There is a difference between being born and learning how to live. Carissa and I are about 6 weeks away from welcoming our 4th baby girl into the world. Little Viola Grace (who is waving to you in this pic from last Thursday) will be born sometime in early March, and the procedure (a scheduled C-section) will probably take about 30 minutes. In the first weeks of her life she’ll cry and cry and poop and poop, all while learning how to breathe, eat, and live life after being born. It’ll take a few months for her to learn to hold her head up, by about 6 months she’ll be sitting up, and within 6 months after that she’ll take her first steps. Soon after that she’ll be running around the house, putting everything in her mouth, and eventually (oh what a glorious day this will be) our 4th baby girl will be potty trained. A couple years will pass before she enters school. Twelve more years and she’ll graduate and head off to college. I’ve heard it goes pretty fast.
Viola will learn how to live as a human being outside of the womb during those first 18 years of life, and in some ways for the entire duration of her life. She will be born in about 6 weeks, but she will learn how to live outside of the womb for many years after that.
Our spiritual lives parallel, in some ways, the pattern of (for lack of a better term) our physical lives. Spiritually speaking, when we believe the gospel of Jesus we are “born again,” but there is a difference between being born again and learning to live alive. Often time people use the word “sanctification” to refer to the journey God leads us on as we learn to “live alive.” Sanctification is one of the major themes of the letter of 1 Thessalonians.
Paul begins his letter to the Thessalonians by clearly playing his hand. The “why” of this letter is obvious from the start. This is a church that was planted through the gospel (Acts 17:1-9 tells the story), but that still needed to grow deep gospel roots. Paul didn’t stay as long as he would have wanted in Thessalonica, and he wrote this letter soon after he left. He wrote to help them get rooted in the gospel of Jesus, the good news they had come to believe.
To do this, Paul begins the letter (as he does many of his letters) reminding the Thessalonian Christians that they have been “chosen by God” and are “loved by God.” Many of the New Testament letters begin this way because God’s grace in salvation is a major key to understanding (and growing in) the gospel. You could say: Gospel roots grow in the soil of God’s grace.
If I think salvation is based upon something I did or something I deserve, I’m trusting in my own worthiness to save me. If I think salvation is based upon how I measure up to a behavioral standard that other people have placed on me, I’m trusting in the perception of my own righteousness to save me. If I think salvation comes through gaining God’s approval, I’m trusting in my own ability to save me. None of these mindsets produce the soil in my life where the gospel takes root. Instead, they produce other outcomes.
- If the soil is my worthiness: religion gets rooted in my life, not gospel.
- If the soil is other’s opinions: duplicity takes root in my life, not gospel.
- If the soil is my ability to gain God’s approval: condemnation takes root, not gospel.
However, if the soil is God’s grace, if I come to terms with the fact that my salvation is planted in God’s grace, the seeds of the gospel take deep root.
Gospel roots teach me:
1) It is not my abilities or morality or works that saved me, Jesus’ work saved me.
2) Measuring up to other’s standards or expectations doesn’t save me, Jesus measured up to God’s standard for me, that’s the root of my salvation.
3) My goodness doesn’t get God’s approval, God’s love for me and grace toward me is revealed in and through Jesus.
Growing in the gospel liberates us from trying to save ourselves, and positions us to rest in God’s grace in Jesus. God’s grace brings us to life, and it’s only through His grace that we learn to live alive.