How does God use the Gospel to Renew Us? Part 1
We have looked at gospel renewal as something every Christian needs. We find ourselves in the desert, feeling alone, seeking God as in a dry and weary land (Psalm 63). We need the Holy Spirit to lead us to the rivers of living water. He makes the gospel, which seemed bland and boring, taste sweet again.
Here is a 19th century pastor, Daniel Steele (not to be confused with the romance novelist) describing a season of gospel renewal:
“Almost every week, and sometimes every day, the pressure of his great love comes down upon my heart … with the light of his radiant presence. […] The spot before untouched has been reached, and all its flintiness has melted in the presence of that universal solvent, ‘Love divine, all love excelling.’ ”1
Our flintiness is something everyone around us is familiar with. It’s a condition of the heart. We are stubborn. We can be hard to live with. But when spiritual renewal comes, our flintiness is melted in the fiery presence of the loving God. We see Jesus, the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us on the cross, so that we can have the full love of our Heavenly Father (John 17:24). The Holy Spirit pours that love into our hearts (Romans 5:5) making the gospel real to us.
I recently heard the testimony of Jordan Peterson’s wife coming to faith in Jesus. Her daughter and husband both saw God soften her flinty heart. She became more patient and less irritable while going through cancer treatments!
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, there is pain that comes with renewal. I have to admit the many ways I’ve been a stubborn pain in the neck. I have offended God and harmed those I love. That pain feels like “peeling the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy - oh, but it is such fun seeing it peel away.” (C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader) But because that peeling is done by our gracious Savior, we find ourselves rejoicing again. We rejoice with a joy inexpressible because we know that our Heavenly Father really does light up His face when He sees me in Christ. (Numbers 6:24-26) And Christ loved me and gave Himself up for me. And the Spirit was sent to make this gospel known to me. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
When was the last time God's love softened your flinty heart? Is that something you long for? How do we get that?! Here’s the start of an answer. I’ll continue the answer next week.
Come back to the image of being in a desert. You are thirsty in a parched land. (Psalm 143:6) Where do you go to quench your thirst? You go to where the water is.
Now, imagine the foolishness of a man dying of thirst in the desert. This thirsty fool demands God provide water, “Right now, or he must not love me!” He stubbornly refuses to go to the nearby streams God has provided. And he continues to say, “God clearly doesn’t love me or see my misery because I am parched, longing for refreshment for my thirst. We would respond, “That is insane! Get up and go where you know the water is!”
Welcome to the argument for sitting under regular gospel soaked preaching…in church…with other Christians. We call this the ordinary means of grace. The rivers of living water that God has ordained for us to drink are found where Jesus is. And Jesus is in His church (Revelation 1:12-20). At church, God’s words to us revive and restore (Psalm 19:7). In church, we sit together at the Lord’s table. The grace preached is sealed to our hearts. We get to taste Christ’s broken body and drink of the blood of the eternal covenant. God’s sworn by Himself to love us forever. We get a taste of that…at church!
So if you are longing for spiritual renewal commit yourself to regular church attendance. Sure it can feel rote and ‘ordinary. But if you come parched, God promises to quench our thirst, through the Holy Spirit making Jesus real to our hearts. (John 7:37-39).
Listen and learn from the wisdom of our Presbyterian tradition. Westminster Shorter Catechism question 88 asks, "What are the outward and ordinary means by which Christ imparts to us the benefits of redemption?”
- The outward and ordinary means by which Christ imparts to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the Word, the sacraments, and prayer; all of these are made effectual to his chosen ones for salvation
We would probably use different words than the Catechism. We ask the question like this: Where do I go to know God loves me? Where do I go to experience the real help and hope He gives to sinners and sufferers in a world that goes not well? The catechism is reminding us, “Go where the Word of God is taught, where the sacraments are given and prayer happens. They are where the bottomless rivers of mercy flowing from Jesus’ throne meet us in our misery.”
To our modern selves, it feels limiting to say God works in ordinary expected places. Sure, the Holy Spirit blows wherever the LORD wills. But as Ray Ortlund says, “God’s chosen means are not intended to restrict His availability, but the opposite. His chosen means identify where He has concentrated His availability, like a gushing fountain of mercy for sinners who are so desperate that they are finally coming to Christ on His terms.” (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/ordinary-means-of-grace)
I’ll leave you with this thought: God’s delight is to extraordinarily use our ordinary life together in worship to renew our parched souls. When we all come thirsty and find we can drink without price (Isaiah 55), because of Jesus’ costly payment, joy may hit you like a flash flood in the desert (Isaiah 35).
1Quoted by Tim Keller, "The God Who Can Be Known Part 1"