The gospel tells us that “being” (identity) comes before “doing” (obedience). This lack of understanding our gospel identity oftentimes results in either legalistic pride or frustrating guilt. At times, we may view the gospel simply as the information a lost person needs in order to be saved. We see it as the entry requirements for the Christian life. Instead, the gospel is not just the entry ramp that gets us on the “Christian highway,” but the gospel is an intricate freeway system that spans from coast to coast. The gospel is meant to be explored and enjoyed—similar to a cross-country excursion.
Listen to how Paul describes the impact of the gospel in Colossians 1:5-6: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” Paul wrote to those who were already Christians and reminded them that the gospel was bearing fruit and growing in their lives. We need to be saturated in the gospel so that we can overwhelm the temptations of this world with the glory and majesty of Christ.
A gospel-centered believer understands that who we are in Christ (identity) must come before what we do for Christ (obedience). The Bible addresses both issues. The Bible tells us who we are in Christ and what God has done for us (the gospel indicatives); and it also tells us how to obey with holy lives (moral imperatives). What happens if you’re told to obey, but you’re not given the basis or foundation for why and how you can obey based upon your identity in Christ? It can lead to inflated pride on one hand and deflated guilt on the other. You can become puffed up in thinking you can meet God’s standard in your own strength or you shrivel in despair thinking you can never please God. We can begin to think all that God is after is behavior modification and that living the life of faith is about keeping lists and obeying rules without any connection to our dynamic relationship with Christ. Jesus wants us to obey Him because we WANT to not because we HAVE to.
The gospel tells us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and that on our best days when we are living wonderfully holy lives and on our worst days when we are struggling with sin, He does not love us any more or any less based upon our performance. On those days when you’re arguing with your spouse, speeding in traffic, and getting frustrated with your yappy dog, God does not love you less. Or on those days when you’re hitting on all spiritual cylinders by having your Quiet Time, serving at a soup kitchen, and witnessing to your neighbor, He does not love you more. He loves us constantly and permanently based upon Christ’s performance and His finished work on the cross. When we trusted Christ for salvation, all of our sins were credited to Him and all of His perfect righteousness or perfect record of obedience was credited to us. Based upon what Christ alone has done, God the Father can now declare us not guilty and we are permanently adopted into His family as a dearly loved child.
Many Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation. They often wonder if God loves them less when they are struggling with sin and that He must love them more when they are living the “victorious Christian life.” Evangelicalism has been plagued by an overwhelming confusion between justification and sanctification as the ground of our assurance, position, and acceptance in Christ. We must clearly understand how our assurance of salvation is rooted in what God alone has done for us in Christ through the power of the Spirit. In other words, our foundation for acceptance by God lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ given to us through justification; not in examining how well we are growing in holiness through progressive sanctification as the grounds for our acceptance.
Understanding your position in Christ (identity) will grant you more assurance because you become increasingly aware of God’s riches of grace, which will give you a longer lasting motivation to keep growing. You position becomes more important than you progress because it forces you to look outside of yourself to the finished work of Christ and what the Tri-Une God has sovereignly accomplished on your behalf. In response to this amazing grace, you then joyfully live a life of worship pursing holiness out of gratitude to Him instead being motivated to prove you worth to Him through your obedience. In other words, “being” comes before “doing.”
Our assurance of salvation is rooted in our gospel identity. In essence, the gospel calls you to be who you are! You are God’s chosen child who has been given the imputed righteousness of Christ and you stand accepted solely by His grace alone. Your acceptance and identity does not come in your performance or rigorous attempts to earn God’s love. Instead, your identity comes in your union with Christ as a chosen, justified, adopted child of the Father. Rest securely in your gospel identity and remind yourself daily that “being” comes before “doing.”