In the debates over the nature of the gospel and life transformation, it seems that there is a missing third option. There is a Car C that actually has a motor, but nobody seems to be mentioning it. There is a Married Approach C that actually has an ongoing dynamic power, but it seems absent.
Let me ask the question in reference to your preaching of the gospel:
Where is the union?
Do you preach a pressure message that constantly urges people to do the work of growth? Do you preach a momentum message that simply looks back to the wonder of their identity change at conversion – a message proclaiming what God has done in Christ that does stir gratitude and does stir life change and doesn’t promote sinfulness, but, maybe, does still lack something?
If the gospel doesn’t transform a life, do you balance grace with effort? Do you preach grace more boldly? Or do you make sure your preaching of the gospel of grace goes beyond gratitude to the dynamic relational and spiritual union of being one with Christ?
The gospel is not that God forgives guilt and then expects us to stir ourselves to obey with newfound ability to behave well. He does forgive guilt, but it goes further than that. Does God simply expect our gratitude to be the engine of transformation over the course of many years and many challenges? Surely that momentum alone will not take us up the hills and mountains that sometimes stand before us in this life.
The gospel is wonderful news. Not only are our sins forgiven so that we can be justified before God, we are also reconciled and made one with Christ by the Spirit (*are we allowed to mention the role of the Spirit in sanctification?) We are united to Christ so that we don’t need to look at a list of expected marital behaviours, and while we certainly do remember and celebrate what he did to win our hearts and pay the price for us, we don’t live purely by remembrance . . . we live in a present relational union with him, we look to him, and we travel with him through all the challenges of life, growing closer and growing to be like him as we keep our eyes on him.
Too much of the sanctification debate seems to be about looking to self versus looking back to conversion. Given the choice between the two I know which way I’d lean, but I know the critiques ring true if that is all we have.
God’s grace does truly transform. God’s grace truly is enough. But God’s grace is not just gratitude for a status change. God’s grace is about the Spirit of the Father and the Son, purchased for us by the Son, so that we can be truly united with him and join him in his present, dynamic, delighted relationship with his/our Father. We don’t just have the status of being married. We are married to someone so wonderful that if you want to encourage me in my Christian life, then don’t bother pressuring me to perform, just do your best to preach Christ to me and you’ll probably be amazed by the “performance” that results, but I won’t even be aware of that, because my eyes will be on him.