“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Is the way I’m living worthy of the gospel? It’s such a compelling and condemning question. Because when you ask it, you think of the potential. You think of what your life might be like if you were to live up to the gospel, if you were set your eyes on Jesus and never look away. You think about how that would shape your life and the choices that you make. You think about how it would change your relationships for the better, and how you might be that much closer to God. You think of the joy and peace.
But then it’s condemning, too, because you see all the ways that your manner of life is not worthy of the gospel. You see your angry outbursts. You see your unwillingness to forgive. You see your distractedness and your cowardice. You see how much time you waste and how you seem to be more interested in the things of the flesh than in Jesus.
At this point, we have some choices. We can sit with the condemnation, beat ourselves up and swear we will try harder next time. But that never really works does it? At least not for long. We can brush off the feeling that our conscience gives us, saying, “Oh well. Nobody’s perfect. I’m glad I’m forgiven.” But that would be cheap grace, wouldn’t it? And that doesn’t lead to change either.
But none of these really honors the gospel of Christ. Christ died so that you could be forgiven, so to condemn ourselves where God forgives us is not worthy of the gospel. But Christ died so that you could be forgiven, so we know we cannot simply shrug off our sins. So where do we go from here?
At the heart of the Christian faith is the paradox of death bringing newness of life. Jesus said that whoever loses his life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel would save it, that he would have eternal life. We often think he’s talking about a one-time event, the moment when we become believers. And he is. But the meaning of that teaching doesn’t stop there.
Martin Luther once wrote that we never get past the gospel. That is, we don’t move from the gospel as an elementary doctrine of the Christian faith toward more sophisticated or difficult doctrines like the providence of God or the trinity. No, the gospel is something we have to return to day after day.
In fact, it is the process of the gospel that leads us to be more like Christ, even as it resulted in our salvation. First, we recognize our sin and grieve over it. Then we confess our sins and appeal to God for mercy. In Jesus, we receive forgiveness of our sins. And then we spend time in joyful thanksgiving. It’s only when we take our sin seriously that we will begin truly value the forgiveness that we have in Jesus.
And it’s only when we value the forgiveness that we have in Jesus—and do so on a daily basis—that our lives will begin to reflect the reality of the gospel. Only when we live according to the gospel every day that our manner of life will start to take a shape which is worthy of the gospel.
Jesus, I don’t live a life worthy of you. My manner of life is not worthy of the gospel. For you, who were high and listen up descended even to the dead in order to rescue me. And yet, I shrug off the weight of your life and death so often. So often I take what you’ve done for me for granted.
Please forgive me. Please grant me that sweet pardon. And please teach me to live from that place, that my manner of life would be worthy of the gospel.