Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt

“Everyone is an unbeliever” (p. 19) … What?! Let me explain. When we come to Christ, we are engaged in what we call “sanctification” or “spiritual growth.” For many of us, it means trying to have the right behavior and thoughts. However, it is unclear how. Of course, we would say things such as reading the Bible and praying, but how is that helping? How is it changing us? What are we trying to solve? And why does it seem so difficult to solve?

When Vanderstelt writes “everyone is an unbeliever,” what he means is that the growth process is about faith: “we still have places in our lives where we don’t believe God” (p. 20). Indeed, Eph 4:13-14 tells us that God has given gifts “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Paul tells Timothy “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Ti 6:12). Our sins are the expression of our unbelief leading into idolatry.

Sanctification is just a big word for becoming more and more like Jesus through faith in Jesus. You become like what you believe in. […] Sanctification is moving from unbelief in Jesus to belief in him in the everyday stuff of life” (pp. 21-22)

So what are we to do? “Give them Jesus” (p. 25). Yes Jesus is the answer (I know you know)… but we do not often do it. We do not speak Jesus well. We read Scripture. We go through the different interpretations and other details. We even start to chat about philosophical concepts. Then we discuss about how it applies to us and what we can do better… and we tend to miss the point the same way the Pharisees did: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jn 5:39-40).

“We encourage them to read their Bibles or pray, which, of course, are wonderful things. However if we don’t teach them to meet and know Jesus through their Bible reading and prayer, we are dangerously close to leading them away from Jesus through very good things. This is the heart of idolatry – taking a good thing and making it a ‘god thing.’ We take something God gave us to direct us to him and love it or depend on it more than him. As a result, we fail to come to him through it.” (p. 29)

Gospel Fluency

What we need to learn is to speak Jesus in every area of our lives. We need to remember the truth that He is the better everything. It is about what He has done for us. We become more like Him as we “see” Him: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). Gospel fluency is about “speaking the truths of Jesus into the everyday stuff of life” (p. 35)

Being fluent means we are able to see and hear the Gospel in the many areas of life. It requires practice. It is even better when it is done within a community. We learn to speak the Gospel to one another whenever it is possible. One may complain about his work situation. He may need to be reminded (after hearing what he wants to say) that his identity is in Christ. He does not need the gratitude of his manager because Jesus is the perfect manager who rewards appropriately. etc.

Gospel

If we want to be Gospel fluent, we need to know what the Gospel is. I do not find this task trivial. The Gospel is not so clear for many Christians. It is there somehow, but we struggle to express it with accuracy and simplicity.

The Gospel starts with a story. It is the story of God found in the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, new creation. Vanderstelt introduces the idea that God’s Word and Work are fundamental to this story and our stories:

“If everything came into existence through the word of God, and if everything that comes into existence through God’s word is good, then God’s word and work are to be completely trusted and depended upon. We have our very existence through his word and work. Therefore, our identity, purpose, and truth are all to be found in God’s word and God’s work” (p. 53)

Adam and Eve fell into sin looking for identity, purpose and truth in something else than God’s word and work. Jesus fulfilled God’s word revealing its truthfulness by redeeming us through His work. Now we are a new creation declaring God’s word and work to the world.

The Gospel is not only history and doctrine, but it is also the power for salvation. Wow! “That’s it?” you may think, but you see, we have often viewed salvation as the moment we decided to believe that Jesus died for us and that the doors of Heaven are now opened to us. “Salvation” is more than that. Indeed, we have been saved… but we are also being saved and we will be saved. In theological terms, the Gospel does not only justify us, it also sanctifies and glorifies us. We are not only saved from sin and hell, we are saved to be a new creation: a new nature, identity and purpose.

“Belief in the gospel is an ongoing expression of our ongoing need for Jesus” (p. 67)

And how is the Gospel this power? Because it says “it is finished!” (Jn 19:30). Jesus lived the perfect life of obedience, died our death on the cross and rose again from the dead so that we may have a new life. His work frees us from our hopeless trials to remove our wrongdoings and to prove our worthiness to God. The Gospel shouts at us: “Grace! Grace!”

“We can rest from working to measure up to perfection. We can cease striving to be perfect by our own strength and efforts. We can rest in the life of Jesus lived on our behalf” (p. 74)

The Gospel frees us from performing. Perfection is a lost cause even before we try. But wait! Don’t we have to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12)? Does Paul not write so many Do’s and Dont’s in the NT? And what about Peter who says “he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pe 1:15)? How does that work with the Gospel?

Remember, our growth process is about faith. We have been saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:18-19).

The work we are called to do is to rest from our own work to make ourselves right with God and believe in the work of Jesus on our behalf” (p. 78)

Our work is to believe. We often mistake our work. We think it is reading Scripture more, praying more, evangelizing more, memorizing verses more, having accountability, etc. All of these are good and necessary, but we fail to see their purpose. We tend to use them to “manage” our sins. We address the symptoms rather than the cause: our unbelief (Heb 11:6).

“Every sinful attitude, motive, thought or action is a result of unbelief in God’s word and work” (p. 84)

Unbelief may be due to the fact that we do not know the truth about God, or that we believe lies about God, or that we fail to trust God. Our behavior points to what we believe. For example, we may seek to control everything around us: family, friends, job, money, etc. Why? possibly because we fear uncertainty? Why? because we don’t really believe God is in control. Our work is not to find ways to cope with control issues (though it would certainly help those surrounding us), but to believe God’s Word and trust in His Work.

The Gospel in me

Before being Gospel fluent, we need to receive it for ourselves because we talk about what we love, we love what we talk about and we talk about what works.

Here is the key concept of the book:

Desire for control, fear, anxiety, etc. are fruits we are able to discern. Their root can be found in what we believe we are (identity), what God has done, and who God is. When we confess our sins, we not only confess the wrong we did or thought, but also our unbelief in what God has done and ultimately who He is. When we repent, we follow the opposite path. We address the root issue of our unbelief to be able to bear godly fruit.

This is the good fight of faith: the war of the mind. We must “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5), and all along the way, the Holy Spirit teaches us and sinks the truths of God in our hearts.

Another example of this process:

  • Gossip (bad fruit)
    • Why? because I want people to know I was wronged and I believe I deserve to be avenged (misplaced identity)
      • Why? I believe God does not really care about my sufferings (wrong belief in what God has done)
        • Why? I believe God is unloving (wrong belief in who God is)
        • TRUTHS ABOUT GOD -> REPENTANCE
        • I believe God is loving (true belief in who God is)
      • I believe God has condemned evildoers who reject Jesus or if the offender is Christian, Jesus died on the cross to express God’s justice against the sins of the offender (true belief in what God has done).
    • I believe God has brought justice for me showing that He cares for me. He knows what happened to me (identity in Christ)
  • I do not need to tell others about how bad the offender is. I find peace in the love God has for me. I can love my offender because God has loved me. I can forgive because I am forgiven. (good fruit)

“Beneath every sin is a failure to believe a truth about God” (p. 120 – from Tim Chester)

The Gospel with us

Gospel fluency is achieved in community. Meals are great times to gather and speak the Gospel to one another whether it is about how we live out the mission, learning Scripture, serving the community, being thankful or just playing together. The author describes an interesting practice: The Meal. As we discuss, we proclaim to each other how much we need Christ in specific circumstances (ex: situation at work). Each time someone “receives” the proclamation of the Gospel for his specific situation, he or she takes communion in remembrance of what Christ has done for her.

The following questions help speaking the Gospel to one another (p. 149):

  1. Who is God/Jesus?
  2. What has He done or what is he doing?
  3. Who are we in the light of that work?
  4. How we should we live in the light of who we are?

For example, our boss does not show any appreciation for the work we do. How would speaking the Gospel look like?

  1. Jesus is the better boss: good, gracious and rewarding.
  2. Jesus came to serve and not to be served. He did not give us what we deserved (death), but far more than what we can earn.
  3. Our identity is not in what we do, but as children of God. We are fully approved, and we are His ambassadors on earth.
  4. When we work, we do not do it for our earthly boss. We do it for Jesus who sees what we do and rewards us accordingly. We are free, empowered and hopeful.

To be able to speak the Gospel, we must learn to read the Bible as a whole and learn to find Jesus in the story. A few questions help (p. 152):

  • How is this person or situation a type of Christ?
  • What is lacking in this story that only Jesus can fulfill?
  • What is the longing or the hunger that is created here for Jesus to satisfy?

When we are able to see Jesus in all of Scripture, then we are able to see how indeed He is central to our own story. As we listen to one another, we can often find this pattern:

  1. What was our identity in?
  2. Who or what was the problem in our life?
  3. Who or what is our savior?
  4. What has changed or will change?

By listening, reflecting and praying, we become a community fluent in the Gospel.

The Gospel to others

What the author means by “others” is non Christians. We often equate evangelism with telling people they are sinners in need of a savior. Vanderstelt starts this section with “listen and learn.” We need to talk less and care for their stories. As we listen and learn, we are able to understand how the Gospel plays out in their lives. We can proclaim not only that the Gospel saves them from hell, but also for a greater purpose.

This proclamation starts with displaying the Gospel. We become “Gospel metaphors” (p. 187). For example, we can show how God is through being an advocate for someone who is not cared by others, a forgiver to those who hurt us, or a restorer through serving our community. If we often display the Gospel, then opportunities will come where we can talk about why we do what we do. We can explain how we do what we do because of who we are… and who we are because of what God has done for us… and what God has done for us because of who He is!

“Many of us love what people think of us more than we love people. So in our fear of rejection, we keep our mouths shut. I pray you will love people more than their opinions of you” (p. 194)

I have been amazed by Vanderstelt’s approach to the Christian life and ministry whether in this book or Saturate. I appreciate his holistic approach. I also appreciate how the “formal” is removed. Being formal is not evil. It can be an expression of reverence, but it can also be an expression of pretense and in some sense of compartmentalization. What matters is how we get to the nitty gritty of the work of sanctification. For example, I really appreciate the idea of taking communion when the Gospel is proclaimed to us for a specific situation. It is so much more meaningful.

As I read this book, I was wondering if the root of our sin problem was a lack of faith or love. Isn’t the greatest commandment to love God with all of our heart (Deut 6:8)? Isn’t love greater than faith (1 Cor 13:13)? However, I wonder if faith is actually the expression of our love for God. Indeed, our acts demonstrate our love, and our acts are necessarily the outcome of our beliefs. In fact, when we mistrust God by seeking salvation and fulfillment in other things than Him, God declares it “adultery” (Hos 3:1).

Another thought I had while reading is the necessity to deal with pain. The section about speaking the Gospel to one another can sound harsh. The frustration and pain someone expresses in forms of complaint or gossip requires acknowledgement of the sin that is inflicted on that person (see Good Grief for more details). A more comprehensive process may add dealing with the pain and losses due to sins and misplaced identity. However, speaking the Gospel does not mean we cannot have empathy for someone’s sufferings, but it goes further than simple empathy. It actually calls us to cry with those who cry, and addresses root issues. It delivers the good news the person really needs. We just need to be wise in the way we speak it.

Gospel Fluency is a great read because it is Gospel centeredness in the daily life. Many of us have heard about being Gospel centered, except we have wondered how it looks like. Jeff Vanderstelt did a great job of explaining it. And now, we just need to put it in practice 🙂

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