Yesterday following the morning service, a dear and faithful brother approached me at the door. In his customarily intense way, he looked me in the eyes and thanked me for the sermon. He expressed his appreciation for how the gospel was present throughout the exposition. Then he moved from appreciation to loving critique. Not about the sermon, but about my posts on Ferguson-related themes. He asked if I thought the gospel should run throughout Christian comments and responses to Ferguson.
Of course, I agreed. We are gospel people. We ought always make the gospel plain. He leaned in a little tighter and asked if I thought I’d done that. My honest answer was “no.” Not because I don’t believe in the gospel’s constant relevance, but because I believe escapist appeals to “the gospel” actually allow Christians to forsake Christian responsibility to be engaged socially and politically in remedying injustice in this life.
A few other people were beginning to bunch up in the line, so my brother graciously moved on. I think we both knew the conversation wasn’t finished. For my part, I’ve been thinking since then of how to speak about the gospel in a way that’s rooted and applied. When I told my wife about the conversation, she looked at me with that “I’ve been telling you that” look. So, here goes. An attempt to apply the gospel in actionable ways to these Ferguson/Staten Island/Cleveland/New York kinda times we’re in.
1. Stick Close to Jesus Personally
I received a reminder of this from a fellow elder just as I was writing this post. The reminder came in the form of a quote from chapter five of The Bruised Reed, where Sibbes writes, “That age of the church which was most fertile in subtle questions was most barren in religion; for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of cleverness, in tying and untying of knots. The brains of men inclining that way are hotter usually than their hearts.” We must recognize the danger of entrapment in “subtle questions,” whether they’re the subtle questions of theology or of sociology. Those dangers include—to paraphrase Sibbes—hot heads and cold hearts. A quick visit to most Twitter feeds and Facebook pages will supply ample evidence that this heating of the crown and cooling of the chest is well underway among many Christians.
We have it on the greatest Authority that “whoever abides in [Christ] and [Christ] in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from Christ we can do nothing. We become unfruitful in spiritual knowledge and barren in our activism. Nothing could be more vital in Ferguson-like times than we sing and pray, “Jesus keep me near the cross.” To put it another way: We must first apply the gospel to our own lives by immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s word, warming ourselves with the Spirit’s fervency in prayer and keeping ourselves in the love of God. We begin here and never finish this delightful duty.
2. Actually Share the Gospel With Someone
The gospel is no one’s hope if the gospel is not shared. If we are escapists, we say “the gospel is what’s needed” only to go about our merry way without actually speaking to anyone in need of it. So, if we would be Christ’s ambassadors in this time, we should join a protest line, drop by a police station or knock on doors to ask if we can tell others about the Son of God’s death, burial, resurrection and return to redeem people from their sins and to renew the cosmos. We should