What Do I Mean By a Gospel-Driven Life? Part 4

When I finally came to understand that the Gospel is as much for believers (cf., Rom. 1:15; Gal. 2:20) as it is for unbelievers, the light switch went off in my mind and I finally made the necessary connection between Romans 1-11 and 12-16. Like most, I understood and taught that Paul moves from doctrine in chapters 1-11 to practice in chapters 12-16. But, as I learned from Michael Horton, it is easy to quickly pass over the way Paul culminates chapters 1-11 and thus miss a key truth for daily living. At the end of chapter 11, before beginning the great “therefore” of Romans 12:1, Paul breaks out into a heartfelt, Spirit-wrought doxology (i.e., satisfaction, worship, cf., vv. 33-36). Before moving to one’s duty, he first breaks forth in doxology. This is not an insignificant point.

“The Gospel (i.e., Romans 1-11) is the foundation upon which the believer’s affections rest as well as the fire that ignites them (i.e., Romans 11:33-36).”

In turn, ignited affections (i.e., gratitude) result in Gospel-Driven obedience and holiness of life (i.e., ethics, doing, Romans 12-16). The progression of the Christian life is not “doctrine” then “do.”

The Gospel-Driven Pattern for Christian living is: “Doctrine > Doxology > Do.”

Obedience is not slavish striving or even sincere attempts to work up desires that are not present. Christians are not called to try and live a holy life by motivating and compelling themselves to do it. Resolutions may give the appearance of godliness but they are useless in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (cf., Col. 2:23). Evangelicals today are given scores of principles, motives, steps, tips, insights, ethical exhortations, etc… on how to live a holy life. To be sure, some of these motivations are true to a certain extent. However, the problem is that ethical exhortations and moral motivations are not enough. Walter Marshall writes, “Those who try to cure the flesh, and make it holy by their own resolutions and endeavors, act totally contrary to the purpose of Christ’s death…Christ died so that you might live to God, not to yourself. It is not Christ’s will for you to live on the basis of the power of your resolutions to do better.”

All the principles and practical, relevant tips believers receive ad nauseam are useless unless these laws stir them up to go to Christ for the strength to live a holy life. If this doesn’t happen, a believer’s life will be no different than a non-Christian who also tries to live a “good” life by following the advice of self-help gurus like Dr. Phil, Oprah or Tony Robbins.

If a sermon can be delievered by a Jew or a Muslim without substantial change, then it’s not really a Christian message. The question that needs to be asked is: Where does the Gospel and Christ figure in the sermon? Principles and practical tips may give the appearance of relevance and helpfulness. But, a believer must remember to continually go to Christ first by faith. By doing so, he will receive a Gospel motivation to pursue holiness and obedience.

The Gospel is what drives and strengthens and empowers a believer to obey.

Again, Marshall writes, “I am telling you to act according to your state in Christ. Obey God and do the works of the law by gospel principles and means. This is the rare and excellent art of godliness, in which every Christian should be a skilled expert.”

The problem with most Evangelicals today is not that they lack relevant, practical, tips for daily living. The problem is that a great deal have no idea of how to live by Gospel principles and means. They do not know that the true way to live is to live by faith in Christ (cf., Gal. 2:20) not simply by stirring oneself up to live by principles and practical tips. Sanctification does not consist in trying to tame one’s flesh or conquer sinful urges by one’s own efforts. Believers are not called to make their fallen natures better by giving them an ultimate makeover. Believers will not be more inclined to holiness by struggling and wrestling with their flesh. The flesh will inevitably rise up and pin the believer to the mat! Many think that trusting in Christ to help them keep their resolution is the key to a holy life.

“The problem with all of these approaches is that believers are trusting in their own acts of will instead of Christ.”

The problem with all of these approaches is that believers are trusting in their own acts of will (i.e., resolve, purposes, practical tips, self-discipline, religious rituals) instead of Christ. This is walking according to the flesh. However, trying to be made perfect in the flesh is a lost cause (cf., John 6:63). Trying to pursue holiness by implementing practical tips will produce nothing but corruption because law only arouses our sinful passions (cf., Rom. 7:5, 8). Marshall provides this helpful insight, “…once you come to understand your own sinfulness and the deadness of your old nature, you will realize that you will never be able to bring yourself to holiness by worldly wisdom or moral principles. You will come to understand that moral principles place obligations upon you, but they give you no power, life or strength to keep them.”

If all believers needed was practical, relevant, motivation and coaching, they would not need the Gospel, a new heart, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Even non-Christians to a certain degree can make progress in becoming better people.

Walking by faith in Christ is the Gospel-means of putting to death sinful lusts. Authentic Gospel-wrought obedience is the overflow of one’s affections (i.e., gratitude) for God fueled by doctrine (i.e., the Gospel, Romans 1-11).

Christians do not act for life but from life.

Christians are to obey as those who are in union and fellowship with Christ. They are called to live a holy life by the means that belong to their new state. Law is good if it is used lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8). In other words, law must be used in a Gospel-Driven way.

Like most believers, I had an acute awareness of my obligations for living a holy life. But, what I lacked for so long was life and strength to do them and comfort and assurance when I failed. Gospel-Driven believers come to understand that one’s obligations for holy living are impossible without first receiving Christ’s life and strength as well as assurance that He indeed loves them and has given Himself for them. Hence, any law placed upon Gospel-Driven believers first moves them to go to Christ. Then, after they have been strengthened and assured by God’s grace as given freely in the Gospel, their hearts will be filled with gratitude which in turn will motivate them to pursue holiness (i.e., the works of the law) with a Gospel motivation.

The Gospel-Driven Pattern for Christian living is: “Doctrine > Doxology > Do.”

To be continued

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2 Responses to What Do I Mean By a Gospel-Driven Life? Part 4

  1. Rick says:

    In C 4 of Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification he discusses the instrument of faith and was wondering if you have read Romaine’s The Life, Walk and Triumph of Faith? Highly recommend it – it is Gospel saturated and Gospel driven. It was and is instrumental in my quest for growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and living a Gospel driven life. Thanks for your blog; after four chapters into Marshall’s work I can already tell it will be another key piece of what God is doing in my life as He clarifies my understanding and leads me into greater depths of the Gospel driven life. Throughout my journey as a Christian, I have put my shovel in many holes and have dug without finding water, but this hole that the Lord led me to a few years ago, is the well that contains living water (John 4:13-14) and I plan on digging here (seeing the beauty and wonder and living in the good of the glorious Gospel) the rest of my journey.

  2. Phil says:

    My “official” theology is reformed but I do have a curious mind (maybe a curse) – a while back I read a review on NT Wright’s What St Paul really said” and saw that is challenged a lot of the reformed beliefs – especially challenging Luther on many points – I read the book and then some others and have since come to know this position as part of the New Perspective on Paul movement – which seems to make sense in some areas of bible difficulties – have you looked at some of these writings and if so what do you think?

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