What does it mean (practically) to live a gospel centered life and to help others in this endeavor? Scott Thomas & Tom Wood provide some helpful insight in to this in their insightful book, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God. A few things really stick out to me.
1) What we believe theologically drive how we approach life, discipleship & our pursuit of holiness.
2) We naturally prefer lists and formulas to modify our behaviors more than we have a deep desire to know God.
3) We naturally think that our problems are outside of us and the solutions are inside of us instead of realizing that our sinful, rebellious heart is the problem and the atoning work of Christ is the solution.
4) “The motivation question is the lordship question.” This is hugh because what motivates our hearts reveals who our real Lord is – You can’t dodge this question with external pretending, it strips us bare and reveals what we really worship (even if we look great on the outside)!
“While many leaders may teach and believe they are justified by God’s grace, they effectively deny that same grace by their efforts at being a godly leader. They rely on their own moral ability or on the way other people perceive them as good, moral people; thus, they are blind to their own sin. They trust in themselves or in the faulty judgment of others rather than in the grace of God, the cross of Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This type of leader often shames his family and the people he is leading into doing better and deals harshly with those who fail to perform to the level of acceptable behavior.
The gospel tells us that our standard for morality is Jesus Christ and that we only attain his perfect morality through his righteous imputation — we are declared righteous on the merits of Christ alone (Romans 4:3–8). As Tim Keller states, “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe. I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.” A Christian leader who neglects the importance of the gospel relies instead on systems and structures that offer techniques for living a good life. Moralism leads to methods of behavior modification where we seek to change what we do without addressing who we are as sinful people. Moralism does not help us gain favor with God or ease our pressure. In fact, those who rely on systems or structures for living a moral life or managing their sin are neglecting the gospel of Christ.” Kindle Locations 433-443
Therapy-Smile & Be Happy
“Therapy is the belief that adherents enjoy psychological benefits by participating in something good. This is not a religion of repentance from sin or of living as a servant of a sovereign God. Rather, therapy encourages us to pursue the goal of feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace with the world. It seeks to attain a state of subjective well-being by resolving problems and avoiding conflict with people. It’s about doing good things so that you feel good about yourself.
There is a dangerously fine line between serving God and serving ourselves. Ministry leaders may tend to overuse their “speaking for God” attitude to encourage followers to find their own happiness, since, as they say, “God wants you happy.” Others may encourage disciples to apply “easy-to-follow steps to personal wholeness.” Some leaders may lean toward the “be nice and smile” solution, ignoring the effects of sin. A person who embraces the therapeutic mind-set often focuses on the positives and avoids conflict at all costs — even if it involves compromising principles or the clear teaching of Scripture.
Many well-meaning Christian leaders offer therapeutic solutions to the problems we face. They often suggest that we simply need new hobbies or retreats or routines. One church leader said in an article that his best way of dealing with ministry stress is to listen to soothing music, hang out with some good friends, get a massage, and shoot his guns. Another leader said, “I take mental holidays while I am at church during the week.” Still another said, “I have a note card that I wrote to myself that I stuck inside my desk. It simply says, ‘Lighten up and smile.’”6 These are all different ways of dealing with stress, and each takes a different approach to ignoring the root problems in the heart. I seriously doubt that a note card encouraging me to lighten up and smile will be of any benefit when a family member gets cancer or I’m counseling a friend who has just lost a child. Sadly, much of the “advice” given out by church leaders today is unbiblical. With our churches filled with leaders who believe these things, is it any wonder that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is thriving in the church?” Kindle Locations 445-462
Deism-Be There if I Need You
“Deism is the belief that there is a God who exists, who created the world, but who is now uninvolved in the affairs of life. God exists, but he basically leaves us alone. At a practical level, deism conceives of God as a Divine Butler who waits for us to call on him to intervene in times of great need or as a Cosmic Genie who exists to grant our wishes. If our plans and goals do not succeed as we expect, God gets the blame for our disappointment and pain.” Kindle Locations 464-467
Man Centered vs. Gospel Empowered
“At its core, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is based on a humanistic, man-centered way of seeing our problems. And it offers solutions that we can manage and accomplish in our own strength and wisdom, without depending on God. In this sense, it is directly opposed to the gospel of God’s grace, which declares us dead in our sins, desperately in need of salvation that only God can provide through the atoning, all-sufficient work of Jesus Christ.” Kindle Locations 472-475
“The main focus of most life coaching today is not pathology — a thorough examination of the nature of our problems and their causes, processes, development, and consequences. Rather, humanism is focused on behavioral change through increased awareness and choices to allow for desired future results and solutions to current “problems in living.” In other words, much of life coaching is less concerned with issues of sin, rebellion against God, and our need for a Savior; it is about helping us achieve our self-determined goals in life, enabling us to seek happiness in fulfilling our personal desires.” Kindle Locations 491-496
“Many of those theories are based on the assumption that the client is basically good and that the answers to the maladies of life are found by “looking inside” and focusing on our desires. Rogers taught that man is good and that corruption enters our lives from the outside.” Kindle Locations 498-500
“But this is a wrong assumption that is based on the notion that people are inherently good, that rather than being inherently selfish they are simply in need of self-discovery. In contrast, we contend that any approach that relies on a client-centered coaching approach, even if it flies under the banner of being Christ centered, is fundamentally flawed.
The Scriptures clearly reject the presupposition of our moral goodness, insisting that the effects of the fall stemming from human disobedience and rebellion against our Creator are much worse than we dare believe. The apostle Paul wrote: I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. — Romans 7:18–20” Kindle Locations 519-527
“To experience their full God-ordained potential, a Christian leader must first recognize that he or she is a forgiven sinner made righteous entirely through Jesus Christ and not through their own merit or ability. Transformation occurs as Christians appropriate the gospel and live by faith in what God declares true in Jesus. Those who have been transformed by the power of this message recognize that every wrong action, thought, or emotion is fundamentally a form of unbelief in the gospel, in what it declares to be true.
Though a person can believe the message of the gospel, functionally we often reveal a deeper, heart-level belief that our power, approval, comfort, and security are more worthy of pursuit than God. Since Jesus Christ is the only way that God has provided for us to be saved, we sin when we find our meaning and worth in anything other than our identity in Christ. This sin is a form of idolatry, a refusal to believe the good news that God has saved us in Jesus alone, instead looking to and relying on someone or something to give to us what only God can give. David Powlison explains this connection between biblical idolatry, sin, and our hearts:
Has something or someone besides Jesus Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight? It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question. Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?
Whereas the humanistic approach to coaching tells us that the problem we face is “out there” and the solution we need is inside of us, the gospel teaches us the exact opposite, namely, that the problem is really inside the heart and mind and the answer to our problem is outside of us — not in our work or effort — but in Christ alone. The gospel is the ultimate solution for every problem we face, and the answer is obviously not something we find inside of us. The power of the gospel comes when we look away from ourselves, relying on Jesus. As we trust in Jesus and his work on our behalf, we receive the supernatural power of God through the gracious gift of his Spirit.” Kindle Locations 535-552
Thomas, Scott; Wood, Tom (2012-05-08). Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.