the whole staircase

I’ve spent some of the past week reading John Piper’s recent book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. I have no desire to author a blog full of book reviews or synopses – not that I don’t enjoy those kinds of things, but, after I read the sixth chapter of this book (titled The Power of the Gospel and the Roots of Racial Strife), I thought that it might be helpful, edifying, and necessary to many were I to share the outline of that particular chapter.

How would that be helpful, and why is it necessary? Well, as you are about to see, in this chapter Piper essentially applies the message and power of the gospel to different sinful mentalities, behaviors, and entities. [He does that ultimately to point to the power of the gospel to overcome all manifestations of racism, but that comes later in the book.] We need this, for a great crisis of the contemporary church is a too-small understanding of the gospel that results in a too-limited application of the gospel. Many Christians – myself included – have grown up hearing and believing that the gospel was necessary to begin the Christian life (what non-Christians needed to be saved), but that after responding to the gospel, Christians were to move beyond it to the “deeper things” of Christianity. But God’s grace as revealed by the gospel isn’t the first step in a stairway of deep theological truths – it is the whole staircase. As Tim Keller has said, the gospel isn’t the ABC’s of Christianity, but the A-through-Z. I am hoping that, by relaying Piper’s broad application of the gospel, the breadth of our understanding of the gospel will increase.

Piper applies the gospel in nine ways:

  1. The Gospel and Satan. As the so-called god of this world, Satan opposes God diametrically and exerts powerful influence in the lives of all people to that end, blinding “the minds of unbelievers” to conceal from them the glory of God (2 Cor 4:4). No human can stand against the deceitful and murderous power of Satan – except by the name of Jesus. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8) by the cross, where Christ “through death [destroyed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). Satan is stronger than all people, armies, policies, and moralities put together, but Jesus Christ, dwelling in us by gospel-grace, is stronger: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
  2. The Gospel and Guilt. The gospel presupposes that all people are guilty: “All…are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no not one’” (Rom 3:9). But God, through the gospel, redeems us from guilt: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:19, 21). Many believers carry crushing and debilitating guilt in their lives, not realizing that God’s acceptance and approval is based entirely on their union with Christ and not, in any way, on their performance for God. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
  3. The Gospel and Pride. Pride is the heart condition that refuses to submit or yield to God. It desires control, authority, and glory for itself, rebelling against God to assert them. It is the root of all sin. But the gospel of Jesus breaks the power of pride, even as it provides deliverance from sin. The gospel makes clear that I am so hopelessly sinful and my debt before God was so huge, that my salvation required the death of God’s Son in my place. This is devastating to the human ego, and God means it to be. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). By the power of the gospel, we are free from pride to boast in Christ and Christ alone.
  4. The Gospel and Hopelessness. By securing our place with God for all eternity, the gospel of Jesus establishes and sustains hope that transcends all circumstances. If we have no sure hope of future glory, the pressures, pains, and false-pleasures of this world would easily overcome us. “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor 15:32). But because we know that all who are in Christ will be raised with Christ, we are free from any hopelessness and discouragement that might arise in this world. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).
  5. The Gospel and Feelings of Inferiority and Self-Doubt. By uniting us with Christ, the gospel shatters all personal insecurity and self-doubt. In Christ, our new identity is not based on personal merit or performance, but on our acceptance into God’s family by grace: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2).
  6. The Gospel and Greed. The gospel breaks the power of greed in our lives, even transforming us into generous people, in (at least) two ways: First, the gospel transfers our hope of security from the power of money and the things that it promises to the promises of God. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). Second, the gospel frees us to value that which is supremely valuable – Christ – above any earthly possession. No longer enslaved to the treasures of the world, standing in the gospel means that, to the believer, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
  7. The Gospel and Hate. The more we embrace the depth of God’s love and forgiveness, the more we are moved to love and forgive others – thus the root of hatred is severed by the gospel. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 4:32-5:1). Once the righteous, just wrath of God toward us is abated by the cross of Jesus, our wrath toward others softens.
  8. The Gospel and Fear. Fear and lostness go together. The lost know – one some level (see Rom 1:21-25) – that they are guilty before the holy and righteous God of the universe. Consequently, they fear death. Hebrews calls this fear “lifelong slavery,” but promises that Christ came to destroy Satan – who holds the power of fear and death (Heb 2:14-15). Offering Christ’s acceptance, the gospel banishes all true fear. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom 8:15).
  9. The Gospel and Apathy. According to Piper, “apathy is passionless living.” Godliness, on the other hand, means the aggressive pursuit of doing good things – for the glory of God. Otherwise, the promise of 2 Tim 3:12 would seem strange: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The gospel creates new people who passionately do good “rather than settling for the passionless avoidance of evil.” “[Christ] gave himself for us…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). “For by grace you have been saved through faith…For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8, 10).

As long as this summary is, we only truly see here the tip of the iceberg. The gospel changes everything about the meaning and manner of our lives. We approach sin and evil, goodliness and good, differently because of the gospel of Christ. The measure of this truth cannot be fathomed: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 10:33). Let us pray for broader gospel-application through deeper gospel-understanding.

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