I’m a baby. So is my wife. That is, Sarah and I are both the youngest of our respective families of origin. [Yes, insert your own joke about two “babies of the family” marrying one another.] This makes our children among the youngest of several cousins -- in fact, our youngest is the 25th of 25 grandchildren of my in-laws. While I could relay many pros & cons of our place in the extended family, let me highlight one practical benefit: hand-me-downs. In their earlier years, our children had a streaming inventory of used clothing from a multitude. The relief to our clothing budget was wonderful. Every parent can relate to how blindingly fast children grow out of their clothes. Every parent knows the feeling of seeing little Johnny’s high-water pants and arms gangling out of his sleeves to signal us that his clothes no longer fit … again.
Last week I heard a middle-schooler relate his week at church camp, and as he spoke of what he learned he used the phrase, “we never grow out of the gospel.” First, I’m thrilled when a young person grabs such a solid truth and appears to exercise it well. But second, I simply appreciated the reminder that we never outgrow the gospel like our children do their clothes. We never get past the point of needing the grace and sovereign work of God – not only to save us but just as desperately to conform us into the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).
Recently I got an email from a very good friend of mine in another part of the country. He was asking for some advice on how to think about and encourage someone who wasn’t sure if he believed in Jesus or not. Just for an illustration, I’ll include the bulk of my note to him:
There are so many resources for "discipleship" and living the Christian life. However, if Josh is not sure of his faith in Jesus, then I strongly suspect it might be because he's not looking at "the right Jesus". That is, the Jesus who became the substitutionary sacrifice to atone for Josh's infinite rebellion against his righteous Creator/Owner, thus sparing Josh from the appropriate and full wrath of God, provided that Josh respond with faith and repentance to confess Christ indeed as Lord.
If we don't understand that God is our Creator/Owner, then we don't sufficiently grasp the notion of our rebellion against his perfect ways in our sin. If we don't grasp the notion of our sin against God, then we don't understand the notion of his wrath. If we don't appreciate that his wrath is justly pointed in full force at us for our sin, then we don't value the sacrifice of the Savior to take that full force on our behalf. If we don't value the sacrifice of the Savior, we don't know who He really is and how amazing is the grace he extends in redeeming us to an eternal life that begins on this earth. To see Jesus as a "take Him or leave Him" option is surely a litmus that one has failed to grasp the above - for comprehending these rightly is to recognize our desperate need and call out, as did the tax collector of Luke 18:13 who "beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’"
And, of course, all of us who have received this gift started in the same "darkness" and were "transferred" into the kingdom, as Col. 1:13 makes clear.
Do you, as I do, sometimes fail to grasp the real gravity of your sin as rebellion against God? Then let’s allow the gospel to remind us of God’s sovereign ownership of us. Are you, as I am, sometimes far too casual in your gratitude toward God and esteeming the sacrifice paid on your behalf? Then let’s allow the gospel to remind us of the wrath from which we’ve been rescued. Can you, as I do, at times become complacent in our growing in sanctification to become like Jesus? Then let’s look hard at the gospel to be reminded that we have been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) and refreshed in our purpose that “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor. 5:15).
You might say that the gospel is the most unique of hand-me-downs. Preserved in God’s Word, it’s been handed down through the centuries where ultimately we receive it through someone else. But then it stays with us, we never outgrow it, and yet we are commissioned to “hand it down” to others. So, receive it, be renewed in it, rely daily on it, keep tight hold of it … and hand it down!