GOSPEL-CENTERED – Acts 15: This is the next strategic principle for ministry in the 21st (and the 1st!) century. I do not simply mean by ‘gospel-centered’ that ministry is to be doctrinally orthodox. Of course it must certainly be that. I am speaking more specifically. (1.) The gospel is “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey” while every other religion operates on the principle of “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” (2.) Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to much spiritual deadness, pride and strife, and ministry ineffectiveness. (3.) We must communicate the gospel clearly–not a click toward legalism and not a click toward license. Legalism/moralism is truth without grace (which is not real truth); relativism is grace without truth (which is not real grace). To the degree a ministry fails to do justice to both, it simply loses life-changing power.

Keller is able to take the simple truths of the gospel and make them work overtime on all the difficult issues of life. In Pauline fashion he juxtaposes things like legalism vs moralism, religion vs irreligion, and more; and then just when you think he’s going to condemn one harsher than the other he reminds us that no way apart from the gospel way will make a difference in the end.

I was thinking about my own ministry today, about ways to evaluate its effectiveness and fruition, foolishly counting my men in a time of peace like David did, and then Keller reminded me that in as much as the truths of the gospel take root in peoples lives ministry is effective. “…truth without grace….grace without truth….simply lose life-changing power.” The way forward is truth and grace, which means as a pastor looking at himself in the mirror the way forward toward ministry evaluation is not to count legalistic living as maturity (which is busy people without Christ’ benefits), but neither to count confessional reptitions of truth as maturity either (which is ‘right’ people without Christ’ righteousness); one misses grace and the other misses truth.