Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture.*


This is gospel doctrine: Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). Christ redeemed us from the curse of God’s law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13).

When that gospel really takes over our lives—that is to say, when we really understand it, truly believe it, and deeply feel it—it draws forgiven sinners together into a community with its own unique “feel.” It’s what the gospel itself would feel like if you could somehow press yourself into it—namely, grace, acceptance, kindness, peace, joy, belonging, gentleness, trust, commitment, cheerfulness, etc.

The gospel is a message of grace, so naturally it creates a culture of grace. The gospel is a message of acceptance, so naturally it creates a culture of acceptance. The gospel is a message of kindness, so naturally… You get the idea. Gospel truths, simply being what they are, possess the power to create gospel culture. When we fully connect with the grace, acceptance, kindness, and peace of God coming down to us, it will produce lives of grace, acceptance, kindness, and peace flowing out from us.

So what? Why does it matter? Several reasons… 

It creates an expectation for what our church experience should be like. Do your relationships here feel like you’ve just stepped into a living experience of God’s free grace? If not, it’s a good sign some of us haven’t yet fully connected with God’s free grace ourselves. It’s possible to get gospel doctrine right on paper, yet lack that doctrine at a functional level, where it counts in the lives of actual people. 

Second, it sets the bar for our own conduct and attitudes. Do you mentally “audition people” to see if they meet with your approval? The gospel doesn’t; it accepts all who admit their need and come—even sinners as unworthy as you!

Third, it helps us maintain the dual commitment to sound doctrine and practical living. Without gospel doctrine, there’s nothing to hold the culture together except good intentions and kind personalities. Without gospel culture, the doctrine appears irrelevant and implausible. But when we keep doctrine and culture together, the message becomes visible and easier to believe through the quality of our community together.

*NOTE: I am indebted for this wording to Ray Ortlund, who is the only preacher and writer I know who says it quite this way—a way that resonates deeply with me and will eventually, I hope, with you too.