I wasn’t able to discuss last week’s chapter due to family activities with loved ones from out of town, but its title was “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.” Tim summed it up nicely here, but I’ll just say, if anyone has any shred of hope in their own goodness, this chapter will trounce that idea. We think we’re ok, like the Pharisee, because we don’t do any of the “really bad,” obvious sins like murder, adultery, etc., but we overlook our “refined” sins like pride, envy, and the like. But sin is sin. And even the good we do is shot through with wrong motives and lack of faith.
It could actually be a depressing chapter, even for one who has known those truths for years. But it is necessary to remind ourselves of those things in order to see the need for God’s grace, not just for salvation, but for daily living that pleases Him.
The title of the current chapter is “Preach the Gospel to Yourself.” My former music pastor once said that the gospel is not just the first step of the Christian life, but it is the hub of the wheel that everything else in the Christian life connects to and emanates from. Bridges says “The gospel is for believers also, and we must pursue holiness, or any other aspect of discipleship, in the atmosphere of the gospel” (p. 46).
Bridges then thoroughly discuss Romans 3:19-26, bringing out the gospel truths that “no one is declared righteous before God by observing the law,” “there is a righteousness from God that is apart from the law,” “the righteousness of God is received through faith in Jesus Christ,” “this righteousness is available to everyone on the same basis because we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” “all who put their faith in Jesus Christ are justified freely by God’s grace,” “this justification is ‘through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,’” and “God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.” Those phrases are all sections of the chapter that he then discusses in more detail.
One important distinction he makes is that between “justification and mere pardon. A pardon is excusing an offense without exacting a penalty, “such as when a president or governor pardons someone even though they are guilty. “In God’s plan of justification, however, justice is not violated by a gratuitous pardon of the convicted sinner. Rather, justice has been satisfied; the penalty has been fully paid by the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 56).
“It is not our contrition or sorrow for our sin, it is not our repentance, it is not even the passing of a certain number of hours during which we feel we are on some kind of probation that cleanses
us. It is the blood of Christ, shed once for all on Calvary . . . that cleanses our consciences and gives us a renewed sense of peace with God” (p. 58).
“To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means you appropriate again, by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you” (p. 59). Just as in salvation we depended on Jesus’s goodness and righteousness rather than our own, so we do every day of our Christian lives as well, rejoicing that our sins are forgiven and we face no condemnation since we are in Christ.
This does not mean we do not pursue holiness. Much of the latter part of the book discusses holiness. It’s not that once we’re forgiven, we sit back, relax, and live however we want til we get to heaven. Rather, out of love for God and gratitude to Him, we should be even more motivated to pursue holiness. But we need to remember “when you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness” (p. 60).
On a side note, I have to admit, before reading this chapter, the phrase “preach the gospel to yourself every day” grated on me a bit. Not that I didn’t believe its truths, even before reading here, but we have such a tendency to operate by catch-phrases: I kept seeing and hearing this brought up in the face of any problem or situation. Yes, if someone has financial or marital or other problems, we do apply the truth of the gospel to it and operate on the basis of the forgiveness wrought for us in Christ. But as Wendy Alsup often says, the gospel affects everything, but the gospel isn’t everything. We apply the gospel and operate from its base, but we go on to learn the whole counsel of God and apply it to our lives as well.
This chapter is very beneficial. I would even venture to say it is the key chapter of the book. More discussion of it is here.