You wouldn’t think something as simple, yet central, as the gospel would be easy to forget… right?
But it’s true that all of us–from the “baby Christian” to the veteran believer–can find ourselves losing sight of the most precious Truth, on a daily basis!
First, allow me to summarize the good news of Jesus Christ in just a few words (of course, each of these points could be greatly expanded):
1) We are sinners, deserving eternal punishment (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3);
2) We can’t save ourselves by any good works of our own (Ephesians 2:8; Galatians 2:16);
3) Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on flesh, became man, lived a perfect life of obedience to God’s Law, died on the cross bearing the sins of His people, and rose from the dead to justify them with His righteousness (Romans 5:8; 6:23; 8:30; 1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.);
4) All those who repent and believe in Him are born again, promised eternal life, and are called to live for Christ and His glory (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:20; John 3:5; John 3:16; John 10:28; Ephesians 4:1; John 15:16, etc.).
This is the foundation of the Christian faith–the life-giving message of the gospel that is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
So how could we ever fail to remember it?
Well, for one, we are humans, not yet glorified–we have frail minds and sinful tendencies. Our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak.
We are easily distracted, easily thrown off course. The sparkly attractions of the world try to capture our attention and entice us to neglect heavenly things. Their own “false-gospels” tempt us to forsake the one true gospel. Like the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the sower, a myriad of obstacles can rise up and threaten to choke the Christ-centered life right out of us.
Not to mention, our Enemy stalks us like a lion, taking advantage of every opportunity to tempt us to sin and bait us into betraying our Lord.
There are many more I could list, but here are just a few ways that we are tempted to forget the gospel.
1. WHEN WE ARE IDLE
Idleness–or what some Bible translations call “sloth”–can be a real struggle for all of us. And I don’t mean that we are all tempted to be couch potatoes or sleep in til noon. It’s much more subtle than that.
Sometimes we know the good we ought to do, but don’t do it, which is a sin (James 4:17). We just don’t feel like praying, or encouraging a friend with Scripture, or sharing the gospel with a neighbor. As wives and mothers, we may let things go around the home, or bypass teaching and disciplining our kids because it will take so much effort. It’s much easier and more comfortable to do our own things, or to give in to what is unprofitable–like excessive entertainment, sinful habits, and passivity in relationships.
While real health issues can affect how active we are in our duties–and times of rest are necessary–yet we must strive against idleness in our callings, whatever that looks like for each of us.
But what does this have to do with forgetting the gospel?
As Christians saved by grace, we are called to be active in serving the Lord. While good works cannot and do not save us, we were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) and saved so that we would live fruitful, worshipful lives of giving glory to God (see Titus 3).
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
If we remember the gospel, we will remember our “chief end” as men and women–and be thankful God has redeemed us so that we can be who we were made to be, in Christ. We will be motivated by Christ’s love to serve Him with our lives. We will be on guard against our own sinful hearts and we’ll press into the Word for wise instruction.
We’ll pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”–and we’ll mean it. By God’s grace, we’ll live that out in our lives and pray to see it happen all around the world.
2. WHEN WE SPEND THE DAY ON “AUTOPILOT”
It’s easy to “go through the motions.”
Even if we are active all day long–whether it’s washing dishes, changing diapers, working at an 8-5 job, training our kids, or something else–we can still find ourselves on “autopilot”: doing what we know we’re supposed to do, yet without our minds engaged on how or why we are doing it.
Our default as fallen, sinful creatures is to sin. To live a holy life requires paddling upstream. If we give into “autopilot” mode, we will not only slip into worldly thoughts, we won’t even realize it’s happening! (At least, not at first.)
Have you ever had a moment in the middle of the day when it occurred to you, “I haven’t thought about the Lord or Scripture or spiritual things in hours.” It’s very easy to do. We become totally engrossed in this present life and…
We forget the gospel. We forget eternity.
The gospel reminds us to meditate on the Word day and night (Psalm 1), because Christ is the Word who became flesh (John 1). We have true, spiritual, eternal life only in Him, the Bread of Life (John 6). Why labor for bread that spoils and can’t sustain our souls? Why focus only on the seen, temporal things? We must labor to feed on Christ by faith and see the unseen reality of eternity with Him.
If we remember the gospel, we will catch ourselves when we are in auto-pilot–and let Christ and His Word pilot us into intentional and God-honoring paths. This is a constant, every-day battle, but we’ve been given grace to overcome.
3. WHEN WE MISUSE OUR THEOLOGY–AND DON’T LIVE IT OUT
One of the greatest temptations we face is that of hypocrisy–claiming we believe one thing, or holding to a truth on principle, yet contradicting it in our actions.
Satan loves nothing more than to see a Christian acting hypocritically. He will tempt us to this, and our sinful nature loves this sin. We must be vigilant and on guard against it.
There is so much I could say. Let me focus on one thing. Our theology tells us that God is good, loving, holy. We love Him and we’re saved by Him. We know we’re called to be like Him–to love what He loves, and hate what He hates.
Our flesh’s inborn bent toward hypocrisy will tempt us to act as though we believe the opposite of these things. We give mouth service to “God is good,” but we may be tempted to act like God is not good or loving, but that He is too harsh, or even cruel toward us when we complain or suffer. We say “God is holy,” but our actions may say “God doesn’t care if I sin in this or that way.” We might affirm “I love God’s law, and hate idolatry, or stealing, or adultery, or lying,” but then we find ourselves trespassing in these areas, even in subtle ways.
Remembering the gospel in those moments encourages us to flee hypocrisy. In the good news of Christ, we see the depths of the evil of sin and what Jesus underwent to pay for it for us–the wrath of God, His body broken and His precious blood spilled. We see God’s love and His worthiness to be loved, when He freely offers salvation to wretches like us. And we fear to act hypocritically when we know we’ve been bought at such a price.
Not only that, but we are given freedom from sin by the gospel! When we remember that, we remember that we are under no obligation to live according to the flesh, which is death; but we’ve been given liberty to live by the Spirit–true life indeed.
4. WHEN WE ARE HARSH AND UNFORGIVING
Recall with me the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. His Master, rather than casting him into prison, forgives him a huge, incomprehensible debt. He should be thankful, and that kind of love should cause him to pour out mercy and love to others. But sadly, that’s not what happens. Instead, he finds another servant, who owed him a relatively minor debt compared to what he’d been forgiven, and demands payment. When his fellow servant can’t pay and begs patience, he is harsh and unmerciful, and throws him into prison. But when the Master finds out, the ungrateful servant ends up paying the price.
What a needful teaching for us. The gospel tells us of the huge debt that we owe God because of our treasonous sin against our King–a debt without number, beyond our greatest imagination. Since we can’t pay it (no, not by our filthy rags of self-righteousness!), we all deserve eternal punishment in the “prison” of hell.
But instead, those who trust in Christ are forgiven that insurmountable debt and go free in God’s mercy, because He paid it for us. Now that places a great obligation upon us to show mercy to others. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
When we are harsh and unforgiving toward others who hurt us, and demand that they pay their debts to us, we are betraying our Master and defiling the gospel. Whether it’s by subjecting them to our cruel words, or putting them in the “prison” of the silence treatment, or holding their faults against them over and over again, doing these things shows we don’t understand the debt that we’ve been forgiven. Christ expects us to be like Him– to show mercy and to embrace with open arms those who come asking for our forgiveness.
This adorns the gospel, and when we keep it at the forefront of our minds and hearts, we can forgive the debts of others and love them with the love Christ has given us.
5. WHEN WE WRONGFULLY QUESTION OUR SALVATION
There is a healthy self-examination that the Bible commands: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). “…Be even more diligent to make your call and election sure…” (2 Peter 1:10).
It’s very dangerous to assume we are saved on the wrong basis (because we grew up in church, or prayed a certain prayer, or seem like a “good person”), or to think we are Christians when there is no good fruit to confirm it.
Yet all too easily, we true Christians can fall into the opposite error and lose the comfort of assurance, by needlessly doubting our salvation.
When we forget the gospel, it seems to us that our sin is too great to be forgiven or that God can’t or won’t cleanse us of it. We downplay the work God is doing in us and dismiss it, because it’s not yet perfected. We question if we’re truly Christ’s, because we aren’t fully who we want to be.
But when we remember the gospel, we are reminded that Christ has power to cleanse all our sins, for any who believe. Who am I to claim an exemption? Is anything too hard for God? His sacrifice was enough to satisfy God’s wrath for us, and His righteousness is enough to justify us.
We cannot undo what Christ did on the cross. Weak yet true faith (“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”), though only as small as a mustard seed, is a miracle of grace and proof that He has regenerated us. The fruit we bear in Christ doesn’t save us–it comes after salvation. It is confirmation of the Spirit at work in us, to the praise of God. It’s imperfect in this life, but God, as our loving Father, accepts and rejoices in it. And we have glorification to look forward to!
Reminding ourselves of the gospel encourages us to look outside of ourselves, forsake morbid introspection, and gain humble confidence and joy in Christ and His salvation.
THINK ON THESE THINGS
Sometimes we may wonder if we really have the ability to govern our thoughts. While we can’t necessarily control everything that pops into our minds, yet we are commanded in Scripture to “think on these things”:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
There are so many untrue, dishonest, impure things we might be tempted to think about. The world, the flesh, and Satan direct us to those kinds of thoughts. But the gospel is a lovely, praise-worthy, powerful thing. Most of all, when we meditate on the gospel, we meditate on Christ, who is the gospel. Is there a more worthy subject than He?
So when we find ourselves with spiritual amnesia, forgetting the truth, may He remind us–and lead us in His paths of righteousness, life, and joy.