What’s the greatest thing about the gospel? At first, this may seem like an esoteric question, an undeserved delineation or distinction that’s nothing more than debate-fodder for those who have nothing better to do with their time or academic sophistications. Be that as it may, while the whole of the gospel is the greatest good for mankind, I contend there’s one thing that’s greater than all the others; that, perhaps, there’s one ray of truth that shines ever so slightly brighter in the sun of God’s unmerited favor; that in this pronouncement of good news, there’s one beam of grace whose effulgence and magnificence reflects more fully the complexity and immensity of the Heavenly Father’s disposition towards his children . . . and it’s the truth that’s at the core of the gospel itself.
When you get saved and you acknowledge God’s free gift of redemption, a myriad of events take place inside you all at once. For instance, you’re forgiven and washed clean of all your sin. (Eph. 1:7; Rev. 1:5) Your death sentence is exchanged for eternal life. (Rom. 6:23) You’re given a new heart. (Ezek. 36:26) You’re made into a new person. (2 Cor. 5:17) You get a new Father and a new family. (Rom. 8:15; Matt. 12:50) You’re given a new name. (Isa. 62:2) You obtain an inheritance. (Col. 1:12) You’re given everything you need to live the way you ought. (2 Pet. 1:3) The Holy Spirit comes to live inside you. (Luke 11:13; Eph. 1:13-14) You’re declared righteous before a holy Judge. (Rom. 3:24)
And it’s this last truth that becomes the fulcrum of grace, the hub of the gospel message — the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on us. More specifically, I should say double imputation, for it is here that Jesus completes the wondrous transaction whereby he imputes his righteousness on us while taking on himself our un-righteousness. This glorious exchange of his perfection for our filth, of his holiness for our sinfulness, is the the wonder of wonders.
The End of Shame
How can it be that the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe cares thus for his creation, enough to live amongst them, and, what’s more, die for them? How can it be that the Heavenly Father would do so much for us for we who’ve done so little for him? How can it be that such a God defined by perfection and righteousness and holiness could exchange all of that for our rampant iniquity and obscenity and filth?
But that’s exactly what God does: he showers us with his love and drenches us in his glorious gospel of grace, all while fully knowing us! This is the core of the good news, that while we were still sinners, God demonstrates, over and over again, his limitless mercy and, more than that, he shows his resplendent love for us in sending his only begotten Son to die for us. (John 3:16; cf. Rom. 5:6-11) The greatest thing about the gospel of Christ is that in spite of God seeing everything we do, knowing everything we think, and hearing everything we say, he still went to the cross for us and he still doles out free, unbridled, one-way love to us!
This wonderful exchange, Jesus’s glorious substitution and vicarious atonement on the cross of Calvary, is the fearless announcement of the end of all shame. No longer do we need fear coming before the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16); rather, it’s the declaration that all are free to come, boldly, to Christ as they are! The concept of shame entails something about you being disclosed or known that you didn’t want known. It causes disgrace and embarrassment and guilt. But the gospel is the end of shame, the eradication of guilt!
Matt Chandler speaks to this idea very well:
“Nothing drives shame away from the heart more than being fully known yet still delighted in. Shame vanishes when you’re known and delighted in . . . [and] you’re delighted in and being known by a forgiving God who has forgiven your guilt and whose love has driven out your shame.”
That’s the gospel — being fully known and yet fully delighted in by God. It’s the freedom from condemnation (Rom. 8:1), the rest for our weary souls, and the release from our heavy burdens. (Matt. 11:28-30) It’s sweet, emboldening liberation, enough for us to declare: “In [myself], nothing; in God, everything!” (Tozer, 88) The gospel is the deliverance from the labors of self-love and artificiality. It’s freedom from all sense of pride and pretense. We no longer have to keep up the charade of righteousness and don the facade of piety and pretend we’re something that we’re not.
That’s what the Pharisees were doing, and were lording over others — they donned masks of religiosity, all for the praise and exaltation and attention of men. But over and over again, throughout his time on earth, Jesus sternly rebuked them for their hypocrisy and fakeness. (Matt. 23:1-36)
“The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception.” (Manning, 25)
Found Out, Fully Loved
The gospel is the good news that, while the battle rages on, the war is, indeed, over. Jesus was and is victorious and that we’ve been invited to share in that victory, if we but only recognize the hand of grace being proffered to us. The gospel means we’ve been found out, and there’s no clemency greater than being fully known and yet fully delighted in. There’s no greater freedom than being laid bare and yet being rejoiced over. There’s no truer liberty than being uncovered, unveiled, unmasked, and, yes, exposed, and yet, despite all that’s seen, being celebrated and adored by a divine love and a Father who revels in championing his transformative and redemptive grace.
“The gospel declares that there is nothing that could ever be uncovered about you and me that hasn’t already been covered by the grace of Jesus.” (Tripp, 99)
Indeed, “there’s no freer place to be in life than going on with Christ, the one who is himself our true liberty.” (Tchividjian, 191) I pray that we would come boldly before God as we are, and cast off our self-righteous masks, knowing that his throne of grace is illimitable and inexhaustible. (Heb. 4:13-16)
I pray that we would kneel before the cross, not as religious thespians, but as penitent fugitives who’ve ceased their running.
The gospel is freedom and liberty. (Luke 4:18-19) The gospel is solace and rest, and “the rest [it] offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.” (Tozer, 90) That’s my prayer for you, dear reader, and, indeed, for my own soul: that we’d be cognizant of God’s prevenient grace and receive his gift of redemption with open arms and empty hands. (Eph. 2:8) For, our God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4 ESV) and takes pleasure in evincing “the immeasurable riches of his grace.” (Eph. 2:7 ESV)
To be sure, the good news of “No Condemnation,” despite and in spite of us, is the “perfect storm” of God’s love, where we’re made to abound in deep waters of great grace.
“The grace of God and the delight of God and the justification of God in Jesus Christ anchor our hearts in a place where guilt and shame don’t lead us to fear and anxiety, don’t lead us to anger and abuse, don’t lead us to lustful intent, but rather, has an ever-increasing joy in our Father who delights in us despite us, so that when we fall short, it will actually serve to stoke the fire of delight in God . . . then we get in a perfect storm where grace feeds passion that feeds grace that feeds passion that feeds grace that feeds passion, and that’s where we’ll be stuck, and those are good waters to be stuck in.”
Notes & References:
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Whitakers, NC: Positive Action For Christ, 2007).
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2000).
Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).
Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).