October 2017 marks the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation. 500 years ago in 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed a long list of statement on a castle door in Wittenberg. He nailed it as a challenge, and challenged the Catholic Church on a set of doctrinal beliefs on salvation (or soteriology). Luther was arguing about how people get saved and sought to tell the Catholic Church that their view was incorrect. The Catholic Church advocated penance, and a view that we would could work and merit salvation. Instead, Luther, after reading and studying Scripture, wrote that “all of life is repentance”, a continuation of the turning away from our sins, but also one marked by faith only in Christ alone. His goal was never to start another church or revolution, but to reform or purify what was already there. The 16th century Reformation was all about the gospel, and how we are saved. This Reformation is about the gospel forgotten, and now remembered, lost but now found.
Why is this important for us today? Is it significant just because it's a historical milestone? The lessons from the Reformation are just as important for us today. The same question confronts us today: do we remember or keep the gospel?
This whole series will focus on gospel-centredness. Gospel-centredness not only means keeping the gospel at the core, but it also means seeing gospel connections to everything in life. Many of us think that the gospel is the ABCs of Christian life, enough to get us to be Christians. We think that evangelism and the gospel is for non-Christians. If you or your church has the habit of thinking in this way, we are stepping away from what the Protestant Reformation was about. The gospel is the A to Z, to quote Keller. To have the gospel at the centre is to have a view of the priority of the gospel, as well as the comprehensiveness of the gospel. It is not just for evangelism but also for counselling, discipleship, church discipline, finances, SSA, history, racial discrimination etc. Gospel- centredness means that the things recovered in the Reformation is to be connected to our life now. It is a worldview, where we see everything with these lenses.
This is what this study, and this series will be about. For today, we'll use the passage from Eph 2:1-10 to help us see what gospel-centredness is about and for.
(A) For anthropology: gospel-centeredness means knowing my heart (Eph 2:1-3)
In Eph 2:1-3, Paul describes the default Christian life to the Ephesians. He began by speaking of life spiritually. Paul says that they were once dead (Eph 2:1b) in the trespasses and sins in which they once walked (Eph 2:2a), and were by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3c). What is sin? It is not just committing crimes or displaying the wrong behavior. It is fundamentally an anti-God orientation in life
where we say to God that we are God and He is not. It is characterised by a life without reference to God and despises who He is and in our heart, we say to God that we do not need Him. They were once like this, and actually walked and persisted in this kind of life. In our nature, as we were and without intervention, we were children under God’s holy and righteous judgment. It doesn’t mean that He is abusive, but His righteous anger is unique in the Bible, against what threatens His
Paul then goes on to talk about life imitated. They were following the course of this world and "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the
sons of disobedience" (Eph 2:2). Here, Paul is speaking of something beyond just the individual's response to God. The depth of the world's rebellion is being highlighted, not just its magnitude. Paul is trying to highlight to the Ephesians how in their sinfulness they belonged to a category of people (“sons of disobedience”, “children of wrath”). This is what it is like to live as sinners. Paul is stating categorically that even before we followed Christ we were not free. We were following something and someone with a set of agenda.
And what about their life goals? They lived like the rest of mankind, living in the passions of their flesh and carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (Eph 2:3). The Ephesians were no different from the world, pursuing self-gratification. It wasn't only about what they were doing, but it was who they followed and what they desired. This description is a fundamentally anti-God stance, attitude and response.
These opening verses in Eph 2 makes an anthropological statement. It describes all of us everyday, not just us on a bad day. Every human being, from the moment we were born, live in reference to the God that is us. This is who we are. On our own, we all want to live our life in peace as God. Anyone who doesn't conform to us is a threat to us. This is a shocking statement, but this is the truth about our hearts. Left to ourselves, everything is bad news. Therefore, gospel-centredness is good news! It is not self- deprecating, but it means that we are realistic and we have an explanation to explain life. Having a gospel- centred view means a big view of God and a small view of self, such that our sin or the sins of others do not surprise us.
(B) For theology: gospel-centeredness means knowing my God and His work (Eph 2:4-6)
Eph 2:4-6 moves on to describe who God is, and there is an amazing word in Eph 2:4 -- "but". Praise God for this amazing "but" in verse 4! God is “rich in mercy” and has a “great love with which he loved us” (Eph 2:4). This God who know us who we are is a certain way and acts in a certain way. These are theological statements that Paul was making. These are truths.
Eph 2:4 teaches us that God is not to get us because we told a lie. God is also not expecting us to live a standard that we cannot live up to. He knows that we are corpses and cannot do anything. He stood over us, dead corpses that cannot react. In His great love and mercy, He acts, and His actions reveal His character.
What did God do? He raised Christ (Eph 2:5) and us with Him, and also seated us with Him in Christ Jesus. So what? Perhaps you feel that things are going badly for you in life right now, and just crying out for enough strength and courage for today. God looks at us on our own and knows that we cannot summon up strength, hope,
courage, and self-control. But because of His love, He gives all that we need not to us directly, but to Christ, and then He takes us and joins us to Christ. When Christ was raised so were we. When Jesus sat down, so did we. We are inseparable from Jesus because everything we were supposed to bear, He bore, and now we have all blessings in Christ. Everything that God does to Jesus, He did for us. This is essentially the gospel. And we have access to it by faith. When the gospel ceases to thrill us and being gospel-centred is not effective anymore, it is really worth it to stop and go to God in prayer. When sin becomes bigger than God and causes us to despair, we need to go back to God and plead with Him in desperation to fill us with His Spirit so that we can delight in His Son! After all, we who were once dead have been raised to life in Christ and we do not want to go back to being dead! Today, if your heart is dull, go to God and pray that He brings life again because we cannot cause our soul to live!
(C) For praxis: gospel-centeredness means knowing what life is really about (Eph 2:7-10)
We've read about who we are, and also God's character. Paul goes on to state God's clear purpose in doing everything. It was “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7). This is a future promise where God will reveal His amazing, abundant, infinite wealth, glory and worth of grace. He raised us up when we were dead in order to show us how rich grace is. Every action in life is part of God’s grace. Every thing we do apart from being a dead corpse is His grace. Why did God do it, because He was kind! He was not just kind in a vague, abstract sense. He displayed it clearly and definitely in Christ. It means that today, Christians can pray because God was kind to us. It means that we gather with people from different churches tonight and every Wednesday night, with strangers who are actually family bought by the blood of the Lamb, because God is so kind. We have amazing hymns to sing that remind us of all that He has done, because He is so kind. God did it all by grace, and on our part we had faith. This was so that we will not boast in ourselves and our works. All our man-centred “I am God” boasting has to cease. When human boasting stops, God’s glory begins. The gospel silences all our attempts to boast in ourselves. The gospel of grace is really about glory, not ours, but God's.
Therefore, as Paul's logic goes, if it is by grace we have been saved, and if we bring nothing and it was all of God at work, we are clearly God’s workmanship from the
beginning (Eph 2:10). Every good work that we do has been prepared by God. This leads to a life that knows whose it is, and what it is about. How can we live this out practically? Do you struggle with application and obeying God? Eph 2:10 tells us that this is because we have forgotten whose we are. One practical application is to start your day with these 3 questions:
- Whose am I?
- Who am I?
- How am I going to live today?
How would you answer these? One way would be to say, "I am God’s"; "I am a sinner saved by grace"; "I will live for the glory of the one who loves me". But why not go a step further. Ask yourself these questions, but come up with a new way everyday. On one day, remind yourself that you belong to the great God, you are one who has been redeemed by the precious blood, and will not live as the Creator today. On another, tell yourself that you belong to the Good Shepherd, you are a sheep, and you will follow Him who leads you beside still waters. Work through the various qualities and description of God everyday. This is what it means to preach the gospel to yourself daily and over time, this helps you to remain gospel-centred. The key to gospel-centredness is to remember who you once were, and who called you, and live each day following the voice of the One who called you to life.