As a church, does our culture match our doctrine? As an individual or as a family, does our culture match our doctrine?

Gospel doctrine – gospel culture = hypocrisy
Gospel culture – gospel doctrine = fragility
Gospel doctrine + gospel culture = power”[2]

Paul at one time called out Peter for his hypocrisy, for conduct that misrepresented the truth he believed. Peter held to the gospel, but at one point his life and the church environment he created was anti-gospel. In Galatians 2:14 Paul says the reason he confronted Peter and others was “that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” As I’ve been thinking about the doctrine of justification by grace alone this forced me to wrestle with a question. What kind of culture should the doctrine of justification by grace create in my church, in my relationships, and in my life? What conduct and culture is consistent with a gospel of grace and what creates dissonance between my beliefs and my behaviors?

The kind of church culture that is consistent with gospel doctrine is explained in Ray Ortlund’s wonderful little book, The Gospel. He writes:

“Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace. When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful that church will be powerful. But there are no shortcuts to getting there. Without the doctrine, the culture will be weak. Without the culture, the doctrine will seem pointless.”[1]

Ortlund’s book and this essay bless the church by painting a picture of how Gospel doctrine at its best creates a beautiful and powerful gospel culture. As I’ve thought in particular about how my doctrine of justification by grace should create a certain culture in my own church and life, or conversely, what symptoms might demonstrate hypocrisy where my conduct is not in step with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14), here are a few simple things that came to mind. My encouragement would be to think what kind of culture in my church or home rightly holds up the beauty of the gospel. Or, what behaviors or culture in the church and home portray—and thus teach—not a gospel of grace but a works-based way of living?

Here are a few examples of when we might live contrary to the gospel or create an anti-gospel culture?

  • When we think about, dwell on, or bring up the sins of others that they have already confessed. Forgiveness means sin has been paid for and therefore is removed. If Jesus has paid for these sins we don’t drag others back into the courtroom to re-examine the evidence against them, seek a guilty verdict, and go after double-punishment. God does not hold our sins over our heads or push them back into our face, and when we do so we deny the gospel in our conduct.
  • When we relate to others or treat others based upon what we think they deserve, how well they did, or what they earned. The gospel reminds us that God deals with us according to his promises, to the grace and mercy he extends, and not based upon our worth, performance, goodness, or earning. Therefore, we misrepresent the gospel when we are unkind or distance ourselves from those in church who we deem rough around the edges, struggling to get their act together, or spiritually immature. We create works-based cultures in our homes when we only affirm our kids based upon their accomplishments (sports, school, career, etc.) or when we treat our spouse in accord with how we think they’ve treated us or what we think they deserve.
  • When we treat the sins or struggles of others as abnormal, something embarrassing, awkward, or something to be hidden rather than to be shared and confessed. A church with a strong gospel culture gives people lots of freedom to share their sins, their struggles, the gaps in their life between where they want to be and where they are in reality. It does this not because the church creates an “I’m okay, you’re okay” mindset or where being “real and authentic” is the ultimate goal. But, it does this by saying the gospel tells me that God is for me, that I am safe in Christ, that God is at work even when I don’t see it, and that my righteousness is found outside of me (in Christ) rather than in me. We’re all simultaneously sinners and saints, people fighting the good fight of pursuing Jesus but still often losing skirmishes and battles along the way. An awareness of my own sin—and how truly deep and disgusting it is—and my own failures, as well as a firm grip on the gospel of grace that keeps me in the midst of my sin, allows me to embrace others in similar situations with empathy and grace. When we act as if righteousness is something we provide or possess, and therefore that we don’t have sins and struggles of our own, then we subtly create a culture that teaches others to think they’re only safe with God and his people when there’s no mess.
  • When there is boasting or pride for anything we do. Whether it be how much knowledge we have, how missional we are, how active we are in the church, how committed to spiritual disciplines we might be, how much passion we have, or how much we think we’ve grown, any time there is pride, self-reliance, boasting, or a humble-brag attitude about ourselves than we create a culture inconsistent with the gospel. The gospel of grace teaches that we only contribute our sin and are absolutely dependent on God for everything, meaning our salvation and any good work in our lives. The slightest progress or the smallest step of growth takes God’s powerful work in our corrupted hearts. A gospel-culture is one of humility and gratitude for all God has done for us, but a gospel-less culture wreaks of pride and boasting.

What are other ways our culture and conduct might be out of step with the truth of the gospel?

[1] Ray Ortlund, The Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 21.
[2] Ortlund, The Gospel, 23.

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