I continued in my reading of Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace this morning. I am only a few chapters into the book and have already learned a great deal from it. Though it was written in 1994, it seems that I missed its first publishing and am glad to have discovered it after the second. The book flows logically from the groundwork laid in Bridge’s classic The Pursuit of Holiness. In this book he attempts to differentiate and reconcile God’s role and our role in the pursuit of holiness.
The third chapter of The Discipline of Grace is an exhortation to Christians to preach the gospel to themselves. Bridges draws upon a survey R.C. Sproul has often mentioned which asked people attending a large Christian convention to define the gospel. Tragically, of the many questioned, only one was able to provide a definition that could be considered accurate. While we cannot conclude that the people who were unable to give an adequate answer were not Christians, it does show that many believers have been poorly taught and have only a minimal knowledge of the gospel. “These observations constitute a serious indictment of our evangelical discipling process. The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.” Bridges believes, as do I, that churches are guilty of too often giving unbelievers just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ as Savior. At that point we put the gospel aside and focus instead on the duties of discipleship such as personal holiness, Christian service and spiritual disciplines.
But the gospel is not just about a moment of salvation. The gospel is a message that saves, but also a message that sustains. It is a message we all need to hear all the time. Bridges spends the rest of the third chapter examining and defining the gospel and encouraging believers to preach this gospel to themselves on a daily basis. He applies the gospel to daily life, showing how it needs to be central to the Christian walk.
As I read this chapter I was suddenly struck by how little the recounting of the gospel story was affecting me. I was ashamed that reading of such good news could leave me so unaffected. I read of the absolute best news a man could ever hear: “The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed or credited to us forever. From the day we trust in Christ as our Savior, on throughout eternity, we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” I read about redemption: “Justice has been satisfied: the penalty has been fully paid by the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, to justify is to declare that the claims of justice have been fully met.” I read about the turning away of God’s wrath. “The Lord Jesus Christ by His sacrifice on the cross appeased and turned aside God’s just and holy wrath, the wrath we should have borne.” It isn’t that I was bored or uninterested – just unmoved. And after reading a few pages more I realized that I had to stop and repent. How is it that I could read of what Christ has done for me and not be filled with praise and thanksgiving? As I stopped to think about this I began to think about heaven and how incredible it will be to sit constantly in God’s presence and to always be filled with awe and praise. The cherubim are always before God’s throne and are always crying out about His holiness. They never grow tired of this, nor could they, for they dwell in the fullness of His presence. And, I trust, this is the way it will be when I stand before God. Never more will the gospel leave me unaffected. Never again will I hear or read or learn of what God has done with ambivalence.
But that may be a long time off. For now, I will have to continue to strive after holiness, to preach that gospel message to myself, and to repent when even news so joyous leaves me unmoved.