My pastoral and preaching ministries have been influenced by many solid resources over the years. No book has affected me more than John Piper’s relatively small book God Is the Gospel. If I could only recommend one ministerial book to students and pastors, this would be the one. It’s affected my life and ministry like no other. That’s high praise, but it’s not hyperbole. Let me illustrate anecdotally.
I preached a funeral shortly after Joe Tyrpak came to Tri-County Bible Church as our assistant pastor, around 5 years ago. He was fresh out of seminary, and I took him along so we could fellowship, talk about ministering the Word at funerals, etc. I told Joe that I do my best to make eulogies as personal and gracious as possible, taking them as an opportunity to let the bereaved know that I care for them and want to honor their loved one. In a sense, I think of a heartfelt eulogy as an opportunity to “earn a hearing” for the straightforward gospel message that will follow. So it was that day. I finished the eulogy, then preached the gospel, urging the hearers to repent of their sins and trust Christ so that they’d be ready for their own deaths.
Afterwards, I asked Joe if he had any observations or questions about the service. He was a bit hesitant—much more so than he would be now, for sure!—but he noted that in preaching the gospel I highlighted Christ as a way to heaven and out of hell, but I didn’t mention anything about people actually being reconciled to God. I thought about it, we talked about it, and life went on. I think I assumed that he was being a bit picky. However, shortly thereafter (I think at Joe’s urging) I began to read God Is the Gospel. My understanding of the gospel and the way I present it changed in a subtle but vital way. In fact, I think our entire church began to change from that time.
The gist of the book is that through the gospel, God isn’t merely offering pardon or life or heaven. He is offering to us Himself. He is justifying us, yes, but He is doing so in order that He might reconcile us to Himself. Christ suffered for sins not just to bring us to heaven, but to “bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Hence, salvation has an intensely relational emphasis. The tragedy of sin is rebellion against God. And the triumph of the gospel is reconciliation with God. So what will make life in heaven heavenly—and what makes life on earth heavenly!—is fellowship with God. So says Piper:
“What makes all the events of Good Friday and Easter and all the promises they secure good news is that they lead us to God. ‘Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God‘ (1 Pet. 3:18). And when we get there, it is God himself who will satisfy our souls forever. Everything else in the gospel is meant to display God’s glory and remove every obstacle in him (such as his wrath) and in us (such as our rebellion) so that we can enjoy him forever. God is the gospel. That is, he is what makes the good news good. Nothing less can make the gospel good news. God is the final and highest gift that makes the good news good. Until people use the gospel to get to God, they use it wrongly.” (p. 42)
I read the book again over the weekend, and I was reminded how much of it has been absorbed into my thinking. John Piper has done some things and written some things with which I disagree, to be sure. Call no man master. But he has also written some wonderful things, highlighting vital truths of Scripture perhaps more than any other writer in our generation. I once heard him tell Mark Dever he thought his most important book was probably The Pleasures of God. Others would argue for his most read book, Desiring God. Still others would cite Let the Nations Be Glad or Don’t Waste Your Life. For my part, no book has left a mark on my heart, my appreciation of the gospel, and my preaching ministry like God Is the Gospel. It’s Piper at his best.
We don’t just have a great salvation. We have a great Savior.
(Update: You can get a free pdf of the book here.)
Filed under: Book Reviews & Discussions, John Piper, Ministry Musings, Ministry Resources, The Gospel, Tri-County Bible Church | Tagged: God Is the Gospel, Joe Tyrpak, John Piper, Reconciliation, Tri-County Bible Church |