Two weekends ago I was blessed to be able to attend The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference in Orlando. I must confess that I initially approached the conference with a bit of East Coast intellectual skepticism, wondering if such a large, commercial, Christian event in the Bible Belt would actually be relevant to me.
Who was I kidding? The truth is relevant to me and to those of us trying to understand and respond appropriately to the gospel and to God’s grace. That weekend, 3,000+ of us heard the beautiful, convicting, magnificent truth of God. And anyway, who wouldn’t look forward to three days at an event with names like Keller, Piper and Carson?
There were so many heart-piercing “aha” moments and lessons, it’s hard to truly reflect on all of them in one post. Carrie Sandom pushed us to take a deeper look at the Lord’s unchanging character and his promise of deliverance in Psalm 40. John Piper helped us to get a clearer glimpse of the God of Isaiah 6 who is Alive. Authoritative. Omnipotent. Resplendent. Revered. Holy. And Glorious. Paige Benton Brown took us through a journey of God’s temple from the tabernacle to Solomon’s temple to its current place within us. We must ask ourselves what we are doing to preserve our “templeness.” Nancy Leigh DeMoss challenged us to build up our spiritual fortress through daily devotions in order to weather the storms of our life. My fellow Citylife Church attendees are keeping each other accountable in our 30-day devotional challenge. Kathleen Nielsen took us through the consummation of the Biblical story in Revelation 4-5. The worship of our redeemer is what this life is all about, and it’s happening now despite our self-important goings-on. We either join or we don’t. I want to join. And Don Carson painted for us a picture of the new Jerusalem and reminded us of the importance of valuing our destiny in heaven (Revelation 21-22). Choosing heaven as our treasure as Jesus commands in Mark 6 will help turn our hearts toward him in this life.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway was the most simple – the upside down gospel of grace – which is rooted in God’s love and sacrifice, and completely unexpected and undeserved by a sinner like me. I really appreciate the way Tim Keller articulates the order of the gospel: we are saved by grace, which then motivates our obedience to God, which results in blessing. Or put another way, “I am accepted, therefore I obey”, as opposed to “I obey, and then I’m accepted.” The first is a response of gratitude while the latter is conditional and self-centered.
Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson reminded us that the same unexpected gospel story should be preached to our children. Too often in modern Christianity our children are taught “be good so you can feel good about yourself and so God will give you good stuff and not mess with you too much.” The real message is that it’s hard to be good, but Christ makes us good. Young or old, we need a savior who saved us before we even knew we needed it.
And finally, the upside down gospel should extend deep into our hearts. Jenny Salt pointed out that while the world tells us to boast in ourselves and tell everyone how great we are, we are to do the opposite in the gospel. According to 2 Corinthians 12, the gospel keeps us from boasting in things that make us look good and causes us to boast in our weaknesses. As God promised in Isaiah 43, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:9, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” As Charles Spurgeon captured it so poetically: “I’ve learned to kiss the wave that pushes me against the rock of ages.”
So what does this all mean for me?
In short, I want to approach the God of Isaiah 6 with newness and awe. I want to look to heaven in all its reality with anticipation and excitement. I want to be more grateful for the one who bore the punishment I deserved before I even existed. I want to take comfort in the fact that I don’t have to be good in order to be accepted. I am already accepted and made good. I want to pursue the goodness that was imparted in me not for my own boasting, but to demonstrate the power of a God who can transform a sinner like me.
Photo Credit: The Gospel Coalition