The Visible Gospel

It seems that one of the trendy things for Christians today is to leave the church. For many, church is seen as the biggest problem with Christianity, a place full of hypocrites and those pursuing wealth. Yet individual Christianity is not an option. We are called to “not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some,” and are called to encourage each other on a daily basis. One of the primary reasons we are commanded to meet together is because we so often neglect or marginalize the gospel in our daily lives. I stumbled across a video today in which Jerry Bridges explains why you never outgrow the gospel. In the video, he states, “The gospel is for sinners, and if we do not acknowledge ourselves as sinners, then we tend not to put much value in the gospel.” Tim Keller has similarly said, “The gospel is not just the ABC of the Christian life but the A to Z of the Christian life.” So how do we remember the gospel on a regular basis? One way is through our church services, which are meant to be the gospel made visible.

In order to demonstrate the gospel, we first need to understand what the gospel is. 9Marks has a helpful definition that is broken down into 4 parts: God, man, Christ, response. God has created the world and everything in it, including man. Man sinned, separating himself from God and other men. The only way to be reconciled back to God is through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. That sacrifice leads to a call for everyone to respond by repenting of sin and trusting in God to be saved. These 4 parts should affect the way we plan and structure our worship services, with thought given to how each of these parts can become a regular part of our worship. So what does that look like? Here are some ways I’ve tried to work this in to each of our services.

1.God

Each service begins with a call to worship, where we are reminded who God is. That he is completely separate from us, completely holy, and is thus worthy of our worship. I also try to begin our services singing about who God is, so last week we began by singing “All the Earth,” and this week we sang “Blessed Be Your Name.” These songs remind us who God is, that he has created everything in the world and orchestrates everything according to his perfect plan.

2.Man

This element seems to run contrary to the previous one (how can there be an emphasis on man when our focus needs to be on God?) But we need to remember that we are all sinners and apart from God’s grace are destined for an eternity in hell, separated from God. We need to remember that we have no hope apart from God’s work, which will be demonstrated in the next point. So to demonstrate our sin, we will sing something like “Lamb of God,” or this past week we read question number 16 from the New City Catechism: “What is sin? Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.” This is also a great time to read a public confession of sin, or create a time of silence for people to confess their sins privately to God.

3. Christ

Then we see that we are not left without hope, because Christ has defeated sin and death and has thus reconciled us to himself through his death on the cross. Some of my personal favorite songs to use to remind us of this message are “O Praise the Name,” “At the Cross (Love Ran Red),” and “Man of Sorrows.” These songs do an incredible job of pointing to our need for a Savior and remind us to respond to God in awe and worship – with our whole lives.

4. Response

Finally, we are called to respond. This can be done through singing, Scripture reading, the sermon, or the benediction. I am not a big fan of alter calls, because they tend to be emotional manipulation, but there needs to be times for people to respond to the gospel message, which can be as easy as inviting people to talk with you after the service. A couple that we’ve ended with recently are “His Mercy Is More,” and “The Stand.” These call us to respond to who God is and what he has done in and through us – even in the past hour we’ve spent together, gathering around His Word! We also include a benediction, which is a Scripture reading encouraging us to allow the sermon to influence our lives. The Bible has many benedictions throughout it that can be helpful conclusions to our time together, such as Hebrews 12:1-2, Hebrews 13:20-21, Jude 24-25, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

While these elements do not need to be a part of every service, and sometimes it’s more helpful to focus on just one part of the gospel to better allow it to permeate into our thinking, these should serve as the regular structure of our services to allow us to better steep in the goodness of God through the gospel message. It’s vital that we think through the elements of our services to allow our congregations to see the gospel throughout everything we do! As John Calvin said, “Without the gospel everything is useless and vain.”

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3 Ways to Fix Our Eyes on Christ

I had the privilege of spending last week in Louisville, Kentucky for the bi-annual Together for the Gospel conference. While the speakers and free books are great, it’s often even better to spend time with friends – old and new! One of my friends encouraged me to pick up writing at my blog again (thanks Kevin!) So here we go. I’m going to try to write a weekly blog on some things I’m think about in relation to worship – both gathered and scattered. One thing that stuck out to me was something one of the speakers said: Christians are leaky, like a sieve. We get the gospel poured into us, but it has a tendency to leak out very quickly. This is part of the reason it is so important for us to “not neglect meeting together.” (Hebrews 10:25) We gather to be reminded. But what are we reminding each other to do? One of those things that I pray every week before our services begin is that it reminds us to fix our eyes on Christ. (Hebrews 12:2) So here are 3 ways during our weekly worship that we can better fix our eyes on Christ:

  1. Read Scripture

One of the most impactful classes for me during my time in seminary was in the first class I ever had: Survey of Christian Doctrine. The professor stated that we as Evangelicals claim to be book-centered people. But if that’s true, why is Scripture not a greater part of our weekly worship? How many services have you been to where Scripture isn’t read until the preaching portion of the service? But not only does Scripture need to be read, but read WELL. The Bible is “living and active,” (Hebrews 4:12) and many people do a disservice to the reading of God’s Word by reading it in an un-engaging way.

One way I’ve tried to do a better job of implementing Scripture reading is by beginning all our services with Scripture – generally from a Psalm. This helps us to reorient our hearts and minds to what we’re about to do together: focus on Christ. By beginning our time with God’s Word we are reminded to ground everything we do in that Word, as Colossians 3:17 reminds us, “Let the word of Christdwell in you richly.”

  1. Get Our Eyes Off Ourselves

Another way we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Christ is by getting our eyes off ourselves. Obviously this is just the opposite of fixing our eyes on Christ (we can’t fix our eyes on 2 places, after all), but this is another area where we often need reminders. Philippians 2 encourages us to have the same mind among ourselves as Christ Jesus: humility. Every person on the planet is prone to naval gazing at the expense of gazing at Christ. So when we gather together to sing, read God’s Word, give our offerings, and encourage one another, we do so to help each other get our gaze off ourselves and onto Christ.

  1. Look Also to the Interests of Others

Finally, as Paul also reminds us Philippians 2, we need to remember to “count others move significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Each week when we gather, we’re coming with different life stories, expectations, proclivities to sin, and areas where we need encouragement. By fixing our eyes on Christ we can better serve each other and remember that our focus needs to be on those around us instead of ourselves. I love what Ephesians 5:19 says about our purpose for gathering: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” We are called to address one another on Sunday mornings. This helps us look to those around us who are in need of encouragement and support to faithfully live out God’s commands for another week. This then helps us to get our focus off ourselves and reorients our lives to better reflect the realities of our changed lives.