It was 2015 when I first came to encounter God. God saved me from a life of atheism, from a life of running from and rejection of Him and His love. Up until then, I had removed myself from all religion and intentionally avoided anything and everything that had to do with it. There were floating ideas here and there, and there were also people who really tried to reach out to me with the Gospel but my ears and heart were shut. It is of no surprise then, that my first desire upon finally being woken up to the reality of the existence of God was to study and learn and take in as much knowledge as I can about the God whom I have rejected for so long. I wanted to correct my misunderstanding of Him as soon as possible so I can know and love and enjoy the most desirable being in the universe, God Himself. The problem is, I didn’t know HOW to even begin!
Thankfully, in His loving kindness, God does not call us and leave us alone. Just as we are saved by the efforts of another person who loved us enough to tell us a truth outside of what we think we know, He also intended for us to grow through other people. In my case, my Christian walk began with a sprint when I found myself a part of a small group, who devoted themselves to the careful study, use, and application of the Bible, doing so in all awe and reverence, knowing that the words contained in it come from the very mouth of God (2 Tim 3:16). Just like spiritual milk, reading the Bible in its proper context helped me understand the Gospel in the way the original authors, and The Author, intended. I can only smile whenever I remember those times because my friends remind me of how my mom used to make me eat: she’d insist I eat all the food she prepared in my plate instead of allowing me to eat only the desserts that I wanted. Because they love me and care for me, they advocated for me to consume what would make me grow, not what will make me sick in the long run.
As I began to become more involved with the church, I would later see that the culture of respecting Scripture by not taking its texts out of context would prove to be invaluable to my spiritual growth. This deference to the authority of God’s words built the foundations of my faith on the solid rock of Jesus’ sound teachings. (Matt 7:24-27) We would encourage each other to read everything, and skip nothing. And (1) receiving all teachings from whatever the author of whichever of the 66 books we were reading gave us, and (2) testing how they cohere with what other authors and writings also taught, really helped me to grow in humility and helped me submit to God’s supreme wisdom. I became less resistant to God’s sovereignty in everything, including what I thought to be right or wrong, what was truly beneficial to me and what was unwise, even to the point of finally accepting who I truly am: a sinner through and through, saved only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It helped me understand the only message that is truly important in this short, fleeting life: the Gospel.
This Gospel that we believe, is the foundation and the summation of all that is Christianity. As the Holy Spirit, through our devotion to scripture, makes us grow in our understanding of the Gospel, it renews us, allows us to become more like the person who the whole of the Bible points to – Jesus, the God-man Savior and Lord. We begin to see things the way he did, to understand things the way He did, to respond the way He did, to live the way He did. We see ourselves for who we are, evil and depraved to the core and desperately unable to produce any good from within ourselves that is untainted by sin, and therefore we can never remove our guilt from the judgment of our Holy God. We understand that if it were not for the scandalous grace of God to give for us His only, beloved Son, to take upon Himself the burden of our guilt and shame, to set aside His rightful position of royalty and eminence to experience as we experience the effects of the curse of the fall (Gen 3:16-19), that there is nothing, no hope whatsoever, for any of us to be saved from His eternal wrath and condemnation. And the only reason why we are able to respond in faith is because God sovereignly took our hearts of stone and replaced them with a heart of flesh and put His spirit in us for His own glory (Ezekiel 36:22-32), so that we are able to say with the apostle Paul that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. “ (Gal 2:20) As we live out this faith that has been given to us, we are constantly being molded by the Holy Spirit of God into Christ-likeness in order to give glory to His name through the good works that he has prepared for us to do beforehand. (Eph 2:8-10).
Truly, having the right understanding of the Gospel in the church is crucial. It is the heart of our identity as Christians and affects everything we ever do. Knowing that God works in the heart-level stops us cold in any attempt to even fake anything in our Christian walk: our confession of faith, our guilt, our helplessness, our repentance, our desires, our motives, our prayers, our actions. What’s the point of fooling the church only to be told on judgement day by the person we claim to preach: “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”.? (Matthew 7:21-23) Therefore, we are to be earnest and confident to speak Gospel truth to everyone. To the unbelievers and false Christians, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation because it reveals to us God’s righteousness in redeeming sinners by faith unto Himself (Romans 1:16-17). We do not cower to inform them of the costs of following Christ because we love them enough to tell them of their most urgent need. And to true Christians, we know that the whole of Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17) This verse holds true both when Christians rebuke one another in love and when a Christian submits himself to be enriched and corrected through reading the word of God every day (Psalm 1:1-3).
Scripture is powerful. But the ruler of this world is also very crafty in how he attacks us. Satan uses both our weaknesses and strengths to his advantage. He uses our weaknesses to distract us, and tempt us to sin, and make us lose our joy in intimacy with God. And he uses our strengths to make us prideful and trust ourselves and how we’ve spiritually grown and so nullify the grace of God in us. We simply cannot do it alone. Just as we heard the Gospel from another, so also, we need one another to continue to grow and mature. As a church, we should be greatly concerned about each other’s walks because the way we love each other ultimately confirms whether we truly follow Jesus as His disciples (John 13:34-35). Only when we truly come to know God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures can we truly grow into a Church whose life and love make the Gospel visible for all to see.