Chapter Four: Start with the Gospel

Chapter Four Start with the Gospel

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A common rebuttal to the need theory concept is that we need love. I understand the perspective, but the truth is that we need a relationship with God; if we have that, and our relationship with Him is proper, our demands on other humans to meet our cravings for love should not control us. If we are practically realizing and resting in the gospel, we can turn the tables on all our relationships; rather than being deficient takers, we can be abundant givers. We can love others rather than expect others to meet our desires for love. We will be Christlike: the way to get is to give.

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Jesus did not come to Earth so we could love Him, but so He could serve us (see Mark 10:45). Imagine if Christ had said,

I need love. These people are not respecting me. I’m not feeling accepted today. I’m feeling a bit rejected, and it is not right. These selfish people are not meeting my need for love, and therefore I must do something to bend their good favor toward me. Perhaps I can manipulate them. My feelings are hurt, and I’m getting angry with these people who seem determined not to meet my needs.

Christ was so connected to His Father that no one could control Him, even with their hurtful opinions or disappointing acts of self-centered love. He was not defensive while responding to others but on the offensive. He set Himself to give love rather than waiting for someone to meet His list of needs. Others did not control Him because He knew His purpose, what He came to do, and which relationship mattered most. He was led and loved by His Father. Therefore, the whims of the people could not control Him. Years ago, I heard Paul Tripp present a five-step analysis of what happens when a person distorts and twists desires into needs:

  1. Desire: “You should do ____________ for me.”
  2. Need: “You will do ____________ for me.”
  3. Expectation: “I expect you to do ____________ for me.”
  4. Disappointment: “You didn’t do ____________ for me.”
  5. Punishment: “You didn’t do ___________ for me, so I am going to make you pay.”

Whenever our desires or cravings morph into needs, we can expect this downward spiral to result in a sinful confrontation with the person not meeting our expectations. Mable’s life and thoughts had been more about what she wanted from God than what God desired for her. The Lord was just one of the options she used to bring her what she wanted. Biff was the other, which complicated her devastation when his self-centeredness collided with hers.

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Mable had a twisted theology and understanding of her heavenly Father. Biff was another way to feel good about herself in her toolbox. Sadly for Mable, she married a selfish person, as we all do. Biff is not compliant in meeting her perceived needs, and when Biff is unwilling, Mable becomes angry, critical, sad, self-pitying, and unloving toward Biff. This selfish, reciprocal interaction caused them to inch gradually away from each other until their home was too divided for them to ignore the problem.

While Biff was not right in his selfish attitudes and responses to his wife, Mable needed to readjust her thinking into a God-centered way of looking at things rather than a Mable-centered way. After I helped her unpack her thoughts and heart motivations and walked her through her understanding of God and how she had been selfishly relating to God, I began to explore the implications and applications of the gospel more profoundly. Initially, Mable was not satisfied with this approach to counseling. She wanted what she called “real and practical ideas and methods” to apply immediately to her life. Talking about the gospel at that early point in counseling was counterintuitive.

Even though Mable had spent twenty years thinking wrongly about God and marriage, she wanted me to fix her marriage today. The gospel approach to counseling made no sense. When I raised the gospel as our starting point and the solution to her problems, she told me that she understood the gospel. She said she became a Christian over two decades ago. On one level, she was telling me the truth. She did understand the gospel, but only pertaining to her salvation. I, however, was talking about the gospel as it pertained to sanctification (the life a person lives as they gradually transform into Christlikeness), though I never want to assume a person is a Christian.

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Mable seemed to be a Christian but did not understand how the gospel should rule her orthopraxy. She believed that she needed the gospel to get saved but that it had little to no effect on her life after salvation. The best word to describe the gospel is Jesus. When I asked Mable what the gospel was, she said it was the Good News. Though this was right, she did not fully understand the gospel as a person. The gospel, for her, was more about the proclamation of a message than a transformative way to live. The gospel is not just a proclamation; it is a person! We can expand this succinct definition:

The gospel is the Person and work (everything He has done) of Jesus Christ. Christ and His work go back to eternity, and His Person and activity stretch into everything He will do in eternity. The centerpieces of all this activity are the cross, where Jesus paid for our sins with His death and the tomb from which the Father raised Him from the dead.

Call to Action

  1. Why must the gospel be our starting point in conflict resolution?
  2. Why must we understand that the gospel applies to our sanctification, not just our salvation?
  3. How had Mable’s craving for love hidden the truths of applying the gospel (Christ) to her life and marriage?
  4. When you think about relational conflict, do you begin with the gospel or what’s wrong in the horizontal relationship?

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