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The history of great awakenings and gospel renewal movements gives powerful evidence that the work of God’s Spirit normally begins in individual hearts. So the most important aspect of gospel renewal is in understanding how the gospel renews the human heart, starting with our own.
Only when the gospel renews our heart can we understand how the gospel renews other hearts and groups of human hearts called churches and communities.
The Heart of Renewal
The history of great awakenings and gospel renewal movements gives powerful evidence that renewal is not a result of our work, but God’s work. And when gospel renewal spreads through churches and communities, the work of God’s Spirit begins in individual hearts.
The revivalists used to say that the secret of revival begins when we take a piece of chalk, kneel down to draw a circle around ourselves and then look up to heaven expectantly, praying, “Lord, send revival, and let it begin right here in this circle.” The old spiritual got it right: “Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
So the most important aspect of gospel renewal is in understanding how the gospel renews the human heart, starting with our own. Only when the gospel renews our heart can we understand how the gospel renews other hearts and groups of human hearts called churches and communities.
So in this final lesson, let’s take a deeper look at what the Bible teaches about how the gospel brings personal renewal to the human heart.
We learned earlier that personal renewal comes through obeying God by repenting and believing in the person and work of Christ in reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. The reason Jesus commands us to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15) is because faith in the gospel is the mysterious means through which God ordains the power of his victory as our King to flow in and through our lives.
Through repentance we pull our affections off our heart idols, so that we can place those same affections on the ascended Christ through faith. Paul writes, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col 3:1-2).
In Galatians 6:14, Paul gives us a fascinating glimpse into how his faith in the gospel transformed him when he writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
John Stott writes:
Paul’s whole world was in orbit around the cross. It filled his vision, illumined his life, warmed his spirit. He “gloried” in it. It meant more to him than anything else. . . . This Greek word translated here as “boast” has no exact equivalent in English. It means to glory in, trust in, rejoice in, revel in, live for. In a word, our glory is our obsession.
Some of us are obsessed with gaining approval or recognition. Others are obsessed with experiencing pleasure and comfort, being in control, having power or possessions. Paul’s obsession was with the gospel. And through his obsession with the cross, Paul experienced the renewing power of the gospel to crucify the idolatrous, dominating power of sin. (Gal 6:14)
It’s only when we learn how to “glory in, trust in, rejoice in, revel in, and live for” the person and work of Jesus, and not trust in our idols, that we will experience the renewing power of the gospel in our lives. It’s not until Christ becomes more attractive to us than the pleasures of sin that our hearts will be set free. The enslaving power of sin will never dissipate until a greater affection of the heart replaces it.
Earlier, we learned that the good news includes not only what Jesus did (gospel events) and who he is (gospel affirmations), but what God now promises (gospel promises) to all who repent and believe in him because of what Jesus did and who he is. These gospel promises are the many spiritual blessings that now belong to all who are in Christ by faith because of the atoning achievement of Christ on the cross.
When we take a deeper look at the writings of Paul and the apostles on the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, we find several key words and concepts that bring out the rich, multifaceted meaning of the gospel promises. In these words we find metaphorical language and images drawn from several life situations, intended to illustrate the depth of our spiritual blessings in Christ.
Some of these key New Testament words and concepts related to the gospel include: election, propitiation, justification, adoption, regeneration, redemption, sanctification, and glorification. And some of the corresponding metaphors and concrete images of salvation include a building, a temple shrine, a court of law, a home, a birth, a marketplace, a death and resurrection, and a restoration.
These various biblical terms and parallel images describing salvation display different facets of the gospel reflecting the many spiritual blessings God promises to everyone in union with Christ. The gospel message is multi-faceted. And the many facets of the gospel should not be seen as separable, but as unique perspectives and dimensions of salvation as a whole – as various facets of a multi-faceted jewel.
By understanding these concepts and images we deepen our grasp of the gospel promises and spiritual blessings that are now ours because we are in Christ. When we allow these promises to keep leading us, in ongoing repentance and faith, to the One who promises, we experience personal renewal.
A stone lying in the sun can’t help but grow warm. In the same way as we learn to keep exposing our stony hearts to the warmth and light of the gospel, we can’t help but be renewed.
We’re called by God to a lifestyle of radical obedience. But our efforts to obey God will inevitably lead us into denial or despair if we do not learn how to cultivate a lifestyle of ongoing repentance and faith in the gospel. This is because the law of God has no power to change us.
Only the gospel renews lives. We are destined to be powerless if we do not allow the gospel to penetrate deeply into our lives to renew our core character–to save us not only from sin’s guilt and penalty, but also from sin’s corruption and domineering power over our lives.
In the gospel we see the multi-colored splendor of our new life in Christ and find the divine remedy for our hearts that has been wounded by conviction of sin. In the gospel we find the streams of living water that well up in the heart of a believer who keeps coming to Christ in faith. (Jn. 7:37,38)
As we learn to drink deeply from the well that is Christ, we will experience the renewal of our hearts and find the living waters of the Holy Spirit flowing through us into others.
This well never runs dry. It’s only here that we find the supernatural power, courage, and strength to be renewed into the image of Jesus Christ.
Here are the springs of personal, church, community, and national renewal, as we learn to pray like the old hymn writer William Cowper:
The dearest idol I have known
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne
And worship only Thee
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