Yesterday, my facebook status generated some interesting conversation. In fact, one of my former theology professors initially balked at it, thinking it incorrect. I wasn’t trying to be provocative or say anything shocking, but it obviously caught my friend off-guard. All of this got me to thinking that I ought to expand on these thoughts a bit. I’m not sure exactly where this will go, but I’m imagining several posts dealing with the topic.
My statement: The gospel wrecks you before it restores you.
The word gospel means “good news,” so it might seem odd to speak of good news that wrecks you. Let me explain.
What I’m NOT Saying
First, I’m not saying that the gospel corrupts or destroys something good. Sin does that. In his remarkable book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. writes, “Sin has pirated from goodness — energy, imagination, persistence, creativity.” Sin always steals something good, siphoning off God’s blessing into a leaky bucket we have designed for ourselves. We nourish our lives on this pirated goodness, using our skills, talents, passion, and vision for our own enjoyment and self-promotion.
God allows us to go our own way, even if it harms us. Plantinga recalls Augustine’s idea that “sin becomes the punishment for sin.” By this he means that our destruction is in getting exactly what we want. When we are given our heart’s desire, it usually ends in our destruction. Pastor Tim Keller writes, “In the book of Romans, Saint Paul wrote that one of the worst things God can do to someone is to ‘give them over to the desires of their hearts’ (Romans 1:24)” (Counterfeit Gods, 3).
So, we continually steal goodness for ourselves and use it in ways that, although temporarily pleasurable or satisifying, are ultimately harmful. When we do this day in and day out, we develop habits of living that are almost impossible to overcome. Our self-driven ways of living become so routine and normal that we can’t imagine there is another way. Returning one more time to Plantinga, he writes, “Sin has dug in, and, like a tick, and burrows deeper when we try to remove it.” Our inability to conquer our bad habits lead us to resignation. We say things like: “this is just the way it is,” “this is how I was made,” or “there is nothing wrong with this.” Over time, we give up fighting and grow so comfortable in our sin that we hardly notice its presence anymore.
What I am Saying
When I say that “the gospel wrecks you before it restores you,” I am saying that we desperately need to experience God’s wake-up call. God sends His Spirit to arouse us from our sin-induced spiritual slumber, and the gospel is God’s alarm clock. The gospel says to us, “You are not enough.” You may say that this is technically not “the gospel,” but it is at the very least implicit in the gospel message. To say “Jesus came to save you” is to say “you are not enough.” To a life that has for years embraced the idea that Self is King, this is a shocking statement. This is how we are wrecked by the gospel. The gospel message of Jesus is so contrary to anything we’ve experienced that we are undone by it, we lose our balance, we feel unstable. Whether we are self-righteous, self-focused, self-determined, self-satisfied, self-deceived, self-pleasured or self-dependent, we must learn a new way that is not dependent on ourselves, and that is unsettling.
Believing the gospel overturns our entire way of approaching life. Redemption and resurrection are disruptions of the status quo. Self-righteousness and performance are cast aside. The false supports we’ve constructed for our lives are knocked down so that our position with God may be rebuilt. Grace wrecks our previously accepted but woefully inadequate approach to life and teaches us a new way to live by faith. Jesus said, “You must lose your life (be wrecked) in order to find it (be restored).”
We’ll further explore what this means in the next post…thanks for reading. May you be wrecked completely by the grace and the goodness and the restorative gospel of Jesus.