One of the phrases we use in the Church of the Cross family (borrowed from Jeff Vanderstelt) is “gospel fluency.” The idea isn’t new, but it has been important in the spiritual growth and development of many in our church family.
You know you’ve become fluent in a language when you no longer have to stop and translate in your mind. The language becomes natural and normal. You think in that language. What might change in our lives, and in our churches if we were “fluent” in the Gospel, the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done. What if we learned to speak/apply the Gospel to one another’s lives “in and out of season” and in all situations? As a Pastor, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that 85-90% of the Pastoral Counseling I do would go away. It would already be taken care of. Our church family would say to one another the things that I’m going to say to them anyways.
I think this is at the heart of what Paul means in Ephesians 4 when he says that we should “speak the truth to one another in love (v.15).” I think that this “speaking the truth to one another in love” is the “work of the ministry” that the saints are to be equipped for; applying the Gospel to our own and one another’s lives, learning to filter everything through the lens of who Jesus is and what He has done.
The Gospel, of course, is more than just getting our souls into heaven when we die. It is even more than (certainly not less than, but also certainly more than) substitutionary atonement (also see here and here). The Christian life is about becoming more and more immersed in these truths, being drawn closer to Jesus, becoming more dependent on Him, learning to listen to and depend on the Spirit in all of life. As Tim Keller might word it, the Gospel changed our motivational structures; why we do the things we do. This change, of course, rarely comes overnight, but it does happen for believers.
This is a crucial thing for followers of Jesus to consider. Why should we say no to sin? Why should we fight temptation? Our initial reaction to temptation and sin is that we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t choose sin. And, while this is technically true, if I tell a child that they shouldn’t touch the touch . . . well, you know. But, we all know from failed diet attempts and tries at life-reform that the best way to fight temptation is not with rules. It’s not by forcing ourselves to believe that we simply shouldn’t do something. Even if that’s true.
The best way to fight temptation is with a greater pleasure. If you have something that gives you greater pleasure, you won’t give in to temptation, not because you shouldn’t but because you don’t need to. Truth be told; we don’t love Jesus as much as we like to say we do. I realize that sounds harsh. I realize that many of us are arguing that point; I love Jesus more than anything else! And while we want this sentiment to be true, our lack of allegiance to Him betrays the fact that there are still things we believe will give us more pleasure/fulfillment/identity/security than Jesus. But false gods will never fail to fail us.
The problem has been keenly pinpointed by C.S. Lewis in his 1949 essay “The Weight of Glory:”
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The Gospel motivates us not with “shouldn’t” but “needn’t.” We no longer need to chase after the things we once did because we have found deeper, truer pleasure/fulfillment/identity/security.
In his book One Thing, Sam Storms recounts the story of Jason and the Island of the Sirens. At one point, Odysseus knows that he must pass the island of the sirens. So he instructs his crew to plug their ears and then chains himself to the mast. He wanted to hear the song for himself. Had it not been for the chains holding him in place, his heart would have chased the sirens’ beautiful destruction. For many of us, our fight against sin is nothing more than those chains. It doesn’t nothing about our heart’s affections, just our external behaviors.
Yet, Jason also had to pass the island of the sirens. However, he took a different approach. Jason hired Orpheus, who was known to play the lyre so beautifully that it dimmed everything else. Jason and his crew didn’t even hear the sirens. Both men may have technically “beaten” the sirens, but Odysseus fought with “shouldn’t” and Jason fought with “needn’t.”
I wonder how many of us, when faced with temptation to sin actually fight it by saying that we don’t need to do that, or primarily that we “shouldn’t?” Which has been more powerful in your own life?