I used to be a know-it-all. Now I purposefully say used to be, because truth be told, on the far side of 30, I am much more accurately described as a forgot-it-all. But in my younger, fresher, sharper days, I really knew some stuff.
Now when I say “knew,” what I really mean is “memorized and filed away in my ridiculous mental library of random facts and figures.” For as long as I can remember- up until recently, of course- it is just how my brain worked.
Need to remember a date or time? I got you.
Need to know a phone number or address? I’m your guy.
Need to know some random sports statistic from the late 1990’s? Embarrassingly, it’s probably in there somewhere.
So why do I tell you this about myself? I promise I’m not bragging- because seriously, it isn’t that impressive (or even very necessary in our new age of ultra-connectivity!). No, the reason I share it is because it calls to mind a deep concern I have for the spiritual wellbeing of many in our church and in our community- including myself, and maybe you too.
Here’s what I mean- The vast majority of my youthful knowledge, although in many cases wide in breadth, was altogether lacking in depth; there was a lot of it, but it wasn’t really doing much; it was “in my head,” but nowhere close “to my heart.” In other words, it was little more than facts and figures, and while facts and figures can be at times interesting and helpful, in the end they don’t affect change in our lives in any real way. Let’s face it- A list of all fifty U.S. state capitals never changed anyone’s life!
The problem is, many of us treat spiritual truths- most notably the Gospel itself– as “been there, done that” facts and figures, merely filing them away intellectually rather than allowing them to sink down deep into our hearts, minds, and lives in a radically transforming way. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ- this glorious proclamation of a holy God rescuing undeserving rebels from sin and death by sheer grace- was never intended to be merely a message to be memorized, but rather an experience to be lived and celebrated every moment of every day.
Pastor and author J.D. Greear compares our common perspective on the Gospel to that of a diving board- that is, we see it as a “jumping off point” into the pool of a life of following Jesus. Once we’re in the “pool,” we see the Gospel as something that in our past; it was helpful to get us started, but the real work of “swimming” is now on us.
In the “pool,” we’ve got obligations- verses to learn, religious events to attend, needs to meet, money to give, service to render, trips to go on, etc. Not that any of these are bad things in the least- quite the opposite, they are very good! The problem is that many of us go after them while leaving the Gospel in the past as a “been there, done that” reality. We try to follow Jesus in our strength rather than relying actively on God’s grace. This is a recipe for spiritual exhaustion- and ultimately, for a heart that grows cold toward God and toward people.
What’s the solution? To shift the Gospel from primarily “in our heads” to first and foremost “on our hearts”- something that is being experienced deeply daily, an unending well of ever increasing joy in Jesus Christ and in His undeserved grace lavished on us. To use Greear’s analogy, the Gospel no longer functions as the “diving board” only; it is the entire “pool” in which everything in our lives happens!
When we read the Bible, it is to get to know better this God who has loved and saved us through the Gospel. When we participate in the life of the church, it is to love, serve, encourage, and challenges others as they grow in the Gospel. When we give and serve and go, it is in humble and grateful response to God’s generosity toward us in the Gospel. Obedience is no longer fueled by a sense of grudging obligation, but rather by a motive of gratitude and love for God and for people.
None of this happens, though, if the Gospel is treated as merely one spiritual “fact and figure” among many. It must remain, in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “that which is of first importance.” What can you do this week to intentionally consider and meditate on the gracious saving work of God through Jesus Christ alone? How would such consideration and meditation change the way you approach your everyday life following Jesus? Think about it. Pray about it. Ask God to deepen your heart of humility, gratitude, and love in response to Him, and then to express it generously toward others as well.
Don’t be content to just “know” the Gospel in your head. Really know it- and be transformed by it- in your heart.