Read Acts 2:42-47.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
What did the early church devote themselves to? 4 things: apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread or the gospel and prayer. These were the 4 emphases in the early church. And if the early church emphasized these things, I believe it would serve this church well to follow suit.
Today, we are going to cover the breaking of bread or the gospel and its corollary, spiritual fruit. This is a message that has been simmering on the backburner since around 1994 when God gave me a word. And he has reminded me of that word over the years, esp. over the last 2 years and so I have been diligently studying the topic of gospel and gospel fruit for some time, esp. in recent months as I prepared for the Vision Casting of the church. When I started this vision casting 2 months ago, I knew this session would be the culmination and we would need to spend many more sessions unpacking the lessons that I will try to address in broad strokes this morning.
Quick outline before we dive in–
– What is the gospel?
– Why is it important to keep the gospel at the forefront of our minds and hearts?
– When the gospel is preached and there is a true conversion, then your life changes (Fruit of the Spirit).
What is the gospel?
We throw around this term quite a bit at this church. While I preached through 1 Corinthians, you heard me use the word “gospel” often. For prospective members, while you were working on your testimonies, I asked you to define the gospel in your own words. So either you are numb to the word “gospel” or you know the gospel backwards and forwards and you are excited to share about it. I hope it’s the latter.
What is the gospel? Ask for answers.
Before we talk about what the gospel is, I find it helpful to discuss what it is not. The gospel is not merely an invitation that you tack on the end of a sermon to elicit a response, i.e. walking down the aisle and accepting Christ at the end of a service. The gospel is not merely a tract like the 4 Spiritual Laws and just because you agree and check off some boxes, you’re saved. The gospel is not merely a door through which you enter the Christian life.
The gospel is more than an invitation, more than a tract or a doctrinal statement, more than a door. It’s not enough to say, I had an emotional response at a retreat, therefore, I must be saved. Those tears were sincere. Having a clear moment of conversion is not even essential. Compare Paul and the disciples. Paul had a clear conversion on the road to Damascus, but as for the 12 disciples, their conversion was not so clear. It was gradual.
What is the gospel? It’s when a holy God, by an act of incomparable mercy does not cast us off as objects of wrath to eternal judgment, but he shows us grace according to his sovereign will by sending His own Son to die in our place the death we deserved. And those who recognize this free gift of grace and respond in repentance of their sin and faith in Christ are saved. The response of repentance is the recognition that Jesus is my Savior. He saves me from my sin. And the response of faith is the recognition that Jesus is my Lord. I surrender all before Jesus and follow him.
The gospel has its methodology. It’s something that is preached. The gospel has its content. It does contain some elements of doctrine and theology. Responding to the gospel is an important starting point so in that sense, it is a door through which we embark on our spiritual lives, but the response of repentance and faith reveals an important truth. It reveals that that the gospel ends in a relationship. We are repenting before a person. We are putting our faith in somebody, namely Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
When Paul is referring to his partnership in the gospel with the Philippian church, he uses relational language. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Who began the good work? God began the work in Christ. We encountered Christ. That’s when we were saved and that’s when our Christian life began. But that’s not all. The one who began the good work in you will also carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. You were saved by God in Christ and God in Christ will carry your spiritual life on to completion, until you see God face to face.
Remember Brother Daniel’s clip about the father who competed in the triathlon with his disabled son. This is a picture of Christian life. We may only be able to grunt while Jesus does all the work until we cross the finish line. The only thing I would add to this analogy is while it is true, Jesus does all the work, the longer we stay connected to him, we change. We don’t remain as we are. Unlike the child in that story whose condition is permanent, for the Christian, as we stay connected to Jesus and as he pushes us along, our legs actually rehabilitate and get stronger. And so the longer we are riding with Jesus, eventually, we will be able to do some of the pedaling on our own.
Why is it important to keep the gospel at the forefront of our minds and hearts?
Let’s keep the relational language. The gospel is embodied in the person of Christ. You are saved when you encounter Christ. After you are saved, you follow Christ. The term “Christian” was used initially as a derogatory term referring to Christians as being “little Christs.” A Christian is a little Christ, which is actually quite a good summary of what it means to be a Christian. We are called to be imitators of Christ. We are called to become more and more Christ-like in our thoughts, our speech, our actions.
Jesus is the gospel embodied. The entire OT and the practice of sacrificing animals was a foreshadowing of Christ, where Jesus would be the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, a sacrifice once for all.
So when we say, let’s keep the gospel at the forefront, what we are actually saying is this. Let’s keep Jesus at the forefront. Let’s remember, he’s the head of the church. Let’s remember to exalt his name and none other. Let’s remind ourselves that there is no other name by which we are saved. Let’s point others to Jesus. May everything we do as a church lead to helping one another know that everything else is rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. May an ever deepening relationship with Christ be the overarching goal in everything that we do as a church. If we get that right, the rest of the pieces will fall in place.
Remember Jupiter? Solid core surrounded by swirling gas. This is the core–the gospel, Jesus embodied in the gospel. If we get this core teaching wrong and Christ is not the center, something else will take its place. We don’t have to guess about what will take the place of Christ because Scripture gives us ample warning. If the gospel is not at the center, instead of a life-giving relationship with Jesus, we will have nothing more than a man-made religion.
The more I study the New Testament, I more I see a recurring pattern emerging. Keep the gospel at the forefront, or in other words, keep Christ at the forefront, and everything else–the health of the church, discipleship, evangelism, missions–these things will follow naturally. But if you depart from the gospel, all hell breaks loose. This is the pattern I see in the NT.
Recall our study through 1 Corinthians. They started with the gospel, they were saved, their testimonies were confirmed, they started off well. Then, what happened? They departed from the gospel. How do we know this? The church became man-centered. They were enamored with human leadership more than the beauty of Christ. They looked to the giftedness of certain leaders over other leaders. The overt spiritual gifts were emphasized and desirable to wield power and influence over people. Factions started forming. There was division in the church. This led to an unraveling in terms of ethical behavior. Sexual immorality. Infighting, even a lawsuit. This is the ditch that the church at Corinth found itself in when it departed from the narrow way of Jesus and the true gospel.
The same thing happened in Galatia. The symptoms were different. The church did not become man-centered and pentecostal like at Corinth. Instead, the Galatian church became legalistic and ethno-centric. They took the pure gospel of Jesus dying on a cross for the sins of the whole world and the offer of salvation as a free gift for all people and they added a requirement that in order to be saved, you had to be circumcised. They took a Jewish custom and applied it to the gospel and made it a requirement in order to be saved. If you add anything to the gospel, it’s no longer the gospel. If you take anything away from the gospel, it’s not the gospel. If you say, in order to be saved, you need to shed tears and give away half of your possessions to the poor, that’s not the gospel. Because you’ve added requirements to the gospel. If you say, God loves you and he wants to save you and he wants to bless your life materially, emotionally, spiritually, but you never talk about sin, then you’ve added to the gospel because God never promises a life of blessing the way we normally conceive of blessing. And you’ve subtracted from the gospel by failing to talk about how we are objects of wrath and need to repent so what you are preaching is no longer the gospel.