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Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
The Good News: A New Life of Renewal
Paul pictures the Gospel as a vital force that is advancing and bringing transformation to people and regions (Phil 1:12, Col 1:6, 2 Thess. 3:1). The goal of the gospel is not just to forgive us, but to change us into true worshippers of God and authentic lovers of people.
We know that only God can change us in an ultimate sense, but …
- WHAT IS OUR PART?
- WHAT DO WE DO?
… that God normally uses to transform us into the image of his Son?
In the Applied Theology Series, “Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel, Part 7”, by Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers, you’ll learn how the Bible answers these questions by learning:
- Gospel Union: Transforming Grace
- Gospel Dynamics: Means of Grace
- Gospel Obedience: Disciplines of Grace
In this final session of the series, you’ll also learn the important differences between Gospel Obedience, Gospel Repentance, and Gospel Faith as the key disciplines of grace that God normally uses to transform your life.
Important Learning Tip: Go deeper by reading the 23 footnotes!
Read more articles in this series: Applied Theology Collection I Articles
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Chapter 6: The Good News: A New Life – Renewal!
A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers
The goal of the gospel is not just to forgive us, but to change us into true worshippers of God and authentic lovers of people. God gives us a new standing and a new heart to give us a new life as part of his redemption all things lost in the fall. Our new life from God includes our transformation into the image of his Son. Paul writes, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom 8:29)
Gospel Union: Transforming Grace
How does God conform us to the image of his Son? The Scriptures teach that God’s law has no power to change us. Only the Triune God himself can transform us through his Son by the power of his Spirit. Just as a stone lying in the sun can’t help but grow warm, so it’s only as our stony hearts are exposed to the warmth and light of our union with God in Christ, that we can’t help but be transformed.
The mission of God’s Spirit is to restore our broken union with God by bringing us back into God’s transforming “face-to-face presence” through union with him in Christ. Experiencing the glory of the Lord’s presence transforms us because it reveals God’s face to us. Throughout the Bible we learn that when people experience God’s presence it’s normally transforming – positive or negative.
Drawing on the story of God’s transforming presence with Moses, Paul writes about the Spirit’s transforming presence with us:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)
To behold the Lord’s glory is to see more fully, by his Spirit, who God is and what he does as Lord in Jesus Christ. This vision deepens our experience of union with the Triune God – God the Father as our Creator, God the Son as our Redeemer, and God the Spirit as our Restorer. As God’s Spirit draws us into our Triune Lord’s presence, he humbles us, fills us with joy, and transforms us into the image of his Son.
When Paul comes before the face of God in worship, he rejoices in the display of God’s love for him in the cross of Christ. As a result, he experiences the power of cross to deliver him from the power of the world. Paul writes, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14) 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.
To Paul, the cross represents more than a message about our salvation in Christ. It’s also a glorious display of God’s holy justice and holy mercy revealed to us in Christ (Rom 3:26, 5:8). When we learn to live all of life coram Deo – “before the face of God,” God’s presence keeps humbling us in repentance for our sins and keeps filling us with joy because of our Savior. Then, we can’t help but be transformed.
Gospel Dynamics: Means of Grace
But God’s transforming work in our lives does not mean that we have no role in our personal transformation. Instead, our awareness that God is working in us by his Spirit should motivate us to work hard toward our development in Christ-likeness. Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)
Paul describes our part in our transformation as learning to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25). This means learning how to move in the same direction of God’s Spirit at work in our lives. Paul’s command to do this reveals that there are clearly things we can do and cannot do that will affect the Spirit’s transforming work in us.
One of the most significant ways we can deepen our transforming experience of union with God in Christ is to deepen our experience of union with Christ’s visible body, his church, over which Jesus is now the Head. As the ascended Lord over all things, Jesus continues his transformational ministry of making disciples of all nations by his Spirit and through his Church.
Jesus’ union with his church body is so strong that our transformation into his image depends on our union with him through his visible church community. When the Spirit unites us to God “in Christ,” he also unites us to God’s new community on earth to be the means through which he conforms us to the image of his Son. Therefore, one of the most significant ways we can be transformed into the image of Christ is to be a devoted, responsible member of a healthy local church body.
Theologians use the phrase “means of grace” to describe the elements provided by the church through which God’s Spirit graciously conforms us into the image of his Son. In a broad sense, the church itself is a means of grace. But in a more narrow sense, the church provides us with what are traditionally called the means of grace like the preaching of the Word, sacraments, prayer, ordained church leaders, etc.
When a corporate church body is devoted to the means of grace (e.g. ministries of worship, prayer, preaching, teaching, sacraments, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, mercy, church planting, and missions) under the oversight of godly, qualified church leaders who promote love, unity, and purity of life and doctrine, the result is normally a healthy, mature church made up of healthy, mature members being conformed into the image of Christ.
Gospel Obedience: Disciplines of Grace
God’s Law (God’s Word) has no power in itself to conform us into the image of Christ. (Rom 3:20, Gal 3:24, Heb 10:1) Only the Triune God himself can transform us through his Son by the power of his Spirit.
So, why does God require us in the Bible to obey all his commands – especially his Ten Commandments? Why does Jesus teach us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) that we must obey all of God’s commandments and “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48)
The reason God calls us to strive with all our might to be like Jesus by obeying God’s law perfectly is so that when we fail, God’s Spirit will lead us back to Jesus to forgive us, empower us, and transform us more into his image. (Rom 3:20, Gal 3:15-29, Heb 10:12) Our obedience to God’s will in his Word is a necessary and vital part of our experience of knowing him and experiencing his transforming power in and through us.
God calls us to a lifestyle of radical obedience to his commands. But our efforts to obey his commands perfectly (to love God and others perfectly) will inevitably lead us into denial or despair if we do not also learn how to obey Jesus’ command to “repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Coming to Christ in repentance and faith is more than a one-time-event by which we are saved from sin’s penalty. Our repentance and faith in Christ is also the process through which we keep coming back to Jesus to be saved from sin’s domineering power and be transformed into his image. The gospel is not just a gate we must pass through one time, but a path we must walk each day of our life.
The reason we’re not more conformed to the image of Jesus is because we’ve allowed the affections of our hearts to be captured by idols that steal our heart affections away from God. The modern idols that capture our hearts are not the graven images of the ancient world. An idol is something from which we get our identity. An idol is making something or someone other than Jesus our ultimate source of worth, happiness, and fulfillment.
Once identified, we must be willing to take radical action against our idols, sapping the life-dominating power they have over our hearts. We must stop finding our ultimate happiness in our idols so that we can start finding it in who Jesus is and what he has done for us. True repentance does not lead us to despair but to joy because it’s only when we see what great sinners we are that we can see what a great Savior Jesus is.
In repentance we keep pulling our affections away from our heart idols so that by faith, we can keep putting those affections back on the ascended Jesus Christ in worship. Only when Jesus Christ becomes more attractive to us than the pleasures of sin will our hearts be set free. The enslaving power of sin will never dissipate until a greater affection of the heart replaces it.
True faith involves continually setting our heart affections back on Christ in and through our worship. When we are united to Christ through faith, we’re given a very rich and remarkable spiritual inheritance in him. Like a child born into a royal family, it takes time for us to realize the full extent of the riches of our birthright. Faith requires a continual rehearsing and delighting in the many promises and privileges that are now ours because we are in union with God in Christ.
Each doctrine related to the gospel helps us understand the many facets of all the spiritual blessings we now have in Christ. In the gospel we see the multi-colored splendor of our new life in Jesus Christ and find the divine remedy for our broken lives and world. Here we find the streams of living water that quench our soul’s thirst and well up in our hearts as we keep coming to Christ in faith (Jn. 7:37,38).
As we learn to drink deeply from this well that is Christ we will experience the transformation of our lives into his image and find the living waters of his Spirit flowing through us into the lives of others. This well never runs dry. Here are the springs of personal, church, and world renewal. Here the old hymn-writer calls us to respond:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.
 When we speak of “the goal of the gospel,” we’re following the example of the Apostle Paul who often personifies the gospel using it synonymously with the person and work of Christ, e.g. “I do all for the sake of gospel.” (1 Cor 9:23, Acts 20:24). Paul pictures the gospel as a vital force that is advancing and bringing transformation to people and regions. (Phil 1:12, Col 1:6, 2 Thess. 3:1)
 God’s law can only reveal God’s will to us, show us our failure to keep it, and point us to Jesus to save us and change us (Rom 3:20, Gal 3:15-29, Heb 10:12). Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3:20) In Galatians 3:24 Paul refers to the Law as “our guardian (tutor) until Christ came.” The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it (keeping the Law) can never … make perfect those who draw near.” (Heb 10:1)
 Although God normally uses means, like his Word, to transform us, the means God uses are not what ultimate cause the effect of our changed lives. God alone illuminates his Word immediately by his Spirit in such a way that we can know him, delight in him, and be transformed by him into the image of his Son. For a masterful exegesis of the immediate work of God in the believer, see Jonathan Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God.” Preached at Northampton, and published in 1734
 The astonishing good news is that God provides what he commands. Through the Old Testament prophets God promises “I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds. (Jer 31:33, Heb 10:16) In God’s New Covenant, he promises not only the forgiveness of our sins for breaking his law, but also the gift of his Spirit to empower us to keep his law and change us into the image of Christ.
 The Aaronic benediction in Numbers 6:24-26 presents the highest, transformative blessing of God as his face and countenance shining upon you: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
 Yet, all the transforming visions of God we may see and experience in our worship now will seem like dim shadows compared to the bright clarity of the Lord’s transforming glory we’ll experience for all eternity in the age to come.
 But the ultimate purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is not to save and heal our corrupt souls, as wonderful as that is. His ultimate purpose is to mediate the presence of Jesus Christ and glorify him. See J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, Chapter 2, The Holy Spirit and the Bible
 We can be confident that God will finish this work of his Spirit he begins in our lives. Paul writes, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6). Paul describes God’s plan to transform us as having its origin in God’s love for us before creation: “He chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4), and “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom 8:29) The same God who planned our conformity to the image of Christ before creation, will accomplish his plan for our transformation in the new creation forever.
 Similarly, Paul writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18) The Greek word translated “filled” (πληροῦσθε) does not carry with it the idea of being filled up in a spatial sense, as one would fill up a glass with water, but more so to allow us to be filled through or to be permeated by the Holy Spirit’s controlling influence and power. To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled or to come under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
 Irenaeus, the early church Father, wrote “Where the church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the church, and every kind of grace
 Jesus promised, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18). Jesus describes how he will build his church in the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20) we he commands his followers to “make disciples of all nations” by doing three things: 1) “Going” to preach the gospel, 2) “Baptizing …” into a local church body the converts who believe, and then 3) “teaching the converts to obey” all that Jesus commanded. Jesus assumes his disciples will be baptized into a local visible church because baptism is a communal sacrament and a sign of admission into God’s covenant community. Therefore the local, visible church is the center of biblical discipleship as the result of “going” and the source of ongoing “teaching to obey.”
 For example, Jesus continues his transforming ministry as Prophet, Priest, and King in and through us today as members of his body.
 The biblical marks of a healthy church include a devotion to worship that has the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine, the proper use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer – all under the oversight of godly, qualified church leaders. These marks also include a devotion to love one another shown in a commitment to unity, purity of life and doctrine, and a resolve to make disciples of all nations through ministries of evangelism, discipleship, mercy, and church planting.
 According to the Roman Catholic theology, the means of grace include the entirety of revealed truth, the sacraments, and the hierarchical ministry. The principal means of grace are the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), prayers, and good works. In Lutheran theology, the means of grace are instruments by which all spiritual blessings are given to believers, and they include the Gospel (written and proclaimed), the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and some include confession and absolution. In Reformed theology, the ordinary means of grace are the Word (preached and read), sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and prayer. The Word and Sacraments are not seen as merely symbols but also the means God uses to bring about the reality of his transforming power in the lives of his people.
 There is a strong link between our obedience to God’s will and our personal experience of God’s transforming presence in our lives. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).
 Paul makes clear that repentance and faith are meant to be ongoing in the life of the believer when he writes,”…just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him.”(Col. 2:6) Just as we receive Christ by repentance and faith, so we walk in him by repentance and faith.
 The first thesis of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses nailed to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral was: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.“
 In Romans 13:14 Paul writes, “…make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”. All that is idolatrous before our eyes must have its vivid appeal drained out of it. The Puritans called this mortification.
 See Thomas Chalmers’ (1780-1847) sermon, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. During his professorship at University of St. Andrews, his passion for global missions was so inspiring that six of his best students dedicated themselves to missions, resulting in 141 years of combined missionary service (The St. Andrews Seven.)
 God does not want a relationship of impersonal, religious servitude. Instead, he wants us to enjoy him and desire him more than all of our idols.
 We grow in our experience of God’s transforming presence, power and joy only as we learn to fill our minds with, set our hearts on, and act in accordance with our many spiritual blessings in Christ.
 Earlier, we learned that: 1) God’s promise of our new standing before him of forgiveness includes the gospel doctrines of propitiation, justification, and adoption, 2) God’s promise of our new heart from him by his Spirit includes the gospel promises of regeneration, ransom, and sanctification, and 3) God’s promise of our new world with God includes the gospel promises for his kingdom both now and in the age to come.
I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say by Horatius Bonar, 1846, Public Domain
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