HOW DO CHRISTIANS GROW & CHANGE? PART 4
Last year (time is FLYING!!!), I began a series of posts devoted to helping Christians understand how it is that God designed them to grow and change.
I’ve been arguing that God grows us in a Gospel-centered way, or as Kevin DeYoung calls it “gospel-driven holiness” (The Hole in Our Holiness, 10) or as Steve Lawson asserts “The gospel is the power of God both for the salvation of unbelievers and for the sanctification of believers” (The Kind of Preaching God Blesses, 100). If you haven’t, you should take a few minutes and read my previous posts on this subject since what I write below assumes some of the ideas I’ve already put forth there.
Is Gospel-Centered Growth in the Bible?
The Bible should be the Christian’s final & highest authority (at Redeemer we say ‘The Bible determines everything’), so the first question a semi-informed Christian will ask when they hear something they’ve never encountered before is, “Is this idea taught in the Bible?” So, my plan for the next several posts is to go through the New Testament, demonstrating that the kind of growth it talks about is growth initiated, motivated and accomplished by God through the Gospel.
I will go through the NT, starting at the beginning, so let’s see if you notice Gospel-centered growth in the following verses:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-47 ESV)
Did you see it? If not, check out this parallel passage:
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36 ESV)
Do you see it yet? One more passage, but here’s some context first. God graciously giving good things like sunshine and rain to His enemies, as seen above, is actually called “good news” inActs 14. When Paul & Barnabas arrived in Lystra, God healed a man through Paul who had been crippled from birth (vv. 8-10) and in response, the people began to worship them as gods (vv. 11-13).
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:14-17 ESV)
You see it now, right? Where do we see God’s gracious love for His enemies? Jesus and Paul said one example of it is in God blessing His enemies with good and kind things — the sun, rain and seasons — and Paul even referred to that as “gospel.” However, how can he call it that when Acts 14 doesn’t mention Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, etc.? Because God’s common grace is an illustration of the gospel, which announces the ultimate expression of God’s gracious love for and goodness to His enemies:
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” (Romans 5:8-10 ESV)
Love Your Enemies Because God Loves His Enemies
What’s the point? Did you see the grace-motivated, Gospel-centered sanctification in these verses? No? Here it is: the command is clear “Love your enemies,” but if you don’t see love for your enemies coming out of your life (especially, your mouth!) what does Jesus appeal to to motivate you to obey His command? His raw authority, “Love your enemies…because I said so”? Fear, “Love your enemies…because God will punish you if you don’t”? No!
Jesus motivates His followers with rewards (Luke 6:35, a topic we’ll talk about in a later post), but especially with statements like, “so that you will be sons of your Father who is in heaven,” which means love them so that you will be like your God who is gracious and loves His enemies.
Love Shows A Family Resemblance
The goodness and love of God frees you to be what was severely damaged at the Fall, an image, a picture, a representation of God (see Col 3:10, Eph 4:24), and since God is holy, when we “image” Him by loving our enemies we are holy too (1 Peter 1:16-17).
So, if you need less anger & gossip and more love & prayer for your enemies, scolding and shaming you into obedience is not Christ-like. Jesus teaches you to consider God’s love for His enemies, which will motivate you to image God, to show the family resemblance, by loving your enemies just like God loves them (and also, just like He loves you, a former enemy).
That’s grace teaching you to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12). That’s gospel-centered growth, but that’s just the beginning. More to come next week. I leave you with these words of encouragement from the 20th century London preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Matthew 5:43-47:
“If only we all might begin to love like this, and every Christian in the world were loving in this way! If we did, revival would soon come, and who knows what might happen even in the whole world” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 309).
John Owen (1616-1683): “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realizing of the Gospel in our souls” (Works 3:370)