Within modern day evangelicalism, and especially within reformed circles, one is going to come across the term, “Gospel-centered” or other language which intends to communicate the centrality of the gospel. What is going on with all this and what does it mean?

From my perspective, as one who is “growing up” within this movement, what I see is a push to make the redemptive act of Christ’s death and resurrection (the gospel) the fundamental emphasis in a Christian’s life.

The reason being is that the former air that these evangelicals, and myself, breathed was one of legalism and moralism. Legalism is a belief that one’s acceptance to God is based on his or her’s obedience to God’s commandments. The thought and lifestyle being one of, “if I am good enough God will consider me His own.” Moralism, how I use the term, is a bit different but related. Moralism would be a focus on keeping the commandments. The difference from legalism is that moralism doesn’t have to relate to God. An atheist can be a moralist. A legalist is a moralist but uses that moralism in relating to God. His focus is keeping the rules (moralist) so that he will be accepted by God (legalist). Hopefully that distinction is clear.

There were the two emphasis, all the while the gospel was assumed.  Moralism was rampant because sermons usually focused entirely one the “3 three things one needs to do.” I remember sitting through a sermon on Isaiah 53 and all the preacher had to give was three morals we need to live out in out lives. Now legalism was never openly proclaimed but it was the undeclared mindset. When you have a culture that is focused on morals legalism is the natural way the people start relating to God.

Both of these are easy snares to Christians. Obedience is a very important aspect of the Christian life. Without obedience one cannot be a Christian, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). But in this air obedience became the central, fundamental aspect of the Christian life in teaching and emphasis. Because of this a proper understanding of obedience morphed into moralism and legalism. One did not seek to do right out of a love for Christ, but in an attempt to earn Christ’s love. And hard, cold terms were use to communicate how one understood the pursuit of Christ: duty, obligation, and debt. The Christian life was one of guilt for failure while trying to pay back the debt of what Christ did for us. The gospel was something one did and then moved on to more important things. For the Christian the gospel was to be assumed while they pursued obedience.

Now, what I just described is the bleak side of things. It was not that every church and Christian lived in the pool of despair. But it does communicate the problem which existed and which spurred on the new gospel movement. No longer did believers want the gospel to be assumed, they wanted it front and center.

That is where this movement and emphasis comes from.

Now the question can be asked, “what does it mean?” I want to be clear how I understand and communicate “gospel-centeredness” to my readers. To be gospel centered is for a Christian to view, understand, and live their life of obedience and their relationship to God baptized/immersed/encapsulated/identified in Christ’s historic work of salvation which was the accomplished mission of God’s entire salvific plan. A mouth full, with which you may have to trace with a pencil, but I think it is accurate to what I think about how the bible communicates this.

Two sections of scripture are the bases of this understanding,

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:4, 8-14 ESV)

and

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:3-8 ESV)

I get the term “baptized” from the Roman 6 passage. The Christian life of obedience is baptized in the death and resurrection of Christ. The command to “let not sin reign therefore in your mortal body” and “put to death therefore what is earthly in you” come from the understanding that one is identified with the salvific work of Christ. “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” and “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” As believer’s we are identified, and are to identify ourselves, with Christ’s work. We are to construct our identity in the gospel.

C. J. Mahaney helpfully illustrates,

The Gospel isn’t one class among many that you’ll attend as a Christian—the gospel is the whole building that all the classes take place in! Rightly approached, all the topics you’ll study and focus on as a believer will be offered to you ‘within the walls’ of the glorious gospel. (The Cross-Centered Life, 75-76)

Biology is not the school, it is a class in the school. Thus, putting away anger is not the gospel, it a part of maturity in the gospel. For as Paul puts it,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:1 ESV)

Being an imitator of God doesn’t make you a beloved child. You don’t think to yourself, “I am a person who imitates God well, thus I am a child.” No, the identity is not found in the work. You ARE a beloved child, therefore imitate God. You have been adopted by God through the sacrificed blood of Christ. The defiled rebel was washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, justified, and reconciled to the Father. By faith in Christ that is who you are—a beloved child! Sanctification, becoming more like God, is part of what it means to be a beloved child. It is not the child.

This is what I mean by gospel centeredness. The mindset of the Christ is that they are identified with the work of Christ. They are righteous, because He is righteous. They are accepted because He is accepted. They are dead to sin because He is dead to sin.  Sinclair Ferguson gives a great commentary on Romans 6:10-11 about this point,

All that [Christ] accomplished for us in our human nature is, through union with him, true for us and, in a sense, of us. He died to sin once; he lives to God (6:10). He came under the dominion of sin in death, but death could not master him. He rose and broke the power of both sin and death. Now He lives forever in the resurrection life of God. The same is as true of us as if we had been with him on the cross, in the tomb and on the resurrection morning!

We miss the radical nature of Paul’s teaching here to our great loss. So startling is it that we need to find a startling manner of expressing it. For what Paul is saying is that sanctification means this: in relationship both to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past. The basic frame work of my new existence in Christ is that I have become a “dead man brought to life” and must think of myself in those terms: dead to sin and alive to God in union with Jesus Christ our Lord. (Sinclair B. Ferguson, Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, p. 57)

That is the mindset, that is the way the Christian views things, that is the “frame work of my new existence.” It it telling myself, even when I look at myself and don’t see it, that I am a dead man brought to life through Christ. I have already entered into the new life in Christ! And with that new life comes all the benefits: sonship, reconciliation, justification, imputation, Fatherly love, glorious inheritance, freedom from sin, Fatherly care and protection. They are all mine! I possess all those because I am possessed by Christ! This is the frame work, the mind set that I cal myself to have when living in this world. That is what I mean if I call people to gospel centeredness. A call for Christians to identify themselves with Jesus Christ and all that He is for them. Their relationship with God and their obedience flows out of this mindset.

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