Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't (merely) Preach the Gospel to Yourself

I really liked Jeff’s previous post, and was eager to post some reflections on it. Especially on the line, “If I focus too much on my sinfulness it turns me into a legalist.”

So consider it a compliment that I wish to begin, or hijack, the question of “how do I preach the gospel to myself” with the following suggestion:

Don’t.

Well, let’s rephrase that. How about this:

Don’t merely preach the gospel to yourself.

John the Apostle wrote, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). The following verses are pretty strong too.

Here’s what I’ve been learning lately: Our growth in the gospel will be severely stunted if we do not have others who are mirroring Jesus Christ to us through their forgiveness and surprising acceptance. And the only way we know we are really, truly accepted by another is when they see our sin and, wow, still like us.

Our tendency is to hide our real self from others. Little do we know just how much this corrodes the soul, for it ultimately reinforces our self-righteousness. It is a desire to appear together before others in order to maintain their approval, and this will manifest itself also in how we approach God.

We need some—many?—relationships, beginning with our spouse if we are married, which are intense enough that they require confession and forgiveness.

Of course, this goes both ways. Jesus also said, quite famously, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

So don’t merely preach the gospel to yourself. Hear it from others, when and where it counts. And preach it to others in the act of forgiveness so that you can pray with a straight face, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are indebted to us.”

Put another way: "If I seek to hide from others my sinfulness, it turns me into a legalist."

3 comments:

joel pearce said...

Good stuff here, Ken, though I guess it didn't originally come from you (more like the Bible). Your thesis almost reminds me of the old toast "To friends who know us well, and love us anyway." I especially identified with the point that if we hide ourselves from others, it corrodes the soul and reinforces our self-righteousness. Thanks, brother.

Jeff said...

Ken, I agree with Joel about the fact that the stuff in this post is good.

As long as we're playing around with the wording, what do you think about this change: rather than saying I should preach the gospel to myself every day - I'm thinking about going with, "I need to apply the gospel to myself every day."

"Preach" makes it sound as though I simply need to state the gospel message out loud so that I hear it. "Apply" gives the sense of pressing the gospel into action in order to deal with specific sins in my life.

Ken said...

Interesting. You know, I've noticed that those who aren't preachers don't get as excited about the terminology "preach to myself every day"--we might want to exegete our hearers on this one.

Maybe something like "sink the gospel deep into my soul and relationships every day"?