Article by Paul Stiver
I love action movies. I love any action scene where absurd, impossible, and borderline preposterous things happen. For example, in “Live Free or Die Hard” starring Bruce Willis, there is a scene where he rolls out of a speeding police car to safety while the car launches off the ground and crashes into a hovering helicopter. The ensuing crash is a massive, fiery explosion. The scene is awesome, but mostly because it’s comically absurd. What could never happen in real life, can happen in action movies, and that is what makes them so much fun.
Our real lives and faith journeys are not action movies. It can be a struggle to live out the gospel. We might slip into living in a license. This is a false way that tells us we are “living free,” while we ignore God’s commands and do things our own way. Likewise, we can become people who “die hard,” working our fingers to the bone as we try to add our works to the gospel through legalism. We have the opportunity to live another way, the gospel way.
Tim Keller says, “The gospel is neither religion nor irreligion, but something else entirely – a third way of relating to God through grace.” We get to know God because of His grace. The gospel reminds us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV) Our salvation isn’t earned, it is a gift to be received. How? By faith! At our conversion we responded to the gospel with faith, and so it continues for the rest of our lives. The Christian life is a life of response to God’s grace, we respond to what God has done for us.
The gospel works to free us from our self-reliance. In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem says, “Faith is the one human attribute that is the opposite of depending on oneself, for it involves trust in or dependence upon another. Thus, it is devoid of self-reliance or attempts to gain righteousness by human effort. If God’s favor is to come to us apart from our own merit, then it must come when we depend not on our own merit, but on the merits of another, and that is precisely when we have faith.” Jesus reminds us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). We depend on Christ, and we show that by living in faith, that’s what faith is.
If living in faith means depending on Christ’s merit, then legalism and license are revealed as false, self-reliant ways of living. Legalism causes us to live in self-reliance because it tells us we have to add something to Christ’s righteousness in order to be saved. But, if I’m adding to the gospel, then I’m working in my own power to gain God’s favor and that’s not living in faith. License, on the other hand, causes us to live in self-reliance because we make up our own minds about how we are going to obey God’s commands, which might mean ignoring them entirely. However, if I’m not responding with obedience to God’s commands, I am not living in faith by trusting in Christ.
The gospel way prompts us to flee from this self-reliance and pursue our faith in Christ with reckless abandon. The gospel tells us that we get to respond to God’s gift of grace in Christ Jesus through faith, dependence, and obedience. The gospel tells me I don’t have to add to my salvation, because Jesus has paid for my sins and given me his righteousness. I also don’t continue living in the shame of sin, because Christ has freed me from the authority of sin. Paul says, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:20-22 ESV). The gospel frees us from the enslavement of self-reliance and brings us into the freedom of being in Christ. We have been set free from sin, and now the fruit we get from living unto God is sanctification and its end, eternal life. Self-reliance is slavery. Christ-dependence is freedom.
Living the gospel way is also life-giving. Legalistic living will always burn us out, because we simply aren’t able to be good enough for God on our own. Licentious living will always prove vain and meaningless, because sin is utterly incapable of giving us the fulfillment that only the good God can. Maybe you’re reading this and you are exhausted by working so hard to earn God’s favor. God’s rest is available for you! The gospel tells you, Jesus lived the perfectly righteous life before God that you can’t, and by faith you receive his perfection! Perhaps you are reading this and struggling to deal with the empty, fleeting pleasures of a sinful pursuit. Christ’s blood was shed for you, God has bought you with a price, and now he wants to live in you and renew you with the power of the Holy Spirit! Whether you’re struggling with legalism or license, there is hope! God’s grace is available for you in Christ, therefore rely on grace!
The gospel reminds us that we aren’t working for our salvation, rather we are working out our salvation. Living the gospel way breathes life into the way we work out our salvation. For example, I remember doing the dishes one day as a newlywed and I thought to myself, “I always have to do the dishes.” I was wrestling through the self-justification and bitterness that come from legalistic pride, thinking in some way I was better than my wife. Then, I remembered the gospel. I remembered my Lord Jesus, who knelt down and washed feet, who served sinners by becoming a man and giving himself up for my sake. I remembered my salvation, and suddenly, I started joyfully doing the dishes, and by the end of it I was singing hymns.
The gospel also breathes life into our obedience as we fight to kill sin. In my journey, the struggle with license and killing sin has consistently been a battle with overeating. For example, after I had already eaten my lunch today, I found out there was free Qdoba available. I love free food (because the price is right) and I think Qdoba is delicious. Therefore, I was very tempted me to overindulge on the free Qdoba even though I didn’t need to eat. I had a choice to make. In that moment, I was reminded of the gospel. I remembered God’s Word telling me that I was purchased with a price, the precious blood of Christ. I remembered Romans 6 which teaches me that sin no longer has authority in my life but Jesus does! I was able to walk away from the temptation without giving in because the gospel reminded me that Christ is always better than sin. Walking with Jesus is always better than walking in sin. The gospel breathes life into the battle we all face with sin.
Our lives aren’t absurd action movies but real, with real life struggles. We all wrestle with legalism and license in different areas of our lives. What struggles come to mind for you? In all of it, the gospel reminds us that no matter how big or small our struggle, there is hope. Living the gospel way causes us to live free in Christ and die hard to sin.
At Hope, we sing the lyrics, “I love because he first loved me, I live because he lives.” We need the gospel every day, in every part of our lives to remind us of this: Christ is our life. We are able to live the gospel life because death couldn’t hold him! We have the Holy Spirit renewing us from the inside out to be like him! Jesus is Lord! As we received Christ in faith, so let us live out the gospel by responding to God in faith and worship. In Christ you are, seek him you must.
Are you living a life of response?
What area of your life needs the gospel?