Plumb lines are a series of short, pithy statements that we, at the Summit, use as rallying points—both for our staff and for the entire church. They are a way to encapsulate our ministry philosophy in short, memorable phrases.
Plumb Line #1 at the Summit is: “The gospel is not just the diving board; it’s the pool.”
Christianity teaches something fundamentally different than every other religion. Every other religion says that if you change, you will be accepted. But Christianity says, “Because you have been accepted, therefore change.” Christianity doesn’t proclaim good advice, but good news. And that news transforms us from the inside out.
This is by no means an intuitive truth. And those of us in the church tend to forget it quite a bit. For many evangelicals, the gospel functions solely as the entry rite into Christianity; it is the prayer we pray to begin our relationship with Jesus; the diving board off of which we jump into the pool of the “real” Christian life.
The gospel, however, is not just the diving board off of which we jump into the pool of Christianity; it is the pool itself. It is not only the way we begin in Christ; it is the way we grow in Christ. As Tim Keller says, the gospel is not just the ABCs of Christianity, but it is the A–Z. All of the Christian life flows from the good news of what Jesus has done.
That’s why growth in Christ is never going beyond the gospel, but going deeper into the gospel. The purest waters from the spring of life are found by digging deeper, not wider, into the gospel well.
The gospel of grace is a radically unique and liberating message in a world of religious commands and restrictions. But it’s the only message that can really change us. Religion might be able to force outward conformity . . . for a while. But religion can never transform the heart. To borrow Jesus’ metaphor, it cleans the outside of the cup, but leaves the inside filthy.
Believing that you’ve been accepted by grace, though, transforms you in a fundamentally different way—in an organic way. It does two things in your heart that religion could never do:
1. It gives you peace and security with God, which produces love for God. In John 14:18, Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” A faithful father does not leave his kids wondering whether or not he loves them. When I have to go away on a trip, I don’t say to my kids, “Daddy will be back soon . . . or maybe he won’t. Maybe I’m not your daddy at all. You’ll just have to wait and see if I come back. Sit around and think about that while I’m gone, and let that compel you to become better children.”
That wouldn’t produce love and loyalty in my children. It might produce a little fear-based obedience, but it’s only a matter of time until fear-based obedience turns into father-loathing rebellion. God doesn’t want that for us any more than we want that for our own kids. He wants us to be at peace with him, and that begins by recognizing his compassion for us. Understanding the love of God is the only thing that can truly inspire love for God.
2. It releases power in your life. There are only two things that the Apostle Paul ever calls “the power of God.” One is the gospel; the other is Jesus Christ himself. The same power that surged through Jesus’ ministry during his time on earth is available to us today. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit, and it comes into our lives when we believe the gospel. As Paul put it, when we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, we are transformed into glory (2 Cor 3:18-4:14). All it takes is a look. “Look to me,” Jesus says, “and live!”
So at the Summit, we will constantly and loudly and unashamedly talk about the gospel. No Bible lesson is complete without it, because without the story of God’s grace the Bible can become instructions to obey without the power to obey. No ministry strategy will take off without the gospel, because we aren’t running a business based on pragmatics; we’re responding to God’s lavish grace with open hands. Nothing we do should ever lack a gospel-motivation and a gospel-focus.
Pastors: we’ve got to make sure that we’re teaching our people to put Jesus and his gospel at the center. He is the ultimate hero of Scripture. He is the Lord of our churches. He is the point, he is our chief plumb line, and he alone holds the power.
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