What Does It Mean To Live A Gospel Centered Life?
As believers we toss around phrases like “be worthy of the gospel” and “live a gospel centered life.” The question that follows, though, is what those clichés actually mean. They do us no good if we can’t break them down into biblical, practical, daily principles that guide our lives. I offer you ten brilliant—and simple—ways to live a gospel centered life.
1. Don’t suppress your doubts and questions. Have the courage to face them.
When we hear of religions or cults that force their followers to believe their scriptures blindly and never ask questions or doubt, we shake our heads. “How sad,” we comment. “They will never know the truth if they can’t question what they believe.”
Yet, how often do we as believers in the gospel breed the same attitude? If someone comes to a church leader with doubts about his faith, he will likely get a chance to talk for a few minutes before receiving the advice to “let go of doubts and choose to trust God.” Is this not the same counsel we so deride in other religions?
You may protest, “But we already know the real truth. We shouldn’t question it. The Bible tells us to have childlike faith” (Matthew 18:2-4). To that I respond that the Bible also tells us to advance our spiritual diets from milk to meat (Hebrews 5:12). In other words, if we never ask questions, we won’t dig deeper into the truth. If we don’t dig deeper, we’ll never grow.
It takes maturity and humility to admit that we probably aren’t right about everything. Instead of squelching your doubts, face them head on. Remember that you can find answers in the Word with the help of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and other believers.
Living a gospel centered life can be a traumatic process. However, in the end you’ll be grateful to have your doubts settled. You’ll also probably realize that some of your beliefs were a bit off. Doubts can be healthy as long as you know what to do with them. Hide them, and they’ll slowly eat away at your soul for the rest of your life.
2. Stop trying to fix everyone else, and let God work on you.
We live in a culture that’s focused on controlling other people’s beliefs, opinions, and actions. In the name of relativism, we grow angry at those who have the audacity to believe differently than we do (quick tip: that’s not relativism). Unfortunately, this attitude has seeped into the church.
Whether it’s a theological belief like the end times, or a lifestyle conviction like drinking alcohol, or even something as silly as what curriculum to use in Sunday School, believers fight a lot. Convinced of the validity of our beliefs, we grow annoyed when people can’t see how obvious it is that we’re right.
I suggest to you that Satan loves these quarrels. They keep us focused on all the wrong things. When you spend your time trying to fix others, you lose sight of yourself and your sin issues (Matthew 7:3-5). You also forget that the real enemy isn’t the church down the road from yours but the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world, in the pews, and in your heart.
Some of us get easily upset with people for not meeting our expectations (hmm, actually, I think we’re all like that). But if we are living a gospel centered life, we should be spending more time examining our own hearts. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you [look negatively on] your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.…So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10, 12).
3. In fact, stop trying so hard in general.
“But the fruits of your labor are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Wait, what? No, that’s not what the verse says, but that’s how we live, isn’t it? If I work a little harder, pray a little longer, serve a little better, and read my Bible a little more, maybe I’ll be a little better Christian.
How’s that working out for you?
Thank God these verses in Galatians begin not with our effort but with the Spirit of God. Yes, the result of the Spirit’s effort is a life of virtue that points to Jesus. Isn’t that what all believers want in the end?
Remember as you go about your day working hard (as you should) that your efforts are worthless without the Holy Spirit. “I am nothing without you, God, and I can do nothing worthwhile unless you change my heart to be more like Jesus today.” If you pray a simple admission like this with sincerity each day, it might just change your life!
4. Relinquish the illusion of control.
I say “illusion” with great purpose. Often, we remind ourselves to let God be in control instead of ourselves, but this really is foolish thinking. As if we could “let” God do anything!
No, God is always in control. We know this truth. If we think for a moment that we can take the reins out of His hands, we deceive ourselves. Here’s where the illusion sets in.
Perhaps, instead of telling ourselves to give God control of our lives, we ought to acknowledge that He already has it. Remembering His sovereignty keeps us from running around as stressed-out worriers, as if we’re the ones keeping the world going ‘round.
One of the most powerful and difficult ways to remind ourselves of God’s control is to stop working. Rest. Even for a moment…a day…a week! The ability to take a break screams to others, “My God is in control, so I can relax for a little while!” After all, we’re only human, and we must worship God with our rest just as we seek to worship Him in our work.
5. Understand that legalism is a form of worldliness in the gospel centered life.
Stay on the straight and narrow. Stray too far to the left, and you will grow worldly. Stray too far to the right, and you will grow legalistic (trying to earn God’s favor with good works).
Most of us have heard counsel like the above. The sad error in this spectrum mentality is the insinuation that legalism and worldliness are opposites. This is not the case. Legalism is simply worldliness wearing a religious coat.
In John Bunyan’s famous book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which serves as an allegory of the Christian life, we come upon an interesting scene. Christian, with a great burden on his back (sin), meets a man called Worldly Wiseman who strikes up a conversation. Worldly Wiseman urges Christian that the quickest way for relief is to climb over the nearby hill and visit a man named Legality (legalism).
On his way, however, the hill grows so difficult and dangerous that Christian has to stop for fear of dying under his now even heavier burden. He only finds relief when Evangelist points out the way to the cross (Galatians 2:21).
What I find most interesting in this scene is that it was worldly counsel that led Christian down the path to legalism. Yes, worldly thinking believes that we can somehow sponge away our sins and mistakes if we just work harder. This is why all false religions teach the necessity of good works for salvation. Let us not fall into the same trap and so degrade the beauty of the gospel.
6. Gain security for your soul through Jesus and not a perfectly organized life.
We have looked at several negative points, but here we turn the corner into the beauty ahead for you, dear believer.
One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that if we could just get everything organized, we would have peace of mind. We work ourselves to the bone trying to keep the house clean, update our schedules, stay on budget, and never make a mistake. The result? Fatigue, frustration, and emptiness.
We live in a broken world. It’s impossible to stay on top of everything. While seeking organization is a good thing, trying to find security in it won’t end well. It sounds simple, but remind yourself that lasting peace of mind, soul, and heart come through a relationship with Jesus, and He has already made you perfect in your standing before God (Colossians 1:22).
7. Cultivate relationships before rules and activity.
Are you sensing a pattern yet? So much of the gospel-centered life comes back to our priorities. Picture a house’s foundation. On what values and beliefs are you building your life?
I know that my foundation is often to do the next right thing, which usually looks like some flustered ministry activity or work project. While these pursuits are important, they cannot serve as your soul’s foundation.
Remember the two greatest commands according to Jesus? Love God, and love others (Matthew 22:36-40). In one word, Jesus says that our entire lives should be about relationships.
Yikes. I’ve got to admit this is a hard one for me as someone who usually finds my identity and value in how much I get accomplished in a day. We must remind ourselves of what will last forever—God and human souls. Boil it all down, and our life goals should point to these two relationships.
8. A gospel centered life embraces the pain of brokenness.
This one’s simple, but it isn’t easy. We all know the feeling of a broken heart. Many of us have experienced broken spirits as well. Unfortunately, these consequences come from humanity’s fall into sin.
When you get a splinter in your finger, your first reaction is to jerk your hand away from whatever gave you the pain. Your second reaction is to nurse the wound. What would happen, though, if you never took the splinter out? What if you just went through the rest of your life avoiding anything that might touch the splinter and cause you further pain?
When we experience the disappointments of this life, we naturally jerk back. We nurse the pains of our souls. It’s easy to let them fester, because dealing with them is initially painful. Unfortunately, our inner wounds grow infected if we don’t deal with them.
The answer to feeling broken is to bow and worship as Job did. This worship may (and should) include sobs of grief, confused questioning, and sifting through anger. But as we embrace the humility that pain brings, we open ourselves up to God’s loving and peaceful embrace (1 Peter 5:5-8).
9. Focus on the joy of God.
Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” This was God’s heart toward His people in the Old Testament, and His heart does not change.
We may struggle to view God as joyful because we imagine Him looking at us sternly. We know we don’t measure up, and we assume that He is disappointed with us. Believer, understand that God has embraced you in Jesus as His friend and adopted you as His child. He filled the Bible with reminders of His joy and delight in you so that you would never forget.
“He rescued me, because He delighted in me” (Psalm 18:19).
10. Find beauty in your everyday experiences.
In psychology, negativity bias is the tendency for humans to focus more on the negative aspects of their lives than on the positive. We become so overwhelmed with our daily trials that we miss the daily blessings. When was the last time you reveled in the colors, tastes, and textures of your food without doing anything else? Have you recently stopped and literally smelled the roses?
Notice the beauty of sharing a laugh with a coworker, smelling fresh rain, and feeling your heart that, regardless of your outer circumstances, keeps right on beating 70 times per minute. It’s easy to miss these blessings from God—little shots in the arm to keep us going—because in our digital age we’ve lost the art of sitting and enjoying the moment. It’s a great habit to cultivate. Try it and see if you don’t feel more content.
Walking the Gospel Centered Life
This list was by no means exhaustive. As you progress in your spiritual walk, you will find many more principles to guide you in living a gospel-centered life. But, no matter what, it all comes back to the gospel, and the gospel points to the most important Person in the universe, Jesus Christ. As you yield to His Spirit in you, He will give you a peace that you can’t ever comprehend.
Looking to live a gospel centered life, you should learn what the Gospel is!