“I know the gospel is true but I just don’t feel it. It doesn’t seem real to me.”
As a pastor, I’ve had people share this with me on numerous occasions.
Despite all the talk of “gospel-centeredness” and grace-driven discipleship, not experiencing the gospel we believe is a reality.
This can be troubling for those who have grown up in the church or identify themselves as Christians because the gospel is at the heart of Christianity.
If you’re unfamiliar with church language, the gospel is the idea that while humans stand in opposition through sin against the Creator God, Jesus stood in the very place of judgment on the sinner’s behalf, restoring relationship with God for those who trust in Jesus.
The Christian Bible teaches that God created man to be in relationship with him. When humankind turned away from God, it wasn’t just a rejection of, but a cosmic treason against God demanding a righteous response from a perfect God. The story goes, that rather than punishing sinners who couldn’t live as they should, God poured out His punishment on Jesus who lived as we should have. Therefore, right relationship and peace with God can be established not on the basis of moral performance, but sincere trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
If you think about it, this really is “good news.” It’s actually astounding news. It is news too good to be true, something no one in their right mind could concoct as a “religious crutch.” And yet, we don’t always experience it.
In this post, I detail ways we can better engage the gospel for experience.
But first, here’s are a few of my reasons why we don’t always experience the gospel.
Why We SOMETIMES DonT Experience the Gospel
1. The Gospel Is Too Lofty
Have you ever heard anyone excitedly share the details of their vacation to Europe before? Unless you’ve been to Europe or you know its history and culture, the descriptions will not feel digestible to you. It will sound like a hodgepodge of difficult and unfamiliar names and concepts. Yes, it sounds sophisticated but still foreign.
Sometimes we don’t experience the gospel because the gospel itself can seem too lofty and transcendent for us. I mean, the gospel has cosmic implications - God is uniting all things to Himself (Eph 1:10). The gospel contains themes of outworked divine justice - Jesus’ work on the cross satisfies the wrath of God through the atonement of our sins giving us peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Just try to chew on those concepts for a moment.
So while we might say “Yes” and “Amen” (because we’re supposed to), we may actually find these concepts too grand and exalted to digest for experience on a Tuesday morning in the car.
2. Pride Has Dug Its Roots
If the previous reason said the gospel was too lofty, this one goes in the opposite direction by elevating the self, namely one’s own sins and therefore unworthiness to receive the gospel.
This is to suffer from the delusion of grandeur.
The individual reasons, “I have sinned too much this week” or “How could I have done such a thing?” to the degree that hope in the gospel becomes squeezed out by the perceived hugeness of one’s own failures.
But if you ask this person, “Is the gospel for sinful people?” they will be adamant that it is so. In fact, they would say the gospel is available for the worst of sinners, except for him or herself.
This is a form of spiritual narcissism cloaked in false humility and unbelief.
3. We’ve Embraced a Partial Gospel
We all love the weekends but could you imagine if the weekends were your everyday existence? In the long run, that would not be very enjoyable.
See, the anticipation and appreciation of the weekend is actually contingent upon the weekday experience. Therefore, a “good” weekend requires the grind-it-out weekday.
In the same way, “good news” is only good when preceded first by bad news.
Forgiveness of sins necessitates a penalty of sins. Propitiation requires the wrath of God. Only when we see enmity with God can we appreciate the adoption and reconciliation with God we inherit through Jesus.
But when we don’t see the whole gospel picture, it’s hard to appreciate the gospel as truly “good news.” It’s like waking up everyday to a lazy Saturday. It might feel really nice at first, but we’ll eventually lose the wonder of the gospel.
How We Can Engage the Gospel for Experience
1. Cut the Gospel Into Smaller Slices
What if I told you it’s hard to digest the gospel sometimes because it’s too powerful for us?
See, the gospel is conceptually too massive, and too glorious for our finite and sinful minds to absorb and digest at every given moment. “Your Creator died for your sins.” That should amaze us but it’s too grand and potent of a truth for us to swallow instantly.
It’s like trying to swallow a huge slab of traditional Italian dry cured ham. It would be too potent and confusing. It wouldn’t be digestible. But cut a razor thin slice of it? You get the glory of prosciutto. It not only fits in your mouth and tastes amazing, but you can appreciate the whole of the dry cured ham.
In the same way what if we broke down the gospel from a generic whole (“Jesus died for your sins”) to its specific, smaller parts (ex: Justification, Propitiation, Adoption), and digested that to our mind and hearts through continued, ongoing faith?
So when your guilt condemns you, you don’t simply try to swallow the whole ham (“Jesus died”) but you swallow a thin slice (“I have peace with God because I’ve been justified by faith”)?
Romans is the most comprehensive gospel explanation. The author Paul, after laying out the thesis of the gospel by describing it as “the power of God for salvation” spends the next 10 chapters thinly slicing the gospel into its specific digestible parts.
2. Stop Thinking about the Gospel
Cows take a long time to eat. Why? Because they have four stomachs. Food is gradually passed from stomach to stomach. In fact, did you know that when a cow chews its cud, it’s burping up some of its half-digested food in one of its stomachs for further chewing and nutrient absorbing?
This method of eating is actually called “rumination” (Latin ruminare, which means “to chew over again”)
So what’s the point? We should stop thinking about the gospel if by “thinking” we mean to “keep in our mind for a brief second before forgetting about it.” Instead, we should ruminate on the gospel.
We should chew on the grace of God, swallow it, pass it to our other stomach, burp it back up and chew on what it means to be adopted by the Father, and swallow it again until the gospel we know becomes the gospel we feel and believe deeply.
Journaling, reading, praying are a few avenues to practice rumination.
3. Share What You’re Afraid To Share
I always experience the gospel when I share my failures and sins.
Why is this the case? Why is confession so powerful?
My theory is that confession has a paradoxical effect.
First, its gives us permission to run towards the gospel. I am admitting to myself, “I need God’s grace.” But secondly, it gives me actual proof that I do in fact believe in the power of the gospel because when I share, I am proving to myself that the gospel is so powerful, it is mustering up the courage to confess rather than hide my shame and failure.
The gospel does ring true when I convince myself of the gospel after I sin. But the gospel rings loudly when I confess my sins to someone else, motivated by the gospel.
There are many days when I struggle to experience the gospel.
If you’re struggling to experience the gospel daily, you’re not alone, but be encouraged.
A pro-active, engaged struggle may actually be evidence of the gospel word which has been implanted in you when you first believed (James 1:21). So continue receiving it with humility - ruminating on and preaching the gospel to your own heart.
In the end, no one ever graduates out of the gospel. We only graduate deeper into the knowledge of God’s grace.