“What is the gospel?” I asked.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,” she responded.
“I’m sorry. I meant, what is the good news of Jesus Christ?”
“Oh, well… To me it’s just… Look, I know Jesus died on the cross and rose and all that stuff… but to me, the gospel is…”
I’ll never forget that meeting. I’ll never forget the sadness I felt during our conversation. It’s a sad thing to hear a professing Christian reduce an act of unsurpassed grace, mercy, and love to “all that stuff.” It’s a sad thing to see someone so apparently unaffected by the cross of Christ. Yet, I wonder how often we’re prone to the same dullness of heart?
How often do we read about the cross, sing about the cross, and speak about the cross with a kind of overly-familiar, dispassionate disposition? How often do we treat the cross like a simple fact we’ve come to understand, a simple truth we’ve come to accept, “all that stuff” we’ve known for years?
This attitude was abhorrent to Paul. He didn’t want anything to do with it. Far be it from me, he says, to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).
So, what do you boast in? What do you rejoice in? What get’s your heart racing and your affections stirring?
Each of us could probably answer those questions in a number of ways, but if we’ve come to share in the blessings of the gospel, we want the truth of the gospel at the top of the list.
This struck me with fresh conviction recently while reading Jonathan Edwards’ classic, The Religious Affections. Here’s the particular quote I found so challenging:
How insensible and unmoved are most men about the great things of another world! How dull are their affections! How heavy and hard their hearts in these matters! Here their love is cold, their desires languid, their zeal low, and their gratitude small. How they can sit and hear of the infinite height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of His giving His infinitely dear Son, to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of men, and of the unparalleled love of the innocent, and holy, and tender Lamb of God, manifested in His dying agonies, His bloody sweat, His loud and bitter cries, and bleeding heart, and all this for enemies, to redeem them from deserved, eternal burnings, and to bring to unspeakable and everlasting joy and glory — and yet be cold and heavy, insensible and regardless! Where are the exercises of our affections proper, if not here? What is it that does more require them? And what can be a fit occasion of their lively and vigorous exercise, if not such a one as this? Can anything be set in our view greater and more important? Anything more wonderful and surprising? Or more nearly concerning our interest? Can we suppose the wise Creator implanted such principles in the human nature as the affections, to be of use to us, and to be exercised on certain proper occasions, but to lie still on such an occasion as this? Can any Christian who believes the truth of these things entertain such thoughts? … Is there anything which Christians can find in heaven or earth so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ?1
Amen. Nothing should affect us like the gospel. But what do we do if we realize that this isn’t happening? We might not dismissively refer to the gospel “all that stuff,” but we recognize when our affection for the most amazing news in the world begins to wane. What do we do?
Here’s a path that’s helped me:
After finishing the section quoted above, Edwards exclaims, “How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust that we are no more affected!”2
The first step toward refreshed affections is to confess to the Lord that you do not have the affections you should. You might pray, “Father, there is nothing more glorious than the gospel of your Son. I know that, but I confess that I don’t always feel it. I am far too easily excited by lesser things. Forgive me. Forgive me for treating something so excellent so lightly.”
2 Corinthians 4:6 says, For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
It takes the same power which brought light into darkness at the beginning of creation to bring the light of the gospel into the darkness of our hearts. A dim and dull sense of spiritual reality is our natural condition as fallen sinners. Yet, in his kindness God does not leave us there.
Christian, when he brought you to faith this is what happened! He said to your heart, “Let there be light!” You saw the glory of Christ and everything changed. So if the clouds have rolled in and darkened the sun of his splendor you can plead with confidence that he can renew your affections again.
You might pray, “Father, shine into my heart in a fresh way the glories of the gospel! Help me see the horror of my sin in light of your holiness. Help me see the mercy of my Savior who loved me and gave himself for me. Help me see with both the eyes of my mind, and help me feel with the eyes of my heart. Show me Jesus!”
Then, once you’ve closed your eyes and confessed and pleaded, open them and look. Look in the pages of your Bible. Every single one is a place you can see Jesus (Luke 24:27). Look on your own in private devotions. Look with the church in public worship. Praise God for what he has shown you, and ask him to show you more.