Sunday, August 1, 2021

No Longer I: The Power of the Gospel Like You Have Never Heard It Before

By Jacob Hotchkiss

This is not a book about more doing. This is a book about better believing. It is biblical, it is practical, and it is utterly good news.

Why I Wrote This Book

I had always believed that the gospel should be powerful. As a pastor, I had always preached that it would radically change anyone who believes it. Yet in my own life and in the lives of those I served, this never actually seemed to be the case.

For years, I couldn't shake the feeling that we had to be missing something. Or else how could the Church be in the state that we are today?

In my personal life, I struggled with the same sins over and over again. Despite my deep desire to obey God, and all my prayers and efforts to change, nothing seemed to help.

Then, God began to open my eyes to something I had never seen before. As it turns out, there was something missing from my life -- the truth. In all my years of learning about theology, the Bible, and Christianity, I was never actually taught how the gospel works to bring about transformation in our lives.

Once I learned it, my life changed forever. God's grace began to work in me like I always knew it should. And now, I am compelled to share the good news.

The power IS in the gospel to free you from every form of sin. Perhaps you just haven't heard it yet.

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The first many years of my Christian life, I thought of myself as pretty much my same old self with a little extra help from God. I would have told you that I believed I had been made new and set free from sin — since this is biblically undebatable — but my understanding of these truths was flawed. I did not really believe that I was an entirely new creation. Instead, I believed that I was essentially the same person as before, just with a new “life,” or a new direction in life, in the basic sense that I was now following Jesus and destined to be with him forever. Like Jesus’ own disciples in their first years with him (prior to his death and resurrection), I had simply chosen to leave my old life behind to go with him. Now with the Holy Spirit, I had him around to teach me, lead me, encourage me, and love me. Nevertheless, I still felt like me, the same sinner I had always been, just not wanting to sin anymore...

And regarding my “freedom,” I was not entirely sure what it meant, either. It was a lot more like free will than it was like victory. At best, I figured it to mean that my sin no longer had as much control over me as it did before. But despite my desire to obey God, I found that I was constantly under the influence of the same sinful passions, too often giving in to the flesh. And I was unable to reconcile the truth in Scripture — that I was free from sin — with the truth about my life. If I was truly free, then why did I still feel enslaved to sin? I could not blame God (although sometimes I did); the problem had to be me. The only conclusion I could come up with was that apparently, I did not want God enough. So once again, I was left waiting for the day that God would finally change me.

I spent years waiting for that breakthrough, praying for that “second” conversion when I would fall madly in love with God and conquer my flesh once and for all. Through these years, I would swing from zeal to disappointment to apathy to conviction, then start the process all over again. I confessed my sins often; I sought help from the body of believers; I prayed for deliverance with fervor; I sought God the best I knew how. And I waited expectantly for a change, until I inevitably grew tired and disappointed in myself, forced to accept once again that this was just the Christian life. This was what God had done for me — he had placed me in a battle that I must fight but could not win, not even with his help. Sure, there was “no condemnation,” but there was no genuine sense of victory, either. Not in this life, anyway.

How pitiful! How wretched! How dare we call this a state of grace?! Sin without knowing God, and it hurts but a little. But spit in your Lover’s face — day after day — then thank him for forgiving you and tell him you love him, knowing full well that you will do it again. One cannot continue in this state for long, without either beginning to hate themselves or grow numb to their sin. Not surprisingly, most choose the latter. It is simply too painful otherwise. And I tell you, if it were not for the actual grace of God, I would have been left in that hell for the remainder of this life. How many well-intentioned, misinformed Christians are stuck in that same awful state?

I had been reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins — that much I understood. But now forgiven, what advantage did I have in this new life over my previous state? What exactly is this “grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2)? I know I had the Holy Spirit, full access to God, and any amount of help I could need from him. But I was still me. I was still a sinner who, despite my ultimate desire to do God’s will, could not seem to do it in the given moment. And in the midst of my temptations, whatever extra help God was ready to provide, I was surprisingly unwilling to reach out and receive. What help is it to be in a relationship with God, or even love him deeply, if whenever temptation arises, I cannot muster up the desire to call on him for help? What good does it do to have the Holy Spirit if I willfully shut him out every time my flesh is aroused? What good is it if my heart delights in God, but my flesh delights in sin, and I am still a man of the flesh? I will tell you, bluntly. It is good for nothing. It is no help at all. As wonderful as it is to be in a relationship with God, this relationship never changed me the way I had been taught that it should.

Then in one short season, everything changed when I learned that the grace I had been looking for had already been given, and more, how to walk in it through faith each day of my life. For years, I had been seeking a renewal of my heart, but as it turns out, I would be “transformed by the renewal of [my] mind…” (Romans 12:2). I did not need to learn how to do better; I needed to learn how to believe better.

These days, when people ask me how to break free from sin, I will ask them, “What do you think it would take for you to be free?” Almost without fail, they say something like: they need to be more disciplined; they need to pray more; they need an accountability partner; they need God to change their heart; they need to better understand why they act the way they do; etc. Notice what all these have in common. Each is a work that has yet to be done. It is unfinished business. And whether they imagine this work to be done is on God’s end or their end, the point is that they are left in wait, simply wondering when the gospel will deliver on its promises. I can relate to this. But what we are about to learn is that, by and large, Christians have been waiting for something that has already been done and can only be received by believing that it is true. I assured you of a gospel that sets you free, and it begins by understanding how it already has.