Feb 11, 2014

Emphasizing the gospel or good works?

One of my current reads was a Christmas gift from my husband, written by Elyse Fitzpatrick. (I've mentioned her before here.)

This is the third book I've read by Elyse and I have to say once again I am thankful for her focus (no matter the topic) on the gospel as the main thing, or more specifically, all that Christ has accomplished for us and what this means in our daily lives. More on the book another time, but this one thought has been on my mind and I thought I would briefly lay it out here and invite your comments.

For some reason I find this a difficult concept to articulate - the doubtful counter-response I've sometimes heard sounds like "but aren't we supposed to be doing good works and being better people as Christians? Shouldn't we focus less on theology and more on doing?"

Of course, obedience and good works should be the result of a life changed by Christ, and yes, we should strive for them (with right motives), but I don't think this should be our main focus, and much of what I've read over the last several years (in both Scripture and other writing and preaching) has helped me think through this issue and believe this more firmly: the main point in all of Scripture (and therefore, what should be the main focus in our lives and growth as Christians) is who God is and what He has done for us through Christ.

Time and again in my own life I've learned that simply hearing a long list of do's and don'ts and inspirational messages on making a difference and changing the world and becoming a better person don't truly inspire real growth or a changed heart because the focus is on human effort. It can seriously be discouraging because we know our own hearts and our record of failing over and over and the thought of just trying harder can be exhausting. (Or perhaps another response could be pride as we try to amass for ourselves a list of good deeds and accomplishments, looking down on those we think don't measure up to where we are.)

In contrast, it's when I've taken time to dig into Scripture to discover the amazing truths of the gospel and the character of God, when I've heard Christ preached and shown as infinitely beautiful and worthy and all-satisfying - it's through these things that the love of God burns in my heart and I'm drawn to true worship and am motivated by all that I've seen and tasted to live for Him.

My deepest need is not to do more and be more - it's to see Christ more clearly and know Him more intimately, living in the joy this brings and trusting Him to instruct and convict and change me on the deepest level.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts - do you see a greater need in both the church in general and our daily lives as Christians for the truths of the gospel and what Christ has accomplished to be emphasized more, or do we need a greater focus on the implications of that lived out through obedience and good works?


  1. Whew. Well, I'm a missionary, and at some point I stopped writing the reports, which got me into trouble, but that's another story. I guess I just got tired of trying to make everything I was doing each day sound like SOMETHING. A meeting with friends was "accountability" or "fellowship" or "spiritual counseling." Also, as a mother, I dropped out of church activities. And now those activities seem meaningless. I don't want to be on some committee, or plan an "event." I just want to live my life as His. I think partly I am struggling with some negativity toward people who are in a different season of life. But I know what you're talking about and I believe that if we seek first His kingdom, we will know what we are meant to do in this moment. I'm not sure if I can even answer your last question eloquently, I just think that we all need more of Him constantly, and I know that I fall short.

  2. Thanks Elizabeth, it seems to be these topics that people are less likely to open up and comment on and then I wonder if I'm just off the mark...so I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. In relation to your experience, I identify in some ways. There are definitely seasons to do more but sometimes the best thing to do is just step back and focus on drawing nearer to the Lord Himself :) And I really respect your desire to be authentic and not exaggerate life on those reports!

  3. Okay...well my tired and pregnant self has read through this and I think that...as you put it..."this is a difficult concept to articulate"...both in your thoughts and in response. But I shall try.... and so going with the question in your last paragraph...I think my response is this - they go hand in hand. I think you covered it when you said,
    "it's when I've taken time to dig into Scripture to discover the amazing truths of the gospel and the character of God, when I've heard Christ preached and shown as infinitely beautiful and worthy and all-satisfying - it's through these things that the love of God burns in my heart and I'm drawn to true worship and am motivated by all that I've seen and tasted to live for Him."

    It's in the desired to server and live for Him that we grow to be like Him and thus live out lives that reflect His goodness, His glory, His love! So that obedience and good works would be evident in how we live- though I guess people can confuse to what extent those may look like...amen!?! I know people think that obedience and good works are often most evident in a check list fashion when (and you might have covered this...) it is most evident in our heart!! That our good works and obedience may only come out by changes in heart attitude, thought patterns and desires to serve and may not be seen by others at all times! That our simple obedience in daily living can be wonderful Godly examples of good works. And yes...obviously there are 'bigger' works that make Christ in our life evident - it's just not the be all end all - another amen?? ;)

    The knowing more and more of who God and Christ are must ultimately play out in how we live...at least I come to think so....

    sooo...to answer your question...because that was suppose to be the point of this long ramble is that - generally and thus in the Church...I think you cannot merely empathize one over the other...that one is a reflection of the other....!

    But take it for what it all is...my little ol' opinion! Way to make this tired brain of mine have to work so hard! :P lol!!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Kaitlin! Yes, good point about good works not always being those obvious, outward things that might first come to mind - God does care most about our heart and attitude.

  4. Yes, Kaitlin put it well and reminded me of what I was going to add. I have heard it said that you should not be AWARE that you are doing good deeds. As our hearts conform, we just start to do them naturally. The good works are certainly a testimony to our faith, but they are for OTHERS to notice. I think the reason I feel conflicted sometimes about "ministry" is that there may be a flow of the Holy Spirit calling me to just call up that lonely friend and invite her for dinner, but instead I'm thinking about that outreach program I have to be involved with. Which isn't to say there could be two perfectly wonderful options to choose from. Anyway, I would definitely go with more of Christ and less of us!

  5. Hey!
    So I had been facebooking one night and came across your blog.... sorry I had forgotten that you had a blog. I did get caught up on things that you have written and the beautiful pictures that you have taken and of course your sweet boy! Anyways this post caught my eye for two reasons, #1 This is a subject that I struggle with and find myself defining God's love for me in the "good things" that I do. Now I know that to not be true and God is patient and loving in teaching me... but I'm a slow learner.
    #2 questions like these need to be discussed!

    So you were looking for people's thoughts and so these are mine.... however they are MY thoughts and totally open for discussion. I have to say that my stance lines up with what Kaitlin had to say. That the two can and should not be seperate. I feel like when I meet with God to know Him better, I have a better sence of His dwelling inside of my heart and then a feeling of wanting to do for Him what He has asked me to do happens. I cycle if you will.
    However, that being said I also see that there are seasons in everyone's life. Some season I believe God works THROUGH you, or God working IN you, or God working ON you. The three circumstances happen in God's timing and teaching.
    I also believe that I forget that God is in ALL of it. Even the small stuff, that's what makes Him a personal God, someone who loves us infinitely, someone who cares for us even in the things that other don't see. Works in my opinion are any task that the Lord has assigned me as an individual. That range is between the Almighty and the person He asks. He wouldn't ask of you what He would ask of me because He has equipped you for what you will do and me for what I will do. And in order that we may know what His will is we need to meet with Him, get to KNOW Him.
    The way that God will speak HIS gospel through us will be how He wants it to be spoken to that certain person that we are in contact with as well, because He knows them. It could be that God would have us preach the word to that person or ...do something that SHOWS the gospel. God knows what He has for us and we need to get together as a body of believers to fill eachother up to be able to be kept accountable and be able to turn around and share what we have learnt and to feel the love that God has for us through our sisters and brothers in Christ.
    So I guess those are my thoughts.... I have a love for God that is infinitly smaller than the love that He has for me. There is a longing in my heart for Him, His word and I await what He would have me do with and for Him.... because He has blessed me I want that blessing for others. I want to be a hearer and a doer of His word. I want God to feed His gospel to others through me, because I love Him.
    I like how Elizabeth put it.... Less of us and MORE OF CHRIST!!!! AMEN!!!!

    1. Hey Stacey, thanks so much for your thoughts, I really appreciate you sharing! I think the tendency to define God's love for us by what we do is a common struggle...thus the need to constantly be remembering the gospel and that we are perfectly loved and righteous before our heavenly Father because of Christ, not because of anything we've done! I'm a slow learner too :)

    2. Also, it is encouraging to see your sincere love for God and desire to serve Him!