On Stripping the Gospel of its Power
As I've mentioned numerous times before, I'm presently using D. A. Carson's devotional, For the Love of God (volume 2). Most contemporary devotionals are, to my tastes, insipid. They quote a verse or two of Scripture, then proceed to illustrate the point with an "inspiring" story from "real life" (as opposed to the Bible). One puts them down feeling as if one has just been patted on the head by a kindly uncle.
With Carson, on the other hand, one feels as if one has just had a conference with a wise professor. Encouragement is good, but even encouragement can be shallow, even evasive. I like Carson's devotionals because they quietly accept the challenge of the Scriptures.
All that having been said, I want to quote from today's entry. Carson is commenting on 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to be generous in their giving by reminding them that their giving is nothing more than a response to the grace of God. When people see their generosity, Paul says at 9:13, they will "praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the of the Gospel.... " Carson writes:
So much of basic Christian ethics is tied in one way or another to the Gospel. When husbands need instruction on how to treat their wives, Paul does not introduce special marriage therapy or appeal to a mystical experience. Rather, he grounds conduct in the Gospel: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25). If you are looking for maturity, beware of any "deeper life" approach that sidesteps the Gospel, for Paul writes, "So then, just as you received Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness" (Col. 2:6-7)....
We must avoid the view that, while the Gospel provides a sort of escape ticket from judgement and hell, all the real life-transforming power comes from something else--an esoteric doctrine, a mystical experience, a therapeutic technique, a discipleship course. This is too narrow a view of the Gospel. Worse, it ends up relativizing and marginalizing the Gospel, stripping it of its power while it directs the attention of people away from the Gospel and toward something less helpful.