The Bible presents a moral obligation to live according to God’s design, law, or character. However you want to describe it. Husbands should love their wives. It says that. You should not be angry or gossip or steal. Those are not options. The Bible is clear.
Yet, if I create a plan to accomplish those changes without the gospel I am tying a complex knot of problems. On the one hand, things get better. Marriages become better. People become more honest. Life is better and people are happier.
On the other hand, the absence of the gospel presents several problems:
- The only true transformation takes place when the Holy Spirit changes a person through their faith in the gospel. So, I have created the appearance of a change without true heart change. This will be a temporary reformation at best.
- The person working at changing will be frustrated. They are attempting to produce fruit which can only come from abiding in Christ.
- Self effort is always a substitute for the gospel. It always has been the gospel’s chief rival.
- Worst of all, if a person’s life gets better apart from the gospel by working at things the gospel is supposed to change were it to come, their felt need for the gospel will diminish. In other words, by helping them reform, I may be making it harder for them to respond. While looking like it is better, it is actually getting worse for them.
What to do?
As we apply the scriptures, as we structure church programs, as we build models by which people improve their lives, we must be clear about the gospel. We must go through the gospel instead of going around the gospel.