“Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
• Authors: Bob Thune & Will Walker
• Publisher: New Growth Press
• Description: Nine week small group study
Small group curriculum pervades the landscape in our world, but this study stands far above the crowd. This nine week study is easy to lead, facilitates strong biblical discussion and is dripping with the relevance of the gospel in our every day lives as we pursue growth in Christ. This is not just a theologically rich study, but is also very practical in its real world application of how we pursue gospel-centrality in our every day lives.
• Chapter 1: The Gospel Grid. This chapter builds a framework for interacting with the gospel. It has a very helpful diagram concerning our growing awareness of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. This chapter addresses the gospel as not “just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation.” The chapter closes out with an exercise on what motivates us to judge others.
• Chapter 2: Pretending & Performing. This chapter builds on the diagram from chapter one. It discusses specific ways in which we “shrink the cross.” As we loose sight of our sin before a holy God, we begin to pretend that we really aren’t that bad. Conversely, when we loose sight of how Holy God is and our inability to earn His favor apart from Jesus, we begin to perform in an effort to earn His favor.
• Chapter 3: Believing the Gospel. This chapter expands on the previous chapter by helping the reader to understand that they do not need to pretend or perform to be right before God. It is not by our own efforts that we are made right before God – and we need to be reminded of that! “The good news of the gospel is not that God favors us because of who we are, but that he favors us in spite of who we are.” The scripture discussed in this chapter is 2 Peter 1:3-9. It closes out with a very helpful assessment to determine how we view ourselves before God, as orphans or children.
• Chapter 4: Law & Gospel. This chapter explores the relationship between the law and the gospel. In this chapter two terms are introduced, legalism & license, to help illustrate the extremes that are often held by Christians. When we tend toward legalism, we believe that God’s approval is based on our obedience. When we tend toward license, we believe that God has forgiven us and that God’s commands no longer are important. The authors summarize the relationship between the two like this: “the law drives us to the gospel and the gospel frees us to obey the law. Realizing all that God expects of us should drive us in despair to Christ. And once we are united with Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit causes us to delight in God’s law and gives us power to obey it.” This chapter ends with a helpful exercise to identify if the reader tends toward legalism, license or gospel.
• Chapter 5: Repentance. This chapter develops the concept that “biblical repentance is the norm for gospel-centered living.” This devlopes the idea that we need to be living a lifestyle of repentance because of our proclivity to shrink the cross by our performance and pretending. This chapter is VERY HELPFUL in identifying our motives for repentance. This chapter unpacks what biblical repentance looks like and has a helpful exercise at the end of the chapter to help develop biblical repentance.
• Chapter 6: Heart Idolatry. This chapter is possibly the most impactful in the entire study. It begins to provide concrete ways to apply the material in the study. The driving thrust of this chapter is where is our faith (trust) placed? It pushes the reader to go deeper than just “surface sins,” and mine out the heart level idols that lurk deep within. This chapter is a must read for all Christians – especially those who have been in the faith for many years. It unpacks common heart idols and presses the reader to evaluate his own life carefully.
• Chapter 7: Mission. This chapter discusses how the gospel’s relevance is not just inward and personal, but also is expressed outwardly by people living differently. “If the gospel is renewing you internally, it will be propelling you externally.” This chapter does an excellent job of moving Christians to love, serve, engage and live missional lives without doing it out of duty and drudgery. Missional lives are a “natural overflow of the gospel’s work inside of us.” This chapter ends with a great exercise on examining our hearts when it comes to living on mission. It does not tell you to go and do, but rather helps the reader to identify the heart issues that are preventing them from living on mission with joy.
• Chapter 8: Forgiveness. This chapter expands on how the gospel’s work internally drives us to forgive others biblically. Forgiveness is a problem for many people – even Christians! The remedy for this is the gospel! The more that we understand how costly our own sin is and the lengths to which God went to redeem us, the more we will be moved to forgive others. This chapter presents a balanced view of forgiveness, offering the readers an understanding of the difference between forgiveness and repentance. “Forgiveness involves a heart that cancels the debt but does not lend new money until repentance occurs. Like God, we take the initiative to move toward those who have offended us and we invite them to move toward us in repentance.” This chapter also offers a very helpful homework assignment to help the reader identify where unforgiveness may have crept into their heart.
• Chapter 9: Conflict. The last chapter shows the reader how we engage others in conflict in a healthy way. The study identifies two general types of people: attackers and withdrawers when it comes to conflict and shows how “God did not pour out his wrath on us (attack) or remove his presence from us (withdraw). Instead, he sacrificially moved toward us in the person of Jesus, full of grace and truth.” There is a great matrix that helps the reader determine how he responds and how the gospel responds. Additionally, the end of the chapter offers practical steps for implementing gospel-centered conflict resolution in the real world.
I cannot reiterate enough the culture shift that the authors present in this study. There is no hint moralism or man-centeredness. They masterfully present a theologically rich, God saturated study that is not “heady” or overly “theoretical.” This study provides a great framework for helping believers work out their salvation with fear and trembling by using the gospel as the means for growing in sanctification.
There is a Leader’s Supplement Guide available here.
“Jesus says that the root of anxiety is inadequate faith in our Father’s future grace. As unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts, one of the effects is anxiety. The root cause of anxiety is a failure to trust all that God has promised to be for us in Jesus.” (page 25, see Matthew 6:25-34)
“The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval.” (page 49)
“You must think that your protection hangs on you. And even though you are not sure that your own resources will take care of you, yet you opt for fragile self-reliance, rather than faith in future grace.” (page 52)
“Because pride does not like to admit that it has anxieties. And if pride has to admit it, it still does not like to admit that the remedy might be trusting someone else who is wiser and stronger.” (page 53)
“The opposite of impatience is not a glib denial of loss. It’s a deepening, ripening place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience-to wait in his place and go at his pace.” (page 71)
“Patience is an evidence of inner strength. Impatient people are weak, and therefore dependent on external supports-like schedules that go just right and circumstances that support their fragile hearts.” (page 74)
“Bubbles please boys, but men prize those things which are solid and substantial, with a foundation and a bottom to them which will bear the test of ages.”