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The Greatest Need in the Church Today

January 6, 2012

Justin Taylor recently highlighted this excerpt from an interview with Jerry Bridges in TableTalk. Bridges, who has authored several books and served with the Navigators for over 50 years (and has been particularly influential on my own theology and vision of ministry) reflects on the greatest need in the church today. Worth a slow read and careful reflection.

There are so many needs in the church today that it is difficult to  single out one as the greatest. However, if I had to pick one, I would  say the most fundamental need is an ever-growing awareness of the  holiness of God. I don’t say this because that is the main emphasis of  Ligonier Ministries but because I believe it is true.

The emphasis of my own ministry has been the believer’s personal  pursuit of holiness. But years ago I came to realize the gospel has to  be the foundation and motivation for the pursuit of holiness. Believers  need the gospel to remind them that our standing with God is not based  on our own obedience but on the perfect, imputed righteousness of  Christ. Otherwise, the pursuit of holiness can be performance driven:  that is, “If I’m good, God will bless me.”

How, then, can we get Christians to embrace the gospel every day? I believe Isaiah 6:1-8 gives us a paradigm for addressing this need. Isaiah sees God in His  holiness, that is, His supreme majesty and infinite moral purity. In the  light of God’s holiness, Isaiah is completely undone by an acute  awareness of his own sinfulness. This is what we need in our churches  today. Because we tend to define sin in terms of the more flagrant sins  of society, we don’t see ourselves as practicing sinners.

It is only after Isaiah has been totally devastated by the  realization of his own sinfulness that he is in the right position to  hear the gospel proclaimed to him by the seraphim: “Your guilt is taken  away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 7).

What happens next? Isaiah hears God say, “Whom shall I send, and who  will go for us?” Immediately he responds, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8).  What causes such an immediate and spontaneous response? It is gratitude  for the forgiveness of his sins as he hears the gospel from the  seraphim. Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).  It is because the vast majority of Christians do not realize how much  they have been forgiven that there is so much lethargy in the  church today.

There is an inevitable sequence in the account of Isaiah’s vision. It  is God (in His holiness), guilt, gospel, and gratitude. It is deep,  heartfelt gratitude for the work of Christ as proclaimed in the gospel  that motivates us to pursue holiness. But it all begins with an  ever-increasing realization of the holiness of God. That is why I see it  as the greatest need in the church today.

The whole interview can be found here.

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