Ortlund, Ray. The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. 136 pages. $14.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or on Kindle for $9.99.
Note: This review was first written for The Pathway, the newspaper for the Missouri Baptist Convention.
The gospel is the good news that God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, die on the cross in our place, and rise from the dead so that we can have life. Jesus rescues us from the judgment we deserve for breaking God’s laws, brings us into the kingdom of God, and grants us eternal life. This message of salvation through grace is the defining truth of Christianity and the point of the entire Bible. The gospel is what we must believe in order to be Christians, and it is the message we must proclaim to a lost world so others might come to know Christ. The gospel is the center of any church that brings any glory to God.
But these truths raise an obvious question. If the gospel is the heart of our faith, than why do we not always see its saving power when we look at our families, our churches, or ourselves? Why is it that instead of experiencing the good news of great joy in our lives and our churches that people sometimes experience cries of distress or complaints or gossip or bitterness or mocking laughter or even hate? Unfortunately it is all too possible for us to believe and teach the truth of the gospel but not actually practice it.
This is why Ray Ortlund, Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN, wrote The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. If we are to be people and churches that please God and make a difference for him we must not only believe the gospel (though we must do that), but we must live out the gospel. The gospel must be our doctrine and our culture. This means constantly examining ourselves to make sure the gospel is our center, because it doesn’t happen automatically. This book helps us to do just that.
The first three chapters explain the depth and breadth of the gospel.
We must resist the tendency to reduce the gospel to our own individual relationships with God. While all people must believe the gospel for themselves, God does not just save us individually. He saves us to be part of a church. But even here we have to be careful, because if we think of the gospel only in terms of ourselves or even our churches, we are still missing the big picture of what God is doing in this world. We must believe and live out the gospel so people can see a glimpse of heaven on earth through us, and put their faith in Jesus Christ now, while they still have a chance. The gospel is as big as the universe.
Once we understand the gospel we are able to live out the gospel, and Ortlund gives practical advice on how to do that in the last four chapters of the book. The gospel leads us to invest in each other, offering an alternative to the isolation and competition of this world. The gospel leads us to forsake self-assurance and hypocrisy and exult in Christ together. The gospel gives us power, courage, and love necessary to bear witness to Christ no matter what, so we can be the “fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor 2:15).
Ultimately, through the gospel God makes us beautiful, so that the beauty of Jesus Christ could be seen in us. Every Christian and every church I know could look more like Jesus and have a deeper grasp of his gospel message. Therefore every Christian and every church I know would benefit from reading and doing the things in this book.