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Gospel Idolatry: Worshiping Redemption Over the Redeemer

Greg E. Gifford, PhD, CBC



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Sin_Of_Idolatry_The_wide_t_nt Is it possible that we are valuing redemption more than we value the Redeemer? Have we made the gospel about us, instead about the One accomplished the gospel? This is what brings me great concern as a rising trend among evangelicalism: gospel idolatry. Gospel idolatry is simply the elevation of the message over the Messenger; of the act over the Actor. It seems so subtle and so enthralling. Jesus is kind and in His kindness He liberates me from sin, saves me, justifies me, sanctifies me, and will one day return for me. And because who I am in Christ, I can now live out a life that lacks condemnation; I am free in Christ. Did you see what I just did in stating those accurate and biblical truths? The gospel just became about me, not about Christ. So I ask again, is it possible to worship salvation over the Savior? Yes, and we do.

What gospel idolatry does is takes a conversation in which I am not the subject and it inserts me as the subject. It all-too-covertly makes the gospel about how Christ came to save me. Yet, the Gospel is not about us primarily, it is about God’s work through Christ. Gospel idolatry has a flavor of the self-esteem theology that ran rampant through our churches just a decade ago: think more of yourself, believe in yourself, think positively about your gifts. But we have now ‘Christianized’ some of the same terminology: live out your identity in Christ, understand the indicatives of Scripture, you are a child of God, and other true but often mis-angled phrases.

Am I suggesting that we are to ignore the indicatives of Scripture? Absolutely not! Am I saying that we are to overlook our position in Christ? No way! What I am saying is that we are slowly making the gospel more about us and less about Christ. Gospel idolatry has de-emphasized the glory of Christ revealed in the work of the cross and has emphasized me as beneficiary of that work. And this is idolatry, at best, and blasphemous at worst.

It’s interesting when you read clear snapshots of what the gospel is in Scripture (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1-4) that there is no mention of, well, me. In fact, the opposite is true. The entire focus is on Christ and his death, burial and resurrection. The gospel is a will of sorts, and you and I are the beneficiaries. We didn’t do it; we didn’t earn it. Rather, Someone else accomplished it, we simply reaped the rewards of Their labor.

So here is my challenge as we wade through the trendiness of the me-gospel and its implications for me: don’t worship redemption over the Redeemer. Don’t make it into another form of self-aggrandizement. Don’t take the benefits of the gospel and make them the only good news of the gospel. Yes, we want to have new identities as children of God. But more importantly, we have a God who acts on behalf of broken sinners to make them His children. The gospel is about a God who acts, not about us as the beneficiaries of His actions. The gospel is good news for me but not good news about me.

"God may be looked upon in an absolute consideration, as he is in himself the best and most excellent being, wherein we behold the concurrence of all perfections, the most amiable and beauteous excellences, to an intellectual eye, that it can have an apprehension of." --John Howe, On Delighting in God
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