Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2009
The main point of this study guide is that the gospel is not just to be preached to non-Christians so they can come to faith in Christ. Rather the gospel is to be taught to all believers, even mature ones. In fact, we should preach the gospel to ourselves every day. The authors, pastors Bob Thune and Will Walker, believe that we will progress in the Christian life only if we grasp the gospel in deeper ways and understand how it applies to everyday living.
This booklet consists of nine lessons designed to be used in a small group without any extra work outside the group setting. Each of the lessons contains a summary of a biblical topic, an article for the group to read together aloud, a time of discussion in which the group processes the concepts being taught, an exercise designed to help individuals make practical application of the main ideas, and a wrap-up by the leader to answer questions, reinforce ideas, and spend time praying together.
I found the booklet insightful and profitable for my own life. I would like at some point to try using it with a small group. I think it would be helpful both for new believers and for those who have walked with Christ for many years.
Below is a short summary of the nine lessons in THE GOSPEL-CENTERED LIFE:
LESSON 1 – THE GOSPEL GRID
- If the gospel is constantly “bearing fruit and growing” (Col. 1:6), then everything has to do with the gospel – God, humanity, salvation, worship, relationships, shopping, recreation, work, personality … everything! The objective in this lesson is to establish a frame-work for talking about the gospel. In my opinion, the most valuable part of this lesson is “The Cross Chart” which graphically shows how we believers SHOULD be growing both in our awareness of God’s holiness, as well as our awareness of our sinfulness. As we grow in these crucial areas, the cross of Christ becomes more and more important in our lives.
LESSON 2 – PRETENDING AND PERFORMING
- This lesson deals with how we “shrink the cross,” which is to say something is lacking in our understanding, appreciation, or application of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Shrinking the cross manifests itself in two main ways – “pretending” and “performing”. PRETENDING minimizes sin by making ourselves out to be something we are not. It can take many forms: dishonesty (“I’m not that bad”), comparison (“I’m not as bad as those people”), excuse making (“I’m not really that way”), etc. PERFORMING minimizes God’s holiness by reducing His standard to something we can meet, thereby meriting his favor. Growing in awareness of God’s holiness means coming face to face with God’s righteous commands and the glorious perfections of His character.
LESSON 3 – BELIEVING THE GOSPEL
- To really experience the deep transformation God promises us in the gospel, we must continually repent of our sinful patterns of pretending and performing. Our souls must become deeply rooted in the truth of the gospel so that we anchor our righteousness and identity in Jesus, not in ourselves. Specifically, we must understand that God has not only forgiven our sins, but He has credited to us Jesus’ righteousness. That means God is pleased with us because He is pleased with Jesus. This lesson contains an excellent checklist to help us evaluate ourselves. It contrasts “orphans” with “sons and daughters” of God.
LESSON 4 – LAW & GOSPEL
- When we misunderstand the relationship between law and gospel, it leads to two opposite but equally destructive errors: (1) legalism, i.e. believing that God’s approval is somehow dependent on our right conduct and (2) license, i.e. believing that God’s rules don’t matter that much because we are “under grace.” To avoid these pitfalls we must understand how God designs it to work: the law drives us to the gospel, and the gospel frees us to obey the law. Realizing all that God expects of us should push us in despair to Christ. And once we are united with Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit causes us to delight in God’s law and gives us the power to obey it.
LESSON 5 – REPENTANCE
- Repentance is the norm for gospel-centered living. Becoming more aware of God’s holiness and our sinfulness leads us to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus. Biblical repentance frees us from our own devices and makes a way for the power of the gospel to bear fruit in our lives. True repentance is oriented toward God, not me (Ps. 51:4.) It is motivated by genuine godly sorrow, not just selfish regret (2 Cor. 7:19.) It is concerned with the heart, not just with external actions (Ps. 51:10), and it looks to Jesus for deliverance from the penalty and power of sin (Acts 3:19-20.)
LESSON 6 – HEART IDOLATRY
- Our surface sins are only symptoms of a deeper problem – a heart idol or a false god that has eclipsed the true God in our thoughts or affections. To paraphrase Martin Luther every sin is in some way a breaking of the first commandment (“You shall have no other gods before me.”) Some common heart idols that can manifest themselves as surface sins are the idol of approval, of control, of reputation, of success, of security, of pleasure, of knowledge, of recognition, and of respect. Every one of these things (approval, success, security, etc.) is something we already have in Jesus because of the gospel. One way to identify our particular heart idols is to ask, “What do I love, trust, or fear?”
LESSON 7 – MISSION
- The gospel is simultaneously at work in us and through us. As we experience Christ’s love, we are compelled to engage those around us with the same kind of redemptive love. God’s grace brings renewal everywhere in and through us. Mission is not duty (something we “should do”) but a natural overflow of the gospel’s work inside us. If you aren’t motivated to love, serve, and speak the gospel to people, the answer isn’t “just do it.” The answer is to examine your heart, repent of sin, and discern where your unbelief is short-circuiting the natural outward movement of the gospel. As the gospel renews your heart, it will also renew your desire to move out in faith into the relationships and opportunities God places in your path.
LESSON 8 – FORGIVENESS
- The gospel that works in us always work through us. It shows its power in our relationships and actions. One key way this happens is when we forgive others biblically. We might summarize God’s forgiveness of us this way: by moving toward us, God invites us and enables us to move toward Him. The gospel starts with God (the offended party) moving towards us (the offenders.) He cancels our debt and opens to us an opportunity for reconciliation. If we acknowledge our sin and repent, we are reconciled to God and are able to experience the joy and delight of relationship with Him. In the same way that God took the initiative to forgive us, we are to take the initiative to forgive others. (See Matt. 5:23-24.)
LESSON 9 – CONFLICT
- Conflict is something we all experience regularly, but we often handle it in very fleshly ways. The gospel gives us a pattern and a means to healthy conflict resolution. This lesson contains an excellent chart showing the differences between attacking in conflict and withdrawing in conflict, the two unhealthy ways in which we often deal with conflict. In addition, the lesson puts these unhealthy patterns alongside with how the gospel deals with conflict. Finally, the lesson outlines a process of dealing with conflict in a gospel-centered way. Each aspect in this process – heart foundation, power source, commitment, direction, feeling and goal – are listed along with some questions to help us address our tendencies in that area.
In my opinion THE GOSPEL-CENTERED LIFE could be improved a bit by including more Scripture passages to read either during the small group meetings or as follow-up afterwards, but take this slight criticism as coming from one who is known as a Bible thumper! J Nevertheless, I truly believe that this study guide does indeed contain many biblical concepts that are important for our growth as believers. I greatly appreciate that it reminds us how practical the gospel is, especially how practical Jesus’ death on the cross as an atonement for our sins is for the Christian life.