Part of our job in growing in gospel fluency is paying attention to the overflow of our hearts.
What comes out in the form of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors finds its origin inside of us. Too often, we focus our attention on changing the external rather than addressing the internal. But Jesus was very clear that what defiles us proceeds from inside our hearts—our beliefs and our motives. The fruit of our lives comes from the roots of our faith. Just as a thermometer detects a fever, what we see or experience tells us about the gospel health of our hearts. So we need to learn to trace the fruit back to the root.
Over the years, I have learned to ask four key questions in progressive order when forming people in the gospel: (1) Who is God? (2) What has God done (which reveals who God is)? (3) Who am I in light of God’s work? and (4) How should I live in light of who I am? I encourage people to apply these questions to their Bible study and to all of their discipleship processes.
When I am seeking to discern unbelief in the gospel, I reverse the order of those questions: (1) What am I doing or experiencing right now? (2) In light of what I am doing or experiencing, what do I believe about myself? (3) What do I believe God is doing or has done? and (4) What do I believe God is like? In other words, I trace the fruit back to the root. If the fruit is not like Jesus, that is an indicator that our faith is not in Jesus. Remember, we’re all still unbelievers in many areas of our lives. We do not always believe the truths about God as revealed in the gospel; therefore, we are living in unbelief.
How do we know if the fruit of our lives is like Jesus? Well, it helps to get to know what Jesus is like. This is why we need to continue to become more and more acquainted with him by reading the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, which describe how Jesus lived. The fruit of faith in Jesus is love for God and others. The gospel makes clear that this is not something we do on your own. Through faith in Jesus, each of us is made into a pure and holy dwelling place—a temple—where God’s Spirit lives. Jesus foretold that he would send the Spirit to help us know, believe in, and be connected to Jesus, so that we could bear much fruit.
In Gospel Fluency, I shared how Tim Chester teaches that beneath every sin is a failure to believe a truth about God. I’m convinced the same applies to what we believe about ourselves. Because we believe lies about God, we also believe lies about ourselves. We believe God is unloving, so we, in turn, believe we are unlovable—disposable, unwanted garbage. We believe God is not our Savior, so we have to be the savior to our friends, our spouses, or our children… We all fluctuate between the extremes of believing we are demigods sent to save the world and demons who are the scum of the earth, and everything in between. And the reason we believe what we do about ourselves is because of what we believe or don’t believe about God.
We need to learn to speak our beliefs out loud. So often, we are not even aware of what we are believing in any given moment. We just go along, living in false belief, and, as a result, we continue to engage in sinful behaviors. I am so blessed to have a friend and partner in Jayne who encourages me to speak out loud what is going on in my heart between me and God. She is in good company with the psalmists and the prophets in the Scriptures. They knew that our transformation comes partly through our verbal proclamation of our faith—speaking out loud what we are believing in the moment. This is confession.
So often, when people are led to confess their sins, they only confess their sinful behaviors. In other words, they confess the fruit. They say: “I’m sorry I lied. Please forgive me.” Or: “I looked at pornography. I know that’s wrong. Please forgive me.” The problem, however, is that they need to confess their sinful beliefs—the roots, the stuff below the surface that is motivating and producing their behaviors, the sin beneath the sins. All sin stems from wrong beliefs—lies we believe—and ultimately from our unbelief in Jesus. And because we generally don’t go beyond the fruit to the root, we end up aiming at behavior modification instead of gospel transformation. In the gospel, we come to see that sin is wicked and our world is broken. People suffer and will suffer because of sin. We are not promised a pain-free, trouble-free, suffering-free existence. But we don’t need more self-help and we don’t need denial. We need deliverance.
When we address only the behaviors and push people to change what they do without a change in what they believe, the weight falls on us rather than God to handle the problems of the world and deal with the brokenness caused by sin. Instead, we need to trust in God’s power to change us and change the world. [We need] gospel transformation, not just behavior modification. God’s Spirit is our guide, teacher, and counselor. When those of us who belong to God confess out loud what we believe, the Spirit is right there with us to convict us of our unbelief and lead us to the truth that is in Jesus. This is how God grants us repentance. He convicts us of our unbelief and leads us to believe the truth.
(Taken from Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt, ©2017 Crossway.)