I remember when I first heard the phrase “preach the gospel to yourself.” You may have heard Todd mention this same phrase in his message on Sunday. When I heard it years ago, I didn’t fully understand it, nor did I put it into practice. However, when Todd spoke about it on Sunday morning, it hit home in a different kind of way, because I now preach the gospel to myself on a regular basis – and yes, sometimes out loud and forcefully when my heart is particularly needy.
No one in your life speaks to you more than you speak to yourself. Your mind is almost always at work. Thoughts can wreak havoc with your emotions, and your emotions are not idle – they always lead to decisions, moods, motivations, words, actions. Rob used to say, “Never leave a mood unchallenged.” It was his version of saying, “Preach the gospel to yourself.”
Jerry Bridges, a conference teacher and prolific author (now in heaven), taught that one of the most important ways to preach the gospel to ourselves is to acknowledge that though we are forgiven in Christ, we are still practicing sinners. He daily began each morning by praying the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18:13 – “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Bridges recognized his need for humility and grace as he faced a day that would be filled with challenging demands and responsibilities.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the story of the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus is eating in the home of Simon, a Pharisee, when the sinful woman enters to anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume. In her humility and contrition, she wets his feet with her tears and wipes them away with her hair. The Pharisee is indignant. However, Jesus forgives the woman and explains this powerful truth: those who have been forgiven much, love much. But those who have been forgiven little, love little.
The gospel teaches that all of us have “sinned much.” We are born sinners, and our lives confirm that fact from the earliest age. So, Jesus is not saying that some sinners are guiltier than others. He is emphasizing the reality that some people understand the depth and seriousness of their sin (the sinful woman), while others believe that their sin is relatively minor or deny it altogether (the Pharisee). Jesus then explains that love flows from the humble, contrite, and repentant heart of the sinful woman, while love is absent in the heart of the proud, judgmental, and self-righteous Pharisee.
This gospel truth changed my life (after I had been a Christian for many years). It opened my eyes to the reason for my failure to love as I should. It explained why I could so easily build a case against others when I “felt” wronged, disappointed, or angry. It pierced my heart with the truth that those who owe so much to mercy (all of us) should themselves show mercy to others.
The temptation to judge, critique, and “vent” is a daily part of our contemporary life. We live in a social media culture that breeds self-focus, judgment, and hostility. Finding fault and venting outrage has become our national reflex. We breathe it in on a daily basis. We hear it, we see it, we read it, and we are sucked into it. But God calls us to live differently. We are part of the body of Christ, and we are to learn the lessons of love in this body. Aaron recently reminded us of this when he asked this question: “What is it that God uses to build us up in Him?” His answer was “…living in gospel community.”
We need each other if we are going to learn to live lives that are authentic and humble. We can fake it when we live in isolation, and we can fake it on Facebook, but when we draw near to others, our lives are on display. This kind of vulnerability can be frightening and messy. Love is tested when our lives bump up against each other. And when our culture teaches us to put ourselves first, to demand our own way, and to build a case to prove our point, the lessons of love can be buried in the rubble of strife and judgment.
God’s tender mercy, unfailing love, and amazing grace are such necessary gifts for us. We can’t extend mercy if we haven’t recognized our own need for mercy; we can’t truly love if we haven’t humbly received the undeserved love that was poured out for us on the cross; we can’t respond in grace if we haven’t experienced the grace that empowers us to live in a way that is impossible in our own strength.
When we begin to be more grieved by our own sin than we are by the offenses (real or perceived) of others against us, then there is true hope in our midst for the kind of self-sacrificing love that is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – love that is patient, kind, and not arrogant or easily provoked. This kind of love is foreign to us apart from God’s transforming grace.
God uses difficult people and difficult circumstances to show us the dead end of self-sufficiency. When I am “squeezed” by a difficult relationship or a challenging trial, I naturally respond in fear, anger, impatience, self-pity, annoyance, judgment, self-righteousness, or a host of other self-serving attitudes. It is not a picture of the gospel.
Jon Bloom says, “Struggling doesn’t look or feel miraculous. It’s fatiguing, frustrating, and at times exasperating. Struggling can make us want to give up. But we must not give up on the church. Because it’s the messy things — those extraordinarily difficult and painful things that can drive us crazy — that provide the very opportunities for the humanly impossible love of Christ to be exercised, giving visibility to the existence of the invisible God.”
We need the gospel. Every. Single. Day. In our marriages. In our parenting. In traffic. In line at the grocery store when the cashier is slower than we’d like. When our preferences seem ignored or minimized. These difficult circumstances and difficult people are God’s grace to us. We need lots of practice learning to love. Jesus didn’t come just to save us. He came to remake us. Let’s preach this gospel to ourselves daily that we might become those who personally experience and offer to others the gospel-transforming, grace-enabling, miraculous love of God.
1 Peter 4:8
“Above ALL, keep fervent in your love for one another,
because love covers a multitude of sins.”