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The Centrality of the Gospel – An Intro

September 21, 2007

“The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled. We have to get near enough to it for its sparks to fall on us” (CJ Mahaney quoting John Stott, The Main Thing).

When something is central, it is of utmost importance. It is the defining feature. It is the motivating factor. It is the life-force of the object at hand. Everything flows from it and to it. It contains all necessity and desire. It alone is the focus and pivot of everything. Just as the sun is typically viewed as the center of our universe, so…

“God is the blazing sun at the center of reality. Everything revolves around him. And as the most valuable and glorious person that exists, God is loving, not conceited, when he calls us to worship him, because he’s offering us the one thing that will make us the most happy: himself. God’s pursuit of glory and our pursuit of joy are not at odds. Because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (John Piper, The Blazing Center).

Just as the heart is at the center of the human body giving it vitality, so is the very Gospel of God at the center of all things. Why? Because God is the Gospel. He is the ‘good news’. He is the promise of eternal life. So then God is perfectly pleased with His Gospel, because it is the glory of Himself and the reflection of His image in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:4,6). The very center of the Gospel is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, and all that He is through His Son. Therefore since God is the Gospel and the Gospel is about the Godman, Jesus Christ, then the Gospel must by necessity be at the center of everything; especially the life of the believer.

The Gospel must be the very “heartbeat” in the soul of every believer. Just as sin and hatred towards God was the fueling nucleus in every sinner, so also the Gospel is the “life-blood” of every child of God. Because when God creates us anew and makes us born again, our heart no longer beats to the drum of sin, but beats for His glory. However, every true believer struggles with his own sin, namely idolatry, thereby making this refocus of the centrality of the Gospel an all out war. As Paul described his battle in Romans 7:22-23:

22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

The Christian life is a daily fight for the centrality of our hearts. And Satan wants nothing less than to make us forget about the cross and focus on our self. But regardless of who or what seems to be central, the Gospel is central. And it remains powerfully central despite our feelings, our thoughts, or our sins. It certainly won’t come naturally for men to be so Gospel-centered. Everyday we subject ourselves and are subjected to man-centerd thinking, feelings, philosophy, theology, and methodology. So what are we to do? We can’t make the Gospel the center, but only see it as where it is: at the Center of the universe. And God is the one that opens our eyes to the glorious liberating vision of such centrality.

Since God is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, so is His Gospel. The Gospel transcends time, space, and matter. It is not bound by human will, intellect or emotions. No finite force can even touch the Gospel without the authority and intervention of the infinite wise and holy God. It cannot be boxed or cornered or shaken. The Gospel is eternal. It is fully wise and fully powerful because it is God’s news, and it cannot be thwarted, surpassed, or stopped. Therefore, the Gospel is as crucial at the beginning of the Christian life (regeneration=being born again) and during the middle (sanctification), as it is at the end (glorification). Noone ever moves past the Gospel! Noone ever rises above the Gospel! The Christian life is not a race towards “spirituality” or “religious elitism”. But a journey to the cross. God uses the Gospel to save us, sanctify us, and glorify us. His means is His end, and His end is His means. Let me clarify: we need Christ at every step in our lives. We begin at the cross, dwell there, and end at the cross-bearer! Christ is our beginning, He is our sufficient middle, and He is the fulfilling end. He is the center!

Yet this is not the case with the majority of Christianity today. Or as my dad accurately calls it, “religianity”. Just stop and think, what is at the center of the life of the average Christian today? Going to “church”? Ministry? Relational Evangelism? Theology? Vacation Bible School? 5th Sunday fellowships? 3rd Sunday sings? Visitation? Or even more secular things like: work, school, family, friends, fellowship, vacation, hobbies, shopping, t.v., recreation, blogging (nah, that can’t be one, right?), etc. And all of these are not inherently evil. Yet is it not the good things in life that most often become the dearest idols in our heart? And why, as Christians, is this so? Why do we view our Christian life as one in which Christ is just a prayer at the beginning, a friend in time of need, or a Lord soon to return? His centrality is replaced by other things; anything really.

I am convinced that this is one of the most, if not THE most awful and blasphemous tragedies among the “Church” today. The centrality of Christ’s person and work is not kept central, but rather becoming a necessary initiator to the Chrisitan life, or a nice tag along, or a far outreaching distant ungraspable future thing. This is infinitely dangerous and threatening to His glory. Yet fortunately only in perception, because no amount of lack or replacement on our part can ultimately destroy His unchanging centrality. Therefore the battle lies in perception of that reality. And that battle is fought through the eyes of our heart. Do we see the cross as infinitely valuable for all of life, or only necessary at the beginning to ensure the end?

The cure for this idolatrous thinking and living will come only with a radical change of heart. God must enact His heart-regenerating work in some, and His mind-transforming work in others. Some need simply to be born again to see this saving truth. While others simply need to destroy their idols and come back to the cross they’ve insisted on leaving. If for one moment our body decided that it would be best to glean life from our gall bladder rather than our heart, we would die. If the solar system decided that it would be best rather to gain energy, light, and heat from pluto or even saturn, we would be in really rough shape. The sun must be the blazing center. The heart must be the beating center. The cross and therefore the Gospel must be the burning flame that lights our hearts afire with life. The Gospel will only have power if it remains central. It must be the focus of our attention and efforts. It must be the labor of our work. It must be the object of our affections. It alone must be what we center our very lives on because it alone is what gave us life and continues to give us life. Or have we forgotten that without the cross, we would be experiencing God’s righteous wrath and judgment? Hell burns pretty hot for those who have no righteousness. And who has righteousness without the cross of Christ? The Cross is infinitely and eternally necessary to sustain all of life.

The cross was central to all of life for Paul. This is what Paul dedicated himself to constantly. This is what he determined to know nothing for: Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). This is what Paul delivered as of “first importance” (1 Cor 15:3). Jesus Himself set his face before Jerusalem to die. He knew He existed to give and display the glory of God and obey His heavenly Father. He embodies the Gospel. Christ was born to bear His cross and die. Can you see how central this is?

God created the Church through the Gospel, founded the Church on the Gospel made its existence to spread the Gospel. And the Church is filled with little Gospelites that should care about nothing but the same Gospel that called them. Oh that we could keep the Gospel at the center where it is and where it belongs. Christian, labor joyfully to “keep the main thing the main thing”. It’s why we exist: to glory in the cross of Jesus Christ, the image of God!

From → Centrality, Gospel

  1. That quote from C J Mahaney is originally from John Stott.

  2. James B, Okay thanks for the info. I’ve heard a lot about John Stott. I’ve heard he has some of the best stuff on the cross out there. But then my brother said in the last several years he adheres to annihilationism: the belief that there is no eternal punishment in Hell, right? Something like that, which is unbiblical and unfortunate. But anyway, all I knew is that I heard this quote from C.J. in a sermon jam from Thanks again!

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