Thursday, May 28, 2015

What is the Greatest Benefit of the Gospel?‏

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. 
(Psalm 27:4)

4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 
(2 Corinthians 4:4-6)

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:23)

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…
(1 Peter 3:18)

What is the greatest and most glorious benefit of the gospel?

Justification and forgiveness of sins? But why were we justified and forgiven?

Eternal life? But what IS eternal life? (see John 17: 1ff)

Receiving the Holy Spirit or being adopted into God’s family? But why did God do both of these?

Perhaps the defeat of Satan and death? But is the defeat of these an end in itself, or was this defeat designed to overcome an obstacle and attain a greater benefit?

What is the primary reason God humiliated Himself and took on human flesh?

And why did Christ die and rise again (primary reason)?

We live in narcissistic times where even the gospel has been tainted by self-interest. Let me state this clearly: The gospel’s greatest gift is…..God!  GOD is the gospel! The ultimate goal of the gospel is seeing and savoring—delighting and displaying—the beauty of the glory of Christ. The ultimate aim of the gospel is the display of God’s glory and the removal of every obstacle to our delighting and savoring Him as our highest treasure.

Everything that Jesus did to accomplish redemption for us, and everything He did to apply redemption (see John Murray’s Redemption: Accomplished and Applied) to us, was done to overcome obstacles that hindered us from fully glorifying and enjoying God. That does not minimize the importance of each step in our redemption. Instead, once we understand WHY the Trinity has done so much in accomplishing and applying our redemption, then each of those gospel diamond facets (e.g. justification, adoption, effectual calling. etc.) becomes all the more glorious and wonderful! At great cost to Himself, the Holy Trinity accomplished and applied redemption to us SO THAT we might glorify and enjoy Him forever. (see 1 Peter 3:18 above, etc)

But there has been a shift away from God as the all-satisfying gift of God’s love. The gospel has shifted from God’s love as the gift of HIMSELF to this love as the gift of a mirror in which we like what we see. I’m not denigrating the latter but surely it should not have primacy in our understanding of the gospel.

Romans 8:32 reminds us that 10,000 gifts flow from the love of God in Christ….blood bought gifts of the gospel. But the distortion of the gospel happens when we camp on these blessings given to us instead of focusing on the Giver of these gifts. Often the gospel is presented in such a way that we are center stage instead of God. Since self-esteem has saturated our culture it is difficult for us to see when we rejoice in the gifts more that the Giver of the gifts. But all 10,000 gifts of the gospel would not be good unless they lead to a deeper enjoyment of the glory of God. Indeed, focusing on the gifts is idolatry. Focusing on the facets of the gospel diamond without seeing the beauty of the diamond as a whole would be demeaning of the diamond.

Entire Sunday School curricula, preaching styles, deliverance ministries, and Christian counseling has fallen prey to making much of us to the expense of making much of God. Instead of being theo-centric, they are anthropo-centric….man centered instead of God centered.

For example, there are many psychological benefits that flow from the gospel. However, when we think upon these things do they lead like shafts of light back up to God and His moral perfections and unspeakable glory, or do we spend most of our time looking to see what we get out of the gospel?

Another example would be Christus Victor—Christ, through the cross and resurrection—defeating death and Satan. Since I am involved in circles that deal with demonic issues, it seems that sometimes we exult in our victory over unclean spirits more than we exult in the all glorious God. It can be a subtle shift where we do praise God for His victory over Satan, but lose sight of being God-besotted people, where we supremely delight and display the glory of Christ Himself….not just what He has done through/ for us. The bible says that God is jealous and we need to remember in exorcism/deliverance ministry that God is jealous that we not love spiritual power more than Himself. Like some of you, I have seen extraordinary displays of God’s power, but let these experiences steer our eyes heavenward and take supreme delight in God Himself. It is an ‘occupational hazard’ for those who cast out demons to become enthralled with the experience/gift more than delighting in God and displaying His glory. And I would suggest that a theo-centric view of the gospel might re-shape how some of us perform deliverances. Freeing people from demonic oppression/possession is not an end itself, but so that God is glorified in the removal of an obstacle of that person fully delighting in Christ and displaying His glory. The shift can be subtle and I know I have failed here at times.
 Again, it is so easy to focus on the gifts over and above the giver of the gifts. God’s good gifts are to move us to see more of God’s glory and to savor more of His infinitely beautiful moral perfection displayed in the gospel. Even thankfulness for the cross has become for many primarily an echo of OUR worth, and not God’s worth. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 EVERYTHING should be done for the glory of God.

Why does Satan hate the gospel? For numerous reasons, but he mainly hates the gospel because it is the supreme display (especially the cross and resurrection) of the glory of Jesus. The devil wants to make Christ look bad. In the astonishing text above from 2 Corinthians, states that, just as God spoke light into existence, so also he shines the light of the gospel into sinners hearts, so that they might see the glory of God in the face of Christ. Creation… Satan hates the gospel because the death and resurrection are where the glory of Christ is revealed most brightly. Thus he tries to blind people to the beauty of the God of the gospel and the gospel of God. True conversion is the spiritual awakening of our souls to the glory of God as the foundation of our ultimate joy and satisfaction. Jesus died for our sins, was punished for them, had His righteousness imputed to us, so that He might bring us to Himself.

Please do not think that I am minimizing the proper enjoyment of God’s gifts. Indeed, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.(J. Edwards, John Piper) Hence, we need not have to choose between our greatest joy and God’s greatest glory! They are one and the same!  Every pore of our being was made for finding our ultimate satisfaction only in the Lord Jesus, by seeing and savoring Him, increasingly and for all eternity.

For the least deserving, and at great cost to Himself, our sovereign Creator overcame all obstacles, to monergistically and graciously give us Himself. All the texts above reveal the psalmist, Paul, and Peter as longing for one thing only—to see the glory of Christ face-to face….to see God in all His beauty. Indeed, for Christians, death is a gift which opens the door for the beatific vision.

It would be unwise, even cruel, of me to stop here. Depending upon your temperament, a call to delight and display the glory of Christ moment by moment may cause discouragement. Why? To be candid, whenever I read of or write about Christ as my supreme treasure, I have two responses: part of me yearns and rejoices in this summons to display the glory of Christ, but I am also overwhelmed with how far short I fall. I have never loved God with all of my being for even one second….and may I humbly say that neither has anybody else. The world, indwelling sin, and demons conspire to take our gaze off of Christ and fixate on something else. I am of the opinion that indwelling sin is the chief culprit of spiritual drag because we carry it around everywhere we go, whereas demons come and go. And the world would have no drag on us if it were not for that seething cauldron of filth that remains in our heart, even after salvation. I/we are sometimes too quick to fault demons for our spiritual malaise. Jesus said that our own hearts are the originating point of all manner of ungodly thoughts, actions, and words.

Nevertheless, God would not desire/demand that He be our supreme delight if, by God’s grace, we were not able to experience some substantial reality of it. Let us pray, despite how we feel, that we might see and savor the glory of God in the face of Christ, and display Christ’s glory to a dark and lost world. Soli deo gloria

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.