Closing the Gospel Gap
Richard Lovelace set out to study the devotional lives of many of our Christian heroes. This led him to read through many of their diaries and personal correspondence. Upon completion of his study he noted that for most of these men and women: “below the surface of their lives [they] are guilt-ridden and insecure”.
I don’t know that I could put together a good argument against his statement. I believe, if we’re honest, that for most believers underneath the surface we battle being guilt-ridden and insecure. Even those who seem to have it figured out. We’re often astounded to find out that for many heroes of the faith their interpersonal lives were often a mess. How do we explain the massive gap between our knowledge of the good news of Jesus and our practical outworking of this gospel?
Jerry Bridges tells a story in his book, The Gospel for Real Life, about a Southern plantation owner who leaves $50,000 (a great sum of money in the 1800s) to a former slave that served him faithfully his entire life. A lawyer of the estate notified the former slave of his vast inheritance. Weeks went by and the former slave never requested any of his inheritance. Finally, they decided to send a banker out to explain to this man what his inheritance was and that he could draw out money any time. The old man replied, ‘Sir, do you think I can have fifty cents to buy a sack of cornmeal’? He could have asked for much more—but he died having only withdrawn 50 cents from a $50,000 inheritance.
This is in part of our answer. Often, we understand the gospel of Jesus as the good news that helps us to not go to hell and how to go to heaven when we die, but we find ourselves falling short in applying the good news of Jesus to our daily lives. What does Jesus have to say about my marriage, my parenting, my loneliness, my caregiving, my job, my dying, etc.? We often have a gap in our understanding of the gospel. We understand how he cover our sin from the past and we understand how he secures for us a glorious future, but at times we come up blank with his provision in the present. And so we live our lives only leaning on him for a sack of cornmeal.
In How People Change, Paul Tripp and Timothy S. Lane make the point that, “physical and spiritual holes have one thing in common: they don’t stay empty for long.” Tripp illustrates this point by pointing out the state of the walk-in-closet under the main staircase in their house. Though his wife whips it into pristine condition once every six months or so, it doesn’t stay that way. As you can imagine what happens is that, “all the stuff that has no home somehow finds its way there.” Before long the door can barely shut and his wife has to tackle the project all over again. Our lives are like this. He refers to this as a gospel gap.
The gospel gap in many of our lives doesn’t stay empty either. If we do not live with a gospel-shaped, Christ-confident, and change committed Christianity, that hole will get filled with other things. These things may seem plausible and even biblical, but they will be missing the identity-provision-process that is meant to fill every believer. (Tripp, 6)
If our lives aren’t filled with the gospel, our weary hearts will lead us to fill them with some else. We’ll be like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes searching everywhere under the sun to find meaning. And when we clutter our minds and our hearts with that other stuff it stunts our daily growth in Christ. So how do we learn to apply the gospel to our daily lives?
Though it may suffer a bit from oversimplicity, Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ counsel in Spiritual Depression concerning the need to “talk to ourselves” has proven to be incredibly helpful to me.
…we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self….Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? (Lloyd-Jones, 20)
What Lloyd-Jones is talking about here is the discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself. He says it this way:
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘why art thou cast down’—what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’—instead of muttering in this depressed unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God. (Lloyd-Jones, 21).
Did you hear what he said there? We have to learn to preach the gospel to ourselves! If we don’t then ‘ourselves’ will be in the business of preaching a false gospel to our hearts. Therefore, we must be diligent about daily proclaiming the good news over our hearts. Otherwise, we’ll end up with only a sack of cornmeal and a life that is marked by being guilt-ridden and insecure.
Tomorrow, I’ll try to outline the gospel message (God-Man-Christ-Response) and then, Lord willing, on Thursday I’ll share a helpful way to engage in this daily discipline. Then for the coming days, if the Lord permits, we’ll engage in this discipline together.