really been taught how it’s meant to connect with our daily lives…We relegate the gospel to the back of our religious bus because, although we may admit our spiritual impotence with our lips, deep in our hearts we remain convinced of our own ability to live a moral life…As long as I have my ‘list to work on,’ I can keep my hands on the reigns of my life and on my struggle against sin.”
So how can we fight against the gospel becoming simply background noise? How can we remove it from the “back of the bus” and put it back into the center where it belongs? We must preach the gospel to ourselves daily. We must fill our minds and hearts with its truths. We must continue to learn how the gospel applies to every moment of every day, giving us the strength to fight sin. ”I need to hear that gospel song over and over again because my soul is like sieve and the gospel leaks out of it, leaving only the husk of Christianity–my self-righteousness and obligations.”