I like to talk about the Gospel.
However, I must confess that I sometimes become somewhat self-conscious about it.
It seems that often in my teaching – or even in my general conversations with friends and acquaintances – that I tend to come around to mentioning that Jesus “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). It seems that I often passionately land on Christ’s great act as our substitute and representative. I get animated when I can share with people the truth that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13), or how it was “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). I get excited, even intense about it.
And that is when I become self-conscious. I sometimes fear that people have heard all this before. I feel a pull to shy away from speaking about it. Some have even been so bold as to tell me to turn down the intensity. So, out of embarrassment, I sometime have. I regret the times I have done this.
However, there were two things that have recently encouraged me not to do that. The first, is a passage of Scripture, Romans 1 in particular:
“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 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.” (Romans 1:14–17).
The Apostle Paul was “not ashamed” of the gospel. And there is a reason. It is not just some self-talk to encourage himself against peer pressure or to steel his will in the face of persecution. No, he grounds his confidence in the gospel for entirely different reasons: “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). He wasn’t ashamed of speaking it because it is the message of the gospel that saves. And not just saves in the sense of “getting me to heaven”. It’s saving message encompasses all of life: “from faith for faith.” The gospel is not just for our justification, but our sanctification and glorification, too.
The second thing that challenged my self-consciousness regarding the gospel comes from D. A. Carson. The following quote is from the book, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry, by John Piper and D. A. Carson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 98–99 [as cited in Andy Naselli, “D. A. Carson’s Theological Method,” Scottish Bulletin of Theology, 29.2, Autumn 2011, pp. 248–49]. He is referring to his role as scholar and seminary professor in these remarks and that he is never just a scholar and professor but a pastor, too.
Recognize that students do not learn everything you teach them. They certainly do not learn everything I teach them! What do they learn? They learn what I am excited about; they learn what I emphasize, what I return to again and again; they learn what organizes the rest of my thought. So if I happily presuppose the gospel but rarely articulate it and am never excited about it, while effervescing frequently about, say, ecclesiology or textual criticism, my students may conclude that the most important thing to me is ecclesiology or textual criticism. They may pick up my assumption of the gospel; alternatively, they may even distance themselves from the gospel; but what they will almost certainly do is place at the center of their thought ecclesiology or textual criticism, thereby wittingly or unwittingly marginalizing the gospel. Both ecclesiology and textual criticism, not to mention a plethora of other disciplines and sub-disciplines, are worthy of the most sustained study and reflection. Nevertheless, part of my obligation as a scholar-teacher, a scholar-pastor, is to show how my specialism relates to that which is fundamentally central and never to lose my passion for living and thinking and being excited about what must remain at the center. Failure in this matter means I lead my students and parishioners astray.
If I am then challenged by a colleague who says to me, ‘Yes, I appreciate the competence and thoroughness with which you are handling ecclesiology or textual criticism, but how does this relate to the centrality and non-negotiability of the gospel?’ I may, regrettably, respond rather defensively, ‘Why are you picking on me? I believe in the gospel as deeply as you do!’ That may be true, but it rather misses the point. As a scholar, ecclesiology or textual criticism may be my specialism; but as a scholar-pastor, I must be concerned for what I am passing on to the next generation, its configuration, its balance and focus. I dare never forget that students do not learn everything I try to teach them but primarily what I am excited about [bold emphasis mine].
May I never forget what I desperately wish my flock, my family, and my friends, and strangers to learn: the centrality of the gospel. May they catch what it is that I am excited – even intense – about. May I never presuppose the gospel nor assume the gospel, but faithful speak, preach, teach, testify to, defend, and articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ.