If we believe in the sufficiency of the gospel and its unique power to change the life, and if we believe that this working can only happen from the inside-out, then why do we put so much emphasis on external things? Why is it that churches slowly become consumed with image management, personal performance, and acceptable associations—rather than the gospel? Is there a lost confidence in the power and sufficiency of the gospel? Have we found a substitute for grace?

Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp address this problem in their book How People Change. They describe our efforts as attempts to fill “the gospel gap” with externalism. The result is a counterfeit gospel. They list seven ways the gospel gets replaced (I have added some brief comments after each):

  1. Formalism: Going through the motions of Christianity
  2. Legalism: Measuring spirituality with a list
  3. Mysticism: Basing spiritual growth on experiences
  4. Activism: Allowing a cause to be your primary attention
  5. Biblicism: Mastering the Word without it mastering you
  6. Psychology-ism: Being preoccupied with the needs of people
  7. Social-ism: Developing unhealthy dependences on other people

Whether we like to admit it or not, we can get the theology of the gospel right on paper, but quickly desert it in practice for one of these attractive counterfeits…and yes, we all have a tendency to do that.

The gospel IS all-sufficent. It is the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ—from eternity to eternity. The gospel is so much more than “getting or being saved,” it is how we are to live every day.

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