Thursday, May 13, 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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It is a fact of human life, and well-researched in the field of psychology, that our sense of identity drives our actions. What we believe about ourselves in terms of our inward being is the driving force of our outward doing. Here lies much of the power of the gospel. To be clear, this is far more than the power of positive thinking, and it is much different from the sort of philosophy which says we can forge our own identity or re-create ourselves. The Christian is not a self-made man, nor a product of humanistic optimism. Rather, God has caused us to be reborn, literally, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit; not of natural descent, “but of God” (John 1:13). It is not simply that he has convinced our old self to follow him and love him, but that “[t]he old has passed away… the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have been given a new life, a new identity, and a new nature altogether, and for this to translate to our daily lives, we must first begin to see ourselves in this new Light.

If liquid water thought itself to be ice, it would not freely move about. If steam thought itself to be liquid water, it would never rise from its place. But each knowing the truth about their current state without question, they obey the properties of that state as if there were no choice at all. The same goes for people. We obey the properties of whichever state we believe we are in. If a person grows up thinking they are intellectually impaired, they will exert far less effort into learning than if they believed they were capable of learning anything. If someone is convinced they are unhealthy — not just as a temporary state, but as this type of person — it will be nearly impossible for them to establish a routinely healthy lifestyle. They may be able to go against the grain of their identity for a while, but unless they begin to identify as a healthy person, the new lifestyle will not be sustainable. If a child is taught they are rotten, all their desires to be otherwise will be overshadowed and overpowered by the seemingly inescapable identity to which they have been subjected. “Should I be kind and obedient today?” they will think to themselves. “It sounds nice to stay out of trouble and make some friends, but unfortunately, that is too hard for me. That is just not the kind of child I am.”

This applies to the Christian life, as well. Using the example from Romans 6, Christians who mistake God’s grace for mere forgiveness, and thus, think of themselves still as sinners, are certain to go on sinning. But those who see God’s grace for what it is, and thus, “consider [themselves] dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) as they truly are in Christ, will naturally stop sinning. This is not to say that a true Christian will never sin again; rather, it is to recognize that when we do, it is not due to a faulty self but to a false understanding of self. If after sinning, we think to ourselves, “I must have wanted to do that; there is still something wrong with me,” then we have misidentified ourselves with the flesh, with which we are no longer to identify (see Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 5:16; Colossians 2:11). The truth is, we did not sin because we wanted to, but because we thought we wanted to, nor because we had to, but because we thought we had to. Thus, we were deceived. For Christians, failure to grow and mature in the way of holiness, or to obey in any given moment, is nothing more than a failure to see (or believe) who and what we truly are. Or else it is evidence that they are not born of God.

If you are a Christian and you feel condemned by this, or hear me blame you for not having enough faith to be free from sin, then you are missing the point. I am not saying it is your fault; I am saying it is not you. I am not pointing my finger at you; I am pointing you toward Christ. If someone in the flesh and under the law can say, “it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:17, 20), then how much more can the believer, who is no longer in the flesh but one with Christ, rightfully dissociate from the sin with which they once identified? In Christ, you are a child of God, made entirely new in his image — how could you be condemned? Satan wants to shame and discourage you for still struggling with sin and not having enough faith to change. But no amount of faith can add to or take away from who you already are in Christ; it can only help you bear the fruit of, and live in alignment with, the new and true you. Satan’s tactic is to get your eyes off of victory and onto your sin because he knows that the only thing standing between you and transformation is the knowledge that you have been transformed. God has done it. You must fight to believe it.