We need the gospel just as much now as we did when we were first saved.
In fact, the real way to do battle with our sinful corruptions, seek deliverance from temptation, and live a humble life dependent on God is to keep the gospel of Jesus Christ at the forefront of our hearts and minds. The gospel is essential, not just to our justification, but to our sanctification too.
I struggle with this on a regular basis. It is not easy to trust completely in Christ. It is far too easy to trust in my flesh.
I see the good works Christ is producing in me, and the pride of my flesh wants to say, “See what I did? See what my obedience accomplished? I can live off of my own strength. I don’t need to seek the Lord. I don’t need His grace. I don’t need to remember the gospel. That’s for babes in Christ. I’m mature now. I’ve been a Christian for 8 years. It’s time to move on. Let me focus on what I can do; I already know what Christ did. That’s old news.”
But what happens when we forget the gospel? When we start believing, as one author teaches, that it is our own submission that grants us life in Christ, our own obedience that feeds us the “spiritual superfood” we need, our own good works that transform us, and our own faithfulness (rather than God’s faithfulness) that makes us who we are?
Giving our obedience the preeminence over the gospel does not do what we think it will. It does not make us more holy. It does not glorify Christ.
Perhaps it will change us from the outside. We will be so concerned about keeping up our outward acts of piety that we do seem to increase in godliness. After all, flowers can live, even bloom for a while in a vase, though they are cut off from the ultimate source of their growth.
But eventually that flower will droop and fade. We will discover the bitter sting of trusting in our own faithfulness. And, we hope, God will humble us and open our eyes to bring us back to the gospel–that it is the Father who made and remakes us, Christ who saves us from our sins and freely grants us life in Him, and the Holy Spirit who transforms and sanctifies us. Our Triune God is three blessed Persons. No room for our own obedience to be a fourth.
It is in that humble place of seeing how absolutely bankrupt and powerless we are to change ourselves that we learn, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). We realize that in order to glorify God, we must first see how sinful and lacking we are, and how great and sufficient Christ is. We begin to embrace the reality that the true way to bear fruit is not to manufacture the fruit ourselves, but to simply abide in the Vine.
To be clear, there is striving in the Christian life. We must obey Christ and follow Him. We must desire and seek after holiness. Yet all of this must be done while we are resting in the Lord and His love, believing the gospel, and knowing that He alone is the one who gives us the ability and strength to obey.
“To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” -John Owen
Friends, we never stop needing the gospel. I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian, how “mature” you are, and whether you’re on the “milk” or the “meat.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith. We never should feel we’re able to “move on” from the gospel by replacing it with something else. It does not make us more obedient or holy to deemphasize the gospel and put our works on a pedestal. In fact, forgetting the gospel and supplanting the role of Christ and the Spirit in our sanctification with our own obedience is exactly what will lead us into grave sin and error. If we really want to grow in grace and good fruit, we need Christ, we need the Spirit working in us, we need a low view of ourselves and our own “goodness.”
We need the gospel.
“Salvation is of the Lord.”
Salvation is the work of God. It is he alone who quickens the soul “dead in trespasses and sins,” and it is he also who maintains the soul in its spiritual life. He is both “Alpha and Omega.” “Salvation is of the Lord.” If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful; if I have graces, they are God’s gifts to me; if I hold on in a consistent life, it is because he upholds me with his hand. I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God himself first does in me. Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely. If I have repulsed a spiritual enemy, the Lord’s strength nerved my arm. Do I live before men a consecrated life? It is not I, but Christ who liveth in me. Am I sanctified? I did not cleanse myself: God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God’s chastisements sanctified to my good. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. All my jewels were fashioned by heavenly art. I find in God all that I want; but I find in myself nothing but sin and misery. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Do I feed on the Word? That Word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink? Am I continually receiving fresh increase of strength? Where do I gather my might? My help cometh from heaven’s hills: without Jesus I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I, except I abide in him. What Jonah learned in the great deep, let me learn this morning in my closet: “Salvation is of the Lord.”
-Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening (Morning, February 26)