Listen to Rick read this post:
An over-focus on the cross, to the exclusion of the other aspects of the Gospel, can lead to an off-centered life. The cross of Christ is powerful, essential, climatic in a unique way, and no person can go to heaven without interacting with the purposes of the cross.
The cross of Christ is a significant event in the Gospel narrative. Without the cross our sins would not be atoned and we would still be guilty, waiting on eternal judgment and banishment to hell. Needless to say, the cross is not expendable. Without it there would be no Gospel. It is perfectly placed in the history of the Gospel.
Christians know this. They understand this and they would never minimize the beauty, power, and transformative effect of the cross. This is why we want the cross lifted up (John 3:14). This is why we must be cross-centered.
That being said, the cross does not communicate all we need to know or all we must possess in order to be saved. This is why it is helpful to think more comprehensively about our relationship with the LORD. One effective way to do this, that has come upon the church in the last twenty years, has been the elevated and promoted use of the word Gospel.
This one word captures in a more collective way our new relationship with Christ. The word Gospel is a basket word that comprehends the richest and fullest expression of what it means to be in relationship with our Creator.
The word Gospel is also a synonym for the word Christ. He is the good news that was predicted throughout the Old Testament. To be Gospel-centered is to be Christ-centered. To be Christ-centered positions you for more effective Christian living.
Christ was the prophesied good news in Genesis 3:15. He was the person nearly every Jewish woman hoped would come from their wombs. The expected good news was to be the total fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation. Christ is the hope and the answer to our greatest fear and our greatest problem, which is eternal separation from God.
The cross is a unique, though partial, fulfillment of the Gospel. The cross is an essential step for us to be transformed into Christlikeness. The cross is a component part of the greater plan that accomplishes the total redemption of the believer.
If the Gospel began and ended on Calvary’s hill then we would not be saved. There would be no foreknowledge, predestination, general call, or effectual call (Ephesians 1:4-6; Romans 8:29-30). The resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and the second coming would have no significance in the believer’s life. Without these other Gospel-essential events, there would be no salvation.
- The cross was the death of sin.
- The resurrection was the victory over sin.
- The ascension established Jesus as our High Priest.
- Pentecost united all believers as one community in Christ.
- The second coming is our eternal victory with God.
- Glorification is uninterrupted and never-ending shalom.
There are more points to and purposes for these six aspects of the Gospel, but as you can see they all are important and if any one of them did not exist, then our salvation would have collapsed on Calvary. To over-focus on any one of these marvelous elements rather than all of them can lead to an off-centered life.
I am cross-centered, resurrection-centered, ascension-centered, Pentecost-centered, second coming-centered, and eternal state-centered. The Gospel is like a multifaceted diamond, with each turn our hearts are warmed and our minds are unleashed to be struck by the magnificence of our LORD.
The off-centered life
If believers do not focus on and functionally implement all the aspects of the Gospel, then they can become off-centered in their Christian walk. The following examples represent a few possible outcomes for some of our brothers and sisters, who have elevated one facet over the others.
- Cross-centered people can focus too much on sin.
- Resurrection-centered people can focus too much on grace.
- Pentecost-centered people can focus too much on the miraculous.
- Eschatological-centered people can focus too much on the future rather than the present.
There is a doctrine that has been put afloat in our church called worm theology. The worst side of this kind of teaching is a sin-centered, “I am the chief of sinners,” “woe is me” type of theology that leaves the believer introspectively miserable. It acknowledges the fact, result, and function of sin in our lives, but without the positive influences of the other aspects of the Gospel, it can create an out-of-balance practice in our sanctification.
There is another teaching in our church that I have called the grace mistake. These Christians have a hard time acknowledging and discussing their ongoing sinfulness after they were regenerated. They over-focus on grace, which misses the mark of all the Gospel wants to communicate to them.
Then there are those who have taken the book of Acts as the primary book for doctrine and practice. They pick and choose the aspects that resonate with their presuppositions, such as baptismal regeneration (Acts 2:38) or a second work of grace that is evidenced by speaking in tongues.
In the early 70’s a growing and strong movement came on the scene that became end times-centered. This eschatological emphasis is still strong in many of our churches today.
All of these facets of the Gospel are essential for a proper Christian world view. All of them have helped us to develop a positive progression of thought regarding our doctrines.
As a matter of personal testimony, it was through the pursuit of eschatology that the LORD regenerated me. I was not wrapped up in end time theology, but I was reading a few books on eschatology out of curiosity when the Spirit of God broke into my dark heart and I was raised from the dead (Ephesians 2:1).
I am sure you have stories about the individual aspects of the Gospel the LORD used to move you forward in your walk with Him. It should be that way because all of the aspects are redemptive in nature. None of them are negative because all of them are part of the Gospel.
Greater than cross-centered
It is only when we pull one aspect of the Gospel out and make it the thing rather than part of the thing, which is the Gospel, that our walk with the LORD is compromised. This is why I prefer the term Gospel-centered as a fuller expression of what I believe rather than cross-centered. I am cross-centered when the discussion is about the power and purposes of the cross. I have died in Christ (Colossians 3:1-4).
If you have died in Christ, then you have also been raised in Christ. If you have been raised in Christ, then you have been baptized into the community of Christ. If you have been baptized in Christ, then you will live with Him forever. What the LORD begins, He finishes (Philippians 1:6).
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 (ESV)
The Gospel-centered person is now empowered to tell people about the plenary greatness of God through the Gospel of Christ. This has significant application in our discipleship practices.
To be cross-centered only is like the counselee who comes to counseling hoping for the cessation of sin. The cessation of sin is only part of their transformation and only part of what they need. There is no doubt to be free from sin is a great goal (1 John 1:9), but it is an insufficient goal for Christian maturity. The stoppage of sin alone will create a void in the Christian’s life that will eventually be filled by something else in their future.
If that void is not filled with the fullness of the Gospel’s applications, then the chances of the old sin patterns returning can be assured. We are to put off and we are to put on. When a person asks me what the end of counseling is supposed to be like, I always say the same thing: the end of counseling is when you are able to go out and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). In that sense the counselee has become like the Teacher (or the Gospel).
I do not want them to think that if they could overcome their sin they would be done. This was Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:22-31, where he walked us through what it means to be Gospel-centered. He said Christians should cease from sinning (the power of the cross), renew their minds (the power of the resurrection), and then put on a new way of living (the power of Pentecost), which is illustrated for us in Ephesians 4:25-32.
The Gospel-centered person is able to live victoriously because he/she is moving beyond sin to implementing whatever is needed in order to live a more productive Christ-life. What about you? As you examine your life, is there an element of the Gospel that keeps you from living Gospel consistency?
Call to action
- How do you think about sin, sinning, and sinfulness?
- Are there sins or sin patterns in your life that you are afraid to discuss with others? If so, why has the Gospel not removed your fears?
The Gospel establishes us firmly in Christ, to where we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Are you protecting something? Why are you not free? What hinders you from being released from the opinions of others? To be dead to sin is to be free to talk about what is wrong with you.
- Have you made the grace mistake?
- Do you over-emphasize what it means to be in Christ, while ignoring your ongoing Adamic tendencies?
We are all blind to our blindness. Sometimes our presuppositions can be so deeply shaped from our past experiences that we cannot see how they have affected our thinking. When the hurts are deep and the disappointments are continual, the power of those broken moments can be more powerful to us than the Gospel.
- Is your soul expanding or shrinking?
- Read these soul enriching words from Paul:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)
What we were in Adam can shrink our souls. What we are in Christ should expand our souls. We should be renewing ourselves each day. This is what the Gospel does for us. As you think about the fullness of Gospel as it relates to your inner being (your soul), which aspect of it gives you the most trouble? Are you tripping over or struggling with certain elements of the Gospel?
A good exercise may be to take the ordo salutis and pull out all the component parts and then examine your life by each of those parts. Here is a sample list of the ordo:
There are other elements, in addition to these, but this will help you to begin the process of examining your soul. You may want to do your own research about the ordo and how it applies to your understanding and out working of the Gospel. It is easier than you might think to be off-centered in the Gospel because its largeness transcends our ability to fully comprehend it.
Also published on Medium.