Everyone is living for something. Maybe it’s our family, our job, or our image, invariably it’s something. At the heart level we are clinging to something that is giving us our identity, our sense of self-worth and purpose in life. It is at this level, the level of the heart that the Bible says is the real problem. We desire the things that God has made more than we desire God.
The Bible informs us that we were created to worship, that is, to have our entire life center around one thing that gives meaning and purpose to our existence, that one thing is meant to be our Creator. God has been shifted from the center of our heart’s affections to somewhere in the peripheral. Our hearts over desire things that displace God from the center of our lives, they can even me good things like family, career and even religion. It is out of this fundamental problem with the human heart that all other maladies arise.
It is in this condition that all people find themselves, both religious people and irreligious. And not for lack of effort, no cure for this condition has been found. The Bible says it’s beyond repair. But, God has not left us without hope, He has graciously provided the solution to fix our heart condition. Only Jesus Christ can restore the sick human heart.
God knows that our passion make something central to our existence is not something we can change. This is how He created us. So, we can’t change on our own. When we try we just end of exchanging one idol for another. What we need is a driving passion in our lives that we crave more, one that satisfies us more deeply., one that brings wholeness to our lives emotionally, socially and spiritually. The over desires of our hearts cease only when we put Jesus at the very center of our lives and He becomes what we desire the most. When He becomes what defines us, what gives our life meaning and significance When Jesus is the sole object of our worship.
The question, nevertheless, that most Christians are asking themselves is how does Jesus become the overmastering positive passion in my life?
To get us thinking, I’d like to share 3 practical ways to more deeply experience God’s grace in our lives through internalizing the gospel. The idea being that true lasting change comes from having our hearts divinely changed from within.
The biggest things that keeps us from relating to Jesus as our overmastering positive passion is that we are not aware how deeply and fully we need Jesus. We tend to think that there are a few areas of our lives that need cleaning up, but other than that there isn’t that much for Jesus to do. The reality is that our entire heart needs an overhaul, every single area of our life is stained with sin, even our good, religious acts are shot with sin throughout. Jesus said that a bad tree will only produce bad fruit, similar is the case with our heart, since it is bad everything out of it is bad, this isn’t so easy for us to except. We would rather believe that there is a bit of touch up necessary, but God says that things are so far gone I need to start completely over.
If the first obstacle is that we don’t see how bad we really are, the second is that we don’t see how utterly amazing Jesus is, what John Piper would describe as ‘the infinite worth of Jesus Christ’. While our minds might believe that Jesus is more than enough in our lives, our hearts don’t. So, when opportunities for love, success, security, and power come up our hearts run to them without us even realizing it. Jesus is the most loving, forgiving, powerful, majestic, and supreme, all the love, success and security in the world can’t hold a candle to Him. But, unless the gospel penetrates the deepest parts of our heart we will always turn to created things instead of Christ.
How then do we start to see our desperate need for Jesus and have our heart’s treasure His complete greatness?
Since we know that our heart is sick and God has provided the remedy we need only apply the Solution each time we see a symptom (which is quite often). We have already begun to discover how to spot the idols of our hearts. They are not the same for everyone, but everyone has them. Maybe, like me, it’s approval, so performance is important, you want people to like you, to think your smart, or beautiful, or faithful, or responsible. So, functionally my salvation is found in my performance and people’s opinion of me. While in my head Jesus is my saviour; my heart treasures approval from others more than God’s approval that was bought for me on the cross.
Maybe what people think about you is not so important but being on top of things is about security for you. You work hard, not so people will approve of you, but so that you can save money and put away for the future. Having nice things aren’t just for you to enjoy but they are the things that bring security to your heart. The more you have the safer you feel. Money, possessions and relationships with others are a way to make you feel safe. For you, your biggest fear might be losing your job, house, some of our favorite toys, or seeing your bank account statement in the red.
True repentance isn’t just telling God about all the bad. Just confessing our sin isn’t enough. Unless our hearts begin to treasure Jesus, and find Him more beautiful and more satisfying our hearts won’t be changed.
If our hearts long for approval and security why not give it what will truly satisfy it? Romans 1 describes the chief problem is that our hearts have exchanged the glory of God to worship created things. In true gospel repentance we reverse the exchange. The approval and security we get from created things we exchange for God’s glory.
How does the gospel apply to our heart’s over-desire for approval and security?
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 it says that God made him (that is, Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Does God the Father love and accept Jesus? Does He see Him as beautiful? Does He approve of His Son’s life and decisions? Yes, He does! Jesus has all the love and approval of His Father that you could possibly dream and the text says that He has given it to us. The only approval that really matters in the universe and Jesus has given it to us in exchange for our condemnation and sin. True gospel repentance exchanges the approval that comes from people for the approval that was bought on the Cross and the heart soars in worship and gratitude to the One who spilled His blood so that we could be accepted by the Father.
How does the gospel relate to security? In Matthew 6:19-12 Jesus words to the crowd are, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
To be human is to feel insecure and insignificant, we try to fight off those troublesome feelings by building up our own security through money, possessions and sometimes even people. When good things become ultimate things they become idols. We know they are idols when they become threatened in our life. Our job is an idol when we lose it and we are completely flattened and lose all will to live. Or, when we see the fury and anger unleashed from our hearts when one of our most prized possessions is damaged.
Jesus doesn’t say control yourself so that you don’t long for security, but let your heart rest in a deeper, more dependable security, one that will never wear out or be stolen from you. Meditate on the Son of God who gave up His security in the perfect love of the Father so that we could come into it. Turn from the security that created things give you and be fulfilled in the security that the gospel provides both in this life and the one to come.
Repentance in this sense exhilarates the heart as it see’s the need for Jesus more clearly and treasures Him more deeply as the only One that can truly satisfy. True gospel repentance entails confession; but also includes rejoicing in the sacrificial love of Jesus who was willing to give up it all for our sake.
Gospel-centered community includes but is not limited to the corporate worship of God, where those who have experienced God’s loving grace in their lives express their gratitude and adoration to Him thorough music. For many, the time of corporate worship is a rapturous experience when the truths of the glory of Christ are most personally felt. The singing of deep gospel truths have a way of going straight down into our soul as we sing praise with the saints.
There is also another element of gospel-centered community that is conducive to Jesus becoming our overmastering positive passion. This is in smaller, more intimate group setting where the gospel is central in the relational dynamic. It is in the context of the faith community that believers are to have great insight into one another’s lives, stand together against sin and be agents used by God to administer His grace.
We know that the spiritual health of one of the saints affects the whole Body. Therefore, the faith community is deeply concerned and compassionate for each individual. The sin of the individual is the sin of the whole. In order to have a healthy community we must not shy away from the topic of sin, the sin in our own lives and the sin in others. To hide sin in our own life not only harms us, but the whole group. Equally, when we avoid talking about the sin in others everyone feels the consequence.
The idea here is to have intimate gospel-centered relationships. You might not air out your sin to the entire congregation each week; but you should have a few people very close to you that know what you struggle with the most. These people are people you trust, you care about you and like soldiers stand beside you in your battle against sin. Like gospel repentance this isn’t a time of staying focussed on the ugly sin in our lives, but rather a chance to appropriate the grace of Christ to the places in our lives where Jesus isn’t Lord. Our repentance is gospel centered and so should our relationships with others. A feature of sin is that it blinds us to truth. However, in the context of gospel-centered relationships others can speak gospel truth into our lives when we can’t see it as clearly. In gospel-centered community, in this sense, we are loving each other and glorifying God by constantly appropriating and rejoicing in what Christ has done for us.
So far we have seen that we can be so in touch with our hearts that each time it slips into idolatry we can draw it back to Christ through applying the gospel to the deepest longings of our hearts. We also saw that the context of Christian community is God’s way of creating an environment where His grace may be extended to all the members through intimate, gospel-centered relationships.
The gospel, as we can see from gospel repentance and gospel-centered communities has a tremendous power to bring about inner transformation. God is transforming us for His glory and He wants His glory to be displayed. This transformation, the Scripture tells us, is conforming us into the image of Jesus.
Our nature is being transformed by God to reflect His divine nature. What does divine nature look like in an earthly context? For that we only have to turn to the gospels and look at the life of Jesus.
His entire life was one of mission. We learned in session one of Gospel in Life that God concern for a city includes the areas of justice, health and welfare, culture development and spirituality. Just think about how Jesus’ life and how He prepared His disciples for mission has changed the world in each of these areas. The Western world owes it’s sense of justice to the person of Jesus. Moreover, without Jesus hospitals, schools, government, and social concern would all looks completed different. Think about how Jesus has influenced art, music, and literature. With regard to spiritually, it is safe to say that Jesus has influenced the world more than any other. Jesus taught like no one before Him and there has been none since. Jesus didn’t just present an alternative take on spirituality, if true in what He said, all other religions don’t make sense, He is not the best way to God, but the only.
When we are engaged in mission, that is pointing people to Christ with our actions and our words the relevance for Jesus in our own hearts and in the world becomes much clearer. We begin to see that the sin that we see in the world, with people far off from God doesn’t exist just out there, we see the very same thing in our own heart. We aren’t people who have it entirely together telling people what to do to fix their life; rather we too are in the same boat as them, and our only hope is Christ. We don’t stand on separate sides of the precipice telling them to come over to our side; we stand on the same side as them and Jesus has come to us.
Mission, the care and compassion for the emotional, physical, social and spiritual needs of people is the natural outworking of the gospel internal working of our heart. Jesus is more clearly appreciated as the true overmastering positive passion in our lives when the gospel is being lived out in our lives because it becomes distinctively clear only He can bring true change to the world.
When we are engaged in gospel mission we are outwardly expressing to the world who truly is our heart’s greatest treasure. Because when we love Jesus, we begin to love like Jesus and is the driving force of missions.