The Danger of Gospel Osmosis

by Brad Andrews May 5, 2017

We find ourselves in an age of a great renaissance. The gospel of Jesus Christ has resurfaced as both a means of entrance into the kingdom of God and the key to our growth in the kingdom. Churches, small group ministries, sermons, and the like are finding an infusion of life, centered on the unchanging and active power of the gospel. But amidst the hopefulness of this resurgence, there remains an ever-present dilemma. It's the danger of gospel osmosis. It's the threat of being in the proximity of the gospel but not being truly in its grip.

It isn’t enough to just know about the gospel. It isn’t enough to just know the language of gospel-centeredness. It isn’t enough to read Tim Keller and Jerry Bridges and the Puritans. It’s not enough to just listen to Matt Chandler and John Piper and R.C. Sproul. It’s not enough to just go Together For The Gospel or The Gospel Coalition or the Desiring God conferences. It’s not even enough to go to a church that claims it’s centered on the gospel. While these are great things worthy of praise to God, they are only good to the extent that those things lead to lives transformed by the gospel.

The apostle Paul once had this same concern. Paul prayed this for his friends in Colossians 1:9-10:

...we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Paul's prayer for the church in Colossae was in response to a promotion of a form of knowledge by the false teachers of his time that were fruitless. In fact, Paul believed that this kind of false teaching led to the wrong behavior because it was disconnected from the gospel.

Paul's logic in his prayer for the Colossian church went like this. Knowledge of the gospel should lead to wisdom and understanding - or said another way, it should impact the way that you live. True knowledge in wisdom and understanding of the gospel bears fruit. Knowledge of the gospel is not enough. It must lead to wisdom - to practical living empowered by the gospel.

Ray Ortlund says it this way in the context of the church community:

Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope and honesty — even if they have gospel doctrine on paper...undercut their own doctrine at a functional level, where it should count in the lives of actual people. Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented and in denial are revealing a gospel deficit. The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good. But a further discovery of the gospel as culture — the gospel embodied in community — will be infinitely better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.[1]

The responsibility that we have as those who live in this resurgence of the gospel require these questions: What are we going to do with the gospel? Will we be good stewards of the gospel or will we squander it? Will our lives be marked by the life of Jesus - a life lived with a laser-focus on God's mission and not sidetracked by lesser things? Will our lives be marked by the death of Jesus - dying to ourselves for the sake of others and to our own self-salvation projects? Will our lives be marked by the resurrection of Jesus - believing the same power that raised Jesus from the dead that now lives in us to help us resist sin? To be marked by the gospel means that we are known by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our living - not just in our thinking.

In our time, there is a great temptation to be gospel-centered in name but not in deed. But to live out God’s will is to bear fruit through the gospel. It's not enough for us to have gospel-centered doctrine on our websites and position papers and taught in it membership classes, it must be demonstrated. We mustn't window-shop the gospel - we must enter and partake of its goods. It's time to resist merely being puffed up with gospel awareness and instead, enter into the land of fruit bearing. We must desperately ask the Lord that he grace our church with not only gospel knowledge but with a gospel yield. With the Lord’s help and our humility, may we know the gospel deeply but also live out the gospel fully in our lives. Our lives and our churches depend on it.

Notes

  1. ^ Ray Ortlund, "Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Culture," https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/rayortlund/2015/09/17/gospel-doctrine-gospel-culture-2/, accessed April 25, 2017.