Then she stopped, her lip quivering, "But I never really understood that Jesus died for me." She went on to tell me about how she attended a Christian concert where she heard the message of the Gospel. All of her Christian knowledge about Jesus became personal. Her heart was captured by the glorious truth that Christ died for her. Martin Luther made much of the phrase "for me," and rightly so. That phrase is at the heart of the Reformation, for God's personal love for us penetrates our hard hearts and brings lasting change.
Interestingly enough, the summer in which I listened to this woman's testimony was the summer in which I was having an epiphany that went the opposite way. Having grown up in evangelical churches all my life, I had always taken for granted the truth that Christ died for me. That truth was emphasized again and again, and it had gripped my heart long ago. What was becoming more glorious to me was the truth that Christ died for us. I was beginning to see in Scripture how Christ's death purchased His church as a Bride. Furthermore, this action for us was ultimately for God and His glory. My epiphany was grasping the truth that Christ's death for me was bigger and better than I had ever dreamed: It was also for us and for God.
I'm afraid we often take the glorious for me of the Gospel and separate it from the for us and the for God. We shrink the Gospel down until it is a message about our individual standing before God that no longer contains the Gospel community at the heart of God's plan. Instead, we need to see the for me wrapped up in the for us, which is wrapped up in the for God. It all goes back to God and His glory being made manifest through the church that He has bought with the blood of His Son.
Emphasize the for me to the exclusion of everything else, and you wind up with an individualistic message about personal salvation; the church becomes an optional side-effect of the Gospel message. Emphasize the for us and for God aspects of the message and you never bring the Good News down to the personal level; you don't challenge someone to trust in Christ. But put them together and you have the biblical understanding of the Gospel -- both individual and corporate. Once you grasp all three aspects, your personal salvation story is given eternal significance because it is caught up in the great, unfolding drama dreamed up in the heart of our good and loving Creator.
Trevin Wax is editor of "TGM -- Theology -- Gospel -- Mission," a small-group curriculum being developed by LifeWay Christian Resources. This first-person is an excerpt from his book, "Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope." Used with permission from Moody Publishers.
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