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The Forgotten Side of the Gospel

The church often places a greater and sometimes exaggerated emphasis on the saving aspect of the gospel but we forget the sanctifying aspect of the gospel. Let me explain.

The saving aspect of the gospel, that faith in Jesus Christ alone saves us from our sins, is often exaggerated in the church. When we think or speak of sharing the gospel we are most often thinking of offering a clear presentation of the gospel to unbelieving friends, family members or co-workers in hopes that they will be converted. This is a high priority of the church. But when we only think of the gospel in this manner or when it becomes a program of the church we can easily forget that the gospel that saves us is the gospel that keeps on saving us.

An exaggeration of the saving aspect of the gospel has the tendency to lead people to the false conclusion that once faith is exercised he is saved and that is all that he needs. His ‘ticket has been punched’, assuring him passage into heaven, or he has acquired the necessary ‘fire insurance’ that saves him from the fires of hell. Now all that is left is waiting to the end. He can rest in his salvation having done all that is required. This false conclusion is not a conclusion at all. Salvation is just the beginning! The Christian life is based on and grows through an ongoing rehearsal of and belief in the gospel. This is what I mean when I say that the gospel keeps on saving.

Throughout the New Testament various analogies are used to speak of our union with Christ which is ours through the faith given to us by the Holy Spirit. In his book, Union with Christ, Robert Letham refers to a list of four such analogies written about by 17th century theologian, Rowland Stedman . The four analogies include a natural analogy between a head and members of the body; a corporal analogy that of the vine and the branches; a conjugal analogy as that of husband and wife; and an artificial analogy of a building and its foundations.

These four analogies depict four realities—they are all real unions—in which the respective parts of the union retain their particular distinctiveness. But they are shadows or types of the greater union we have with Christ. As the rehearsal and consideration of the gospel helps us grow in our understanding of these four biblical analogies we also grow in our understanding of our union with Christ. Moreover, it is precisely in and through the gospel that we participate in these various analogies and dwell within the greater reality of union with Christ.

Let me provide some biblical foundation for what I am saying. Many consider the theme verses of Paul’s letter to the Romans to be Romans 1:16, 17. I have said as much in sermons on the passage.

[16] For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. [17] For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

These verses are often taken to prioritize the gospel that saves to the exclusion of the gospel that sanctifies. However, Romans 1:17 declares that “The righteous shall live by faith.” Both sides of the gospel, the gospel that saves and the gospel that sanctifies are in view here. In addition, as Paul builds his foundational case for justification only by faith (the gospel that saves) in the first several chapters of this letter, he moves on to spend equal time speaking of sanctification by faith (the gospel that sanctifies).

In the opening chapter of his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul applies a greater emphasis on the gospel that sanctifies. Paul expresses thankfulness for those in Philippi who have become partners in the gospel (vs. 5) and goes on to declare,

[6] And 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.

The beginning of a good work is the result of the gospel that saves and the bringing of it to completion is the result of the gospel that sanctifies and ultimately glorifies.

Paul goes on to say in Philippians 1:7 that the Philippians both defend and confirm the gospel. How do they do this? They do this as they are sanctified in response to Paul’s prayer for them in Philippians 1:9-11:

[9] And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Our sanctification confirms that the gospel is at work in us. It serves as a testimony to those who are intimately involved in our lives (Phil. 1:12-14). Paul’s final exhortation in this chapter is that followers of Jesus live lives in the gospel that sanctifies:

[27] Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, [28] and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

The church grows through addition of new believers as we faithfully share the gospel that saves with the unbelievers God has placed in our lives. The church grows through maturation of current believers as we faithfully share the gospel that sanctifies with fellow believers with whom God has granted us union and fellowship. Both the gospel that saves and the gospel that sanctifies are one and the same gospel and both are critical for the life of the church. The sharing of both sides of the gospel brings glory to God. May we never elevate, exclude or forget one or the other but rather may we mature in our imparting and living out of both.

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