Series Overview: How Do Christians Grow & Change?

Is it true that the Gospel is strictly for non-Christians? Is it true that the Gospel belongs to the “elementary teachings” Christians are to move past on the road to maturity (cf. Hebrews 6:1,Philippians 3:12)? Is it true that the Gospel has nothing to do with Christian obedience?

This series has been dedicated to showing that the answers to all these questions is an emphatic “NO!!!”

The Gospel is not the basics, the ABCs of Christianity, that you build the more important stuff on as you seek to grow and change. The message of Christ crucified & resurrected is of “first importance,” even for Christian maturity (1 Corinthians 15:3). It is “the A to Z of Christianity” (from an article by Tim Keller), which is why it’s one of our core values at Redeemer.

I started this series by stating this conclusion and then showing it has support from some of church history’s most respected living and glorified teachers (here). Then, I embarked on a series of posts, of which we are currently in the middle of, attempting to show that Gospel-centered growth is biblical, beginning with the structure of the Bible itself (here) and the structure of individual commands (here).

Currently, we’re looking at some connections the authors of the New Testament make between specific expectations God has for His people and the Gospel (e.g., loving your enemy here & showing forgiveness here).

Being Great

I think it’s safe to say that none of us go into any endeavor hoping to be average and mediocre. If we played sports we wanted to be great. If we get married we want to be great spouses. We want to be great employees and bosses.  It’s normal, and Jesus doesn’t dissuade it. He tells His followers how to be great in this example of Gospel-motivated growth from Matthew 20:20-28(cf. Mark 10:35-45):

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (ESV)

Gospel-Centered Questions

Does He not also show that when His followers, especially His leaders, are not known as humble, Christ-like servants to the people God’s entrusted to them (vv. 26-27) it is because they are emulating the world’s petty manipulation, shameless self-promotion (vv. 20-21), prideful overconfidence (v. 22), jealousy, disunity, lowering others to advance themselves (v. 24), tyrannical hierarchies, self-serving attitudes (v. 25) and pathetic demands to be recognized (20:20-22, 24-25)?

Does He not show, once again, that in the face of all that sin, that He does not motivate with guilt, shame and fear, but with the Gospel, by promoting His own example of loving, sacrificial, servant leadership on the Cross?

Isn’t Jesus making a connection between the Gospel (indicative: “to give His life as a ransom for many,” v. 28) and obedience in the Christian life (imperatives: “It shall not be so among you,” “must be,” “must be,” vv. 26-27), namely being a great Christian and growing as a leader (something just about every Christian is, to a greater or lesser degree, whether at work, at home, at church, etc.)?

Conclusion: Gospel-Centered Greatness

Jesus shows, once again, that the Gospel accomplishes growth in His followers, specifically in making us the kind of humble, servants He not only demands we be, but which will make us the great people we want and He wants us to be. If it didn’t have the power to do so, why then would He correct their sinful behavior with the Gospel? As Kevin DeYoung said, “Only by knowing our position in Jesus [the Gospel] can we begin to live like Jesus [sanctification]” (The Hole in Our Holiness 94).

For more on Gospel-centered leadership, check out these resources from others on the subject (a blog, a book, another blog, another book, a sermon).

John Owen (1616-1683): “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realizing of the Gospel in our souls” (Works 3:370)