Most people are pretty intimidated by any words that end in ‘ology’. When we hear things like ‘neurophycology’ or epidermeolgy’ – our eyes almost immediately gloss over – assuming that this topic is far too complex or complicated for us to understand. That’s stuff for people with PHds – We best leave that for the experts to talk about.
So when we hear the word ‘theology’ we might be inclined to react the same way. We might think theology is just something for pastors (and Brian) to talk about. It’s something that is studied in Bible school or Seminary – but it doesn’t really have a place in every day life. Theology is something you discuss with your professor – not your kids or your co-workers.
That’s often the concept we have of theology, but that’s not the case at all!
The word theology simply means “the study of God.”
Just like how we study life in biology or we study the stars in astronomy – in the same way, we study God in theology.
Theology is our attempt to understand who God is and what He is like and what He is done.
And theology is critical for every Christian. Without theology, we would know nothing of Jesus. We would know nothing of the cross. We would know nothing of our own sin. We would know nothing of salvation. We would know nothing about anything of eternal value!
As Christians, if we claim to know and love God – theology has to be part of our lives.
- I mean, really, how could we love a God that we don’t know?
- How can we obey God without knowing his instructions?
- How can we honour and glorify God without knowing what things bring Him honour and glory?
Theology is critical to the Christian life.
Now that being said, I understand that ‘theology’ is still an intimidating word. Even for those of us who went to Bible school, when we hear the word theology, we probably envision a big thick textbook, filled with words like ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ and ‘propitiation’ – and we’re feeling lost even before we get started!
But that’s exactly why I’m so excited for this sermon series that we’re starting today. Sometime ago I order a book called “Visual Theology” by Tim Challies and Josh Byers. And the idea behind this book is to help people grasp the keys ideas in theology by presenting them in an easy to understand way – complete with lots of visual aids in the form and style of infographics.
I thought this would be a cool ‘coffee-table’ kind of a book that I could just leave out and people might flip through when they come over to visit or whatnot. But when I got the book and read through it, I enjoyed it so much and I found it to be so helpful to me that I wanted to share it with you.
And so for the next couple of months, I’d like to take us all through this book – Visual Theology. Now of course, I’m not just going to read the book to you – (although that would certainly be easy sermon prep) – but I do intend to use it’s basic outline as the outline for these messages.
And with that, I do want to be clear that I will not be preaching from this book – I will continue to be preaching from the Bible. This book is not the infallible Word of God – the authors, Tim & Josh, are only human and there may be errors and omissions within it’s pages – so we will continue to use the Bible as our sole authority, but I think this book will still be a useful guide for our conversations.
So where do we begin? Theology – or the study of God – is a pretty broad subject. And to be honest, there is no way that we could ever cover it all! We’ll be studying theology throughout eternity as we live and enjoy the presence of God and we still won’t fully grasp the depths of who God is and what He’s like! So we certainly won’t attempt to cover everything in these next few weeks.
But what we are going to do is to try to present a very practical theology. It’s one thing to know a lot about God – but it’s a very different thing to know Him personally because you’re in a relationship with him.
It’s the difference between reading all kinds of books about Abraham Lincoln and actually being best friends with him. Those are two very different things.
And so our approach in this series will be heavily weighted to the side of not just knowing facts about God, but actually living differently because we are in a personal relationship with him.
So because of that, we’re not going to cover a lot of the basic information about God. I’m going to assume that you probably already know much of that already – like how God knows everything or how is is all-loving or how he created the world. That’s stuff that I’m going to assume that you know. But if you don’t, that’s fine! Let’s have coffee and I’ll see if I can help catch you up to speed.
Visual Theology is written more like a training manual for how to live in relationship with God. The book is divided into four main sections – and that’s the pattern that we’re going to follow.
The first section looks at how to grow close to Christ. What do we need to know in order to have a growing, healthy relationship with our Creator? We probably have some idea of how to have healthy relationships with each other – but what about having a healthy relationship with God? What do we need to know – and what do we need to do – for that?
The second section looks at how to understand the work of Christ. This section is really all about the Gospel. What did Jesus do for us and why did he have to do it? What is God still doing in the world and how can we be a part of it? That’s all part of understanding the work of Christ.
The third section is how to become like Christ. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, the natural result is that we become more like Him. We talked a little bit about this in our last series “What Good is the Gospel?” as we talked about how we are New Creations and how the Holy Spirit gives us a new Christ-like nature and He produces the fruit of the Spirit in our lives as we become more and more like Christ.
And the fourth section looks at how to live for Christ. This section answers the question: What do we do with the rest of our lives? God didn’t teleport us to heaven the moment we accepted him as our Savior – so what does He want us to do now? How should we live our lives? What do we need to know – what do we need to do to live for Christ?
So those are the four main areas that we’re going to explore over the next several weeks – and this should give us a really good overview of how to live in relationship with God.
We want to grow close to Christ.
We want to understand the work of Christ.
We want to become like Christ.
We want to live for Christ.
I think that really summarizes what it means to be a Christian – and so I trust the next few weeks will be very helpful to all of us as we strive to grow in those four areas.
So the first section we want to look at is how we grow close to Christ.
Back when Heather & I used to work for Camp Little Red, we had a booklet that we used to give to kids who made a decision to follow Jesus at camp. And basically, it was a brief introduction to how to grow as a Christian. The title of the book was “GROW for it”. And I don’t remember for sure, but it seems to me that the word grow was an acronym that I believe stood for:
- Go to Church
- Read your Bible
- Obey God
And those are all great elements of how to grow close to Christ, but there is a key foundational element that must be present before any of that can happen. Well, I guess we can do those things, but they won’t lead us to grow close to God without this other element in place.
And that element is the Gospel.
The Gospel is what connects to us to Christ in the first place. Without the Gospel, we have no way of connecting with God – we have no relationship with him apart from the Gospel.
For the past several weeks we’ve been talking about “What Good is the Gospel?” Well, this is the answer right here – The Gospel connects us with Jesus. It provides the means for us to have a relationship with Him. Paul kinda summarizes this in Colossians 1:19-22. He writes:
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
That really is the Gospel in a nutshell. All of us were separated from God by our sin. We had no connection – no relationship with Him. This passage goes so far as to say we were his enemies!
But now, because of Jesus’ perfect life, His death, and resurrection, our sins can be forgiven and we can be reconciled to God. We can have a right relationship with God once again and can enjoy being in his presence – just like God intended from the very beginning.
And I’m sure this isn’t new information to you. Most of you have been attending here long enough to have heard this good news time and time again. But the point I want to make today is that the Gospel isn’t just the gateway to God (it’s not just how we get connected in the first place) – but it’s also the pathway to God (it’s how we grow closer to him every day).
The Gospel is the relational connection between you and Jesus.
In other words, not only does the Gospel connect us to Jesus, but it’s the Gospel that continually draws us closer to Jesus. The Gospel continually reminds us of God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s love for us. The Gospel reminds us of our worth, it reminds us of our future, it reminds us of who we truly are. And as we are continually reminded of all of those things, all of those things cause us to draw closer to him and to love Him more and more.
The Gospel will always be central to a healthy, growing relationship with Christ. The minute we forget the Gospel is the minute we begin to drift apart in our relationship with Him.
So this morning I want to give you four practical ways that we can remember the Gospel – and by doing so, grow closer to Christ. OK? Here’s the first of the four:
#1. Preach the Gospel to ourselves.
What do I mean by that? Well, I was reading Psalm 77 this week and I think it’s a great example of how we preach the Gospel to ourselves.
Let me read a few verses for you and I want you to watch how the writer totally changes his attitude as he remembers who God is and what He has done. He starts off like this:
7 Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
8 Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
10 And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
This guy sure sounds pretty down. Things are not going very well for him. I don’t know what’s going on in his life, but it sure doesn’t sound good. And I imagine some of you might be able to relate to how he’s feeling. Many times in our lives we feel discouraged and it can seem like God is against us. That’s certainly what this guy is feeling. But then look what he says next. Verse 11
11 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
12 They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
13 O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
14 You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
What a change in perspective! He went from “This is my fate: the Most High has turned his hand against me” to “O God, your ways are holy – Is there any god as mighty as you?”
It seems like his perspective totally changed – and what made the difference? He recalled all that the Lord had done. By remember who God is and what He has done, the writer saw things in a totally different light. Instead of concluding that God was against him, now He praised God for his goodness and power.
We can do that same thing. We can preach the Gospel to ourselves and it will totally change our perspectives and cause us to love Him more and more. For example:
- When we are faced with temptation, we can recall the Gospel – and how Jesus died and rose again so that we could be set free from the power of sin. We can recall how he’s given us a new nature and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. Simply by remembering that, it changes everything!
- When we are faced with discouragement, we can recall the Gospel – and how Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to die for us. He took on our sin, he was whipped and he was beaten and put to death – all be cause He care so much about you and I! And right now, He’s working out all things for good for those who love Him. Incredible!
- When we are lonely or afraid, we can recall the Gospel – How the Holy Spirit – God Himself – now lives right within us – and He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. He is our guarantee of everlasting life in the joy-filled presence of our Creator! Remembering the Gospel changes everything.
So I would encourage you to preach the Gospel to yourself. I don’t know what sort of daily Bible reading and prayer routine you might have, but daily preaching the Gospel to yourself would be a great habit to get into.
Maybe you could daily read those verses in Colossians that we read earlier that summarize what God has done for us. Those verses would be a great reminder – not only of the historical facts of the Gospel – but it would be a great personal reminder for what God has done in your life.
In the book, Visual Theology, Tim writes:
This habit is recounting not only the objective facts of the Gospel, but the Gospel as it pertains to you. It’s one thing to say “Humanity fell into sin, and Christ died for sinful human beings,” and quite another to say, “I am a sinner and Christ died for me.” When you recite the Gospel to yourself, you remind yourself of your own experience – how you were lost and how Christ found you. This makes the Gospel intimately personal – a powerful experience shared between you and Christ.
~ Tim Challies: Visual Theology
Reminding yourself of what God has done in your life – (not just what He’s done for everyone – but for what He’s done for you specifically) – that will always spur us on to love Jesus more and more. So preaching the Gospel to yourself is the first way to grow close to Christ.
The second is very similar and it is:
#2. Preach the Gospel to Others
Not only is this a command for us as Christians – but it’s also a great way for us to grow in our own relationship with Christ.
At our family camp, Randall and Jen both preached the Gospel to us as they shared their testimonies. And I’m sure as they prepared for that, they preached the Gospel to themselves many times over. As they remembered and shared with us what God had done in their lives, I’m sure if you were to ask them, they would tell you that that whole process encouraged them in their own faith and caused them to love God even more.
I think for most people, you’d be hard pressed to find a time when you feel more connected to God and have a deeper sense of appreciation for who He is and what He’s done – than when you are recounting to others all the things that He’s done in your life.
So preach the Gospel to others! That doesn’t mean you have to come up here and share your testimony with all of us in some church service. It’s great and wonderful to do that – but most of the time, your “preaching the Gospel” won’t be in front of a crowd at all. Most of the opportunities we have to preach the Gospel to others is in one-on-one situation – usually just in a casual conversation with your kids or with a friend or with a co-worker.
And it won’t likely be the whole Gospel either – most of the time, it’ll just be an opportunity to share a little bit about the different that Jesus has made in you life. I read that passage at family camp about the demon-possessed man that Jesus restored and sent home to his family.
[Jesus] said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5:19-20
That’s a great example of preaching the Gospel to others. And I’m sure that it wasn’t a prepared speech and it certainly didn’t include the entire salvation message (And at this point, Jesus hadn’t even died on the cross yet!) But the man simply shared how much God had done for him.
I would encourage you to do the same thing. Tell your kids what God is doing in your life. Tell your neighbor. Tell your mom and dad. Tell your buddy at work. Share with them how much God has done for you.
That’s the second way to remember the Gospel and grow close to Christ.
The third way is this:
#3. Worship with your church family
There are many times that we forget to remember the Gospel – but worshipping with our church family allows them to remind us of the truth. Whether that’s through singing Gospel-filled songs together or hearing the Gospel in the messages or through sharing personal testimonies or whatever it is, regularly worshipping with our church family provides us regular opportunities to be reminded of the Gospel – causing us to grow closer to Christ.
This is why we meet here every single week. We want to provide opportunities for you to be reminded again of the Gospel. As a church, we have a responsibility to each other to spur each other on – to help one another grow closer to God.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV
We’ve got to help each other remember the Gospel! And of course, Sunday mornings are probably the most obvious opportunity for this, but it’s certainly not the only. I’d encourage you to be part of a Bible study group like the lady’s group on Monday nights or Justified on Fridays. If you’re young person, take advantage of our kids clubs or youth groups or get connected with a Bible camp.
We’re fortunate enough to be able to gather together with other Christians in all kinds of ways – take advantage of those opportunities so that you can continually be reminded of the Gospel and through that, grow closer to Christ.
And that takes us to our fourth and final way to grow close to Christ through the Gospel and that is to:
#4. Celebrate God’s Ordinances
Ordinances might be a unfamiliar word for some of you, but to put it simply, the ordinances are the practices that God has given us to help us remember the Gospel – and thus grow closer to Him.
It’s kinda like how we celebrate birthdays or anniversaries with cake and candles and balloons. We go through the same rituals year after year of singing the happy birthday song and giving some gifts – and we do that as expressions of our love for one another. In a similar way, God has given us certain rituals or ceremonies or ordinances that we regularly practice as reminders of His love for us.
The first ordinance is baptism. Baptism is a like a re-enactment of the Gospel. When we put someone under the water and then bring them out again, it represents Jesus’ death and resurrection – and it also points to us dying to sin and having new life in Christ.
For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. Colossians 2:12
When we partake in baptism, we are identifying with Christ and are proclaiming the power of the Gospel in our lives. It’s like we’re preaching a sermon, but without words! This is not just a symbolic gesture, but it really serves as a way to strengthen our faith and to increase our confidence in the relationship we have with Christ.
Just like how a married couple might celebrate their anniversary – they look back and remember the commitments they made to each other back on their wedding day – and they remember all that they’ve been through over the years and it draws them to love each other even more.
In a similar way, our baptism reminds us of the commitment that Jesus made to us by dying on the cross for us – and it reminds us of the commitment we made to him when we accepted his gift of Salvation and invited him to be our Lord and Saviour. And as we remember all of that through the act of baptism, it draws us to love God even more.
Then the second ordinance is the Lord Supper – or Communion as we often call it. We are only called to be baptized once and that is sufficient. But we are called to share communion repeatedly and often. This is another visual reminder of the Gospel. It reminds us specifically of how Jesus gave his body and his blood so that we could have life with Him.
Jesus institute this ordinance on the night before he was crucified. It says in 1 Corinthians 11:23….
On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
I think Jesus knew just how forgetful we can be. He knew how quickly we would forget what He did for us some 2000 years ago. And so he instructed us to “do this in remembrance of him.”
We remember the Gospel as we eat this bread that reminds us of Jesus’ body that was broken and given for us and as we drink this cup that reminds us of Jesus blood that was spilled and poured out for us.
And even though most of us have done this many, many times over throughout our life, I trust that it is not just be another symbolic gesture. But as you remember the Gospel, as you remember what Jesus did for you, that you grow to love him more and more.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue looking at how we grow close to Christ. Remembering the Gospel is a key way – but there are other elements as well. And next week we are going to look specifically at our identifying in Christ. Understanding who we are makes a huge impact on our relationship with God – and so that’s what we’re going to look at next week. But until then, I trust that you’ll continue remembering the Gospel throughout your week. Preach it to yourself. Preach it to others. Take the opportunities you have to worship with your church family and and with them, celebrate the ordinances that God has given us.