Wilson’s book will stir churches to live out the power of the gospel with a fervent, genuine zeal. Pastors, church leaders, and all in ministry will be uplifted, emboldened, and empowered by this book.
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About the Author
Jared C. Wilson is the director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and managing editor of the seminary's website for gospel-centered resources, For the Church. He is a popular author and conference speaker, and also blogs regularly at Gospel Driven Church, hosted by the Gospel Coalition. His books include Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Gospel Wakefulness, Gospel Deeps, The Pastor’s Justification, The Storytelling God, and The Wonder-Working God.
Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. is the pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including the Preaching the Word commentary on Isaiah, as well as a contributor to the ESV Study Bible. He and his wife, Jani, have four children.
Read an Excerpt
What Is Gospel Wakefulness?
In the well-appointed study of a professor of history in a prestigious university in the American South sits a brick-sized piece of the Berlin Wall. It sits on the floor, because he uses it as a doorstop. He is not ignorant of the piece's historical significance; as a historian he is deeply informed of the struggle and the repression attached to the wall, to the shame it symbolized and the division both literal and cultural it created. He not only knows about but also teaches on the international reverberations that occurred when the great emblem of the communist stronghold in Western Europe finally came down. The piece of wall propping open the professor's door has some sentimental significance to him as well, as it was a gift from a former student, a star pupil currently pursuing her doctorate.
In a small, dingy apartment in Midwest America lives an elderly immigrant woman who sells newspapers and fresh cut flowers during the day and cleans an office building in the evenings. On an iron shelf in her bedroom sits a small lidless glass jar, and in that jar is a piece of the Berlin Wall the size of a marble. She has often held that piece of rock in her withered hand and wept. Her husband did not live to see the wall come down. Her cousin was one of the estimated five thousand people who tried to escape from the communist Eastern Bloc into West Berlin. He was one of the estimated one hundred to two hundred people killed by border guards in the attempt. He was one of those crushed by the Iron Curtain, so she is one of those who knows the unique confluence of memorial pain and joy in having intimately felt how the world once was and in having experienced how the whole world was changed. She knows what it feels like to carry an ocean full of grief and longing, what it feels like to cling to a sliver of hope, and what it feels like when that sliver of hope — a crack in the great barrier of darkness — gives way to a dam break of glorious fulfillment and release.
When the professor hears the epic Brandenburg Gate speech in which President Ronald Reagan famously commanded, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" he admires it as a watershed moment in history, as iconic a sound bite from the annals of historical rhetoric as any. When the woman hears "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" she is stirred, always. When the professor speaks of the fall of the Berlin Wall as an earth-shattering event, he really does mean to communicate the radical nature of the event; he really does understand this. But the woman knows that the fall of the Berlin Wall was an earth-shattering event deep down in her bones.
This is gospel wakefulness.
In December 2009 I had written the latest in a long line of updates using the phrase "gospel wakefulness" to my Twitter feed when one of my "followers" messaged me: "Where did you get this gospel wakefulness stuff?" he wanted to know. "I Googled it, and the only person who seems to be talking about it is you."
This really surprised me. I didn't believe I had made up the concept (and still don't), but perhaps I had made up that particular phrasing. I didn't think I had; in fact, the wording owes a lot to things I've read by the likes of Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther and heard in the sermons of some like John Piper and Tim Keller. But it was true that in the previous two to three years, I had used the phrase a lot, had really tried to make it my own without really trying to make it my own (if you understand my meaning). But the concept of gospel wakefulness has the appearance — and the danger — of seeming new, and it's my hope to prove that that is not the case, that in fact it is not only a widespread Spiritual phenomenon among God's regenerate children, but that it is also biblical, no matter what words we use to define it or describe it.
But what is it, exactly?
What Is the Gospel?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to first arrive at an agreeable definition of the gospel itself. The word gospel comes from the Greek word evangelion, which essentially means "good news" or "good report." Perhaps the clearest and most concise biblical summation of the gospel can be found in 1 Corinthians 15:1–4:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
This outline of the gospel's content from the apostle Paul gives us in just a few lines a wealth of information about what the gospel is and what the gospel does. Paul informs the church at Corinth that the received gospel is the grounds for justification ("in which you stand") and sanctification ("by which you are being saved"). He also says this message is "of first importance," and if you are even cursorily familiar with Paul's writings, you know he really believes this. Paul then reminds the church what the good report actually reports — that Jesus died to forgive sins, that he was buried, and that he was resurrected, and that all this was not a fluke or an accident or a plan B for the heavenly Father, but actually part of God's sovereign plan for the world. Paul denotes this by repeating at each point that this was all "in accordance with the Scriptures." In verses 5–8, Paul refers to those who witnessed the events reported in the gospel, which is his way of making this spiritual claim a historical claim. The good news is news about something that actually, literally happened in real life.
This is the basic, nonnegotiable truth of the news that God declares good. Notice that it is not advice, not suggestion, not instruction. Nor is it vague spirituality, steps to enlightenment, skills to implement, or precepts to practice. It is information; it is an announcement. It is news. News to be believed, yes, but it is not news of something that has yet to happen or something we can make happen, but rather something that has already happened and was made to happen by God himself.
There may be no need to further distill the gospel; Paul has done not just a good job in 1 Corinthians 15 but an authoritative job. But if we were to summarize his own summary, we might put it this way: The good news is that eternal life is possible because Jesus died to forgive sins and came back to life to conquer death. You may have walked down a church aisle, as I have, to accept an invitation to believe just that.
The New Testament, however, talks about the gospel in other ways too, as its Spirit-inspired writers draw out the implications and applications of the good report. Jesus himself, and John the Baptist before him, are recorded in Matthew's Gospel as preaching the "gospel of the kingdom," in Mark's and Luke's as preaching just "the gospel." They were not preaching the death and resurrection of Christ, at least not directly at first. They were announcing that God's righteousness was finally coming to bear upon the real world, that the manifest presence of his sovereignty was finally breaking into history, as is the hope seen throughout the longing of Israel in the Old Testament. This in-breaking kingdom, of course, centers on Christ as King, and the coronation and exaltation of Christ as King hinges on his death and resurrection, so the "gospel of the kingdom" and Paul's gospel of first importance are not really separate concepts, but degrees of magnification of the same concept. All analogies break down, but perhaps we could say that Jesus's death and resurrection are an electron and a proton, and that Christ's kingdom is the atom they make up. (In this case, that atom would be hydrogen, but I'm an idiot when it comes to science, so that's as far as I'll take the analogy.) Jesus died and resurrected according to the Scriptures, which means God's kingdom has come according to the Scriptures.
The kingdom of God was being inaugurated by and through Christ before his death, of course, but this inauguration was predicated upon his eventual (thorned) crowning and elevation upon the cross. (His announcement of the kingdom and his acting like the king preceded his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as well.) We could step back a bit and examine how Christ's sinless life was integral to the efficacy of his eventual substitutionary sacrifice, which means his life before his death is implicitly integral to Paul's gospel of first importance, but that sort of theological rabbit trail is beyond the scope of this book.
What we can say is that one primary way the Bible talks about the gospel is in the sense of "the kingdom," but we cannot, as some writers and pastors today do, hermetically seal this form of the gospel off from the core announcement of the gospel found in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, if you keep reading further into the chapter, you will see in verses 22–25 that Paul begins connecting Christ's work on the cross and out of the tomb to the coming and consummation of God's kingdom. In addition, the gospel of all the Scriptures has a cosmic scope that posits God's glory itself as the sum of the good news. In this wide-angle view of the gospel, the good news is that the peace that was broken at the fall will be restored in everything, from God's reconciliation with sinners to his establishing of the new heavens and the new earth. A cosmic gospel means the restoration of all things.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, we see the gospel referred to as holding power, as being power itself. Paul says in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of salvation for those who believe it. In Ephesians 3:7 he says the gospel was given to him by God's power. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 he says the gospel is accompanied with power. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 he says the message of the gospel is the power of God. In Colossians 1:6 he says the gospel is bearing fruit and growing. Clearly this is information that is not merely information!
Mark 1:1 tells us that the gospel is Jesus himself. Acts 20:24 tells us that the gospel is God's grace. Romans 15:16 tells us that God is the gospel. Second Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the gospel is not just Christ, but his glory. Ephesians 6:15 tells us that the gospel is peace.
What we see in all of this is not many different gospels, but the many facets to the diamond that is the gospel of first importance. There are also implications and applications of the gospel: the birth of the church; the reconciliation between sinners; the feeding of the hungry; the clothing of the naked; the healing of the sick; the deliverance of the demoniac; the rescue of the impoverished; etc. All of these and more are part of the fruit that the power of the gospel bears. But the essential mustard seed of the gospel is the incredible historical event of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. This is good news because you and I are sinners who are under God's wrath and will die under the penalty of that wrath — destined for hell — without this divine intervention.
What is the good news? It is the news that Jesus died for sins on the cross and resurrected for eternal life out of the tomb, and this news is good because it means that if you will confess with your mouth and believe with your heart that this good news is true news, you will be saved into a secure relationship with God himself.
What Is Gospel Wakefulness?
There are lots of descriptions of and synonymous phrases for what I call "gospel wakefulness" — because in fact I didn't invent the concept. But if I had to place what I mean by the phrase in a nutshell, I'd do it this way: gospel wakefulness means treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly.
This definition begs the questions, of course, "more greatly than what?" and "more sweetly than what?" The answer is "treasuring more greatly and savoring more sweetly than not treasuring or savoring at all," but because I differentiate between gospel wakefulness and the new birth, I also mean "more greatly and more sweetly than before."
I am not talking about waxing and waning feelings of intimacy with God, movements of worship, or the sort of experiences that lead to "rededicating one's life" (and rededicating more after that), but an experience of such power — of such awakening — that it persists and endures, settling deep into the heart and the conscience of a believer that it carries through all emotional highs and lows. And yet, again, this is not a second conversion experience, as it were, but rather a deeper and fuller appreciation of the first and only necessary conversion, a greater vision of what we perhaps only barely and minimally perceived upon salvation (comparatively speaking).
Imagine you are driving down the road and your car stalls at a railroad crossing. You are understandably nervous as you try to reignite the car's engine, but you become even more so when you see a train turn the corner in the distance and begin quickly closing the gap between it and you. The train engine's horn is blaring and the engineer has thrown on the brakes, but you are too close and he's coming too fast. You move from trying to get the car to start to trying to unfasten your seatbelt, but fear has made your hands stiffen and shake. You can't get your seatbelt unfastened. The train is rushing toward you, and you know you're going to be hit. And you are. Suddenly and from behind. A man in a truck behind you has decided to ram into your car and push you off the tracks, even as he is destroyed by the impact in the very spot you once occupied.
You get out of the car, shaken and still frightened. You are terrified by the gruesome scene, in shock over your rescuer's sacrifice. You are grateful in a way you've never been grateful before. You wish you could thank the driver of the truck for saving your life. Even in your terrified awe, it feels good to be alive. You feel woozy, so you sit down on the trunk of your car, and as you're trying to retrieve your cell phone from your pocket to call 911 and marveling at how little damage the violent shove did to the rear bumper, you hear a whimper from inside.
You didn't know that before you'd left the house, as your kids were playing hide-and-seek, your youngest son decided to hide in the trunk of your car. As you open it up frantically and discover that he is miraculously unharmed, you suddenly realize the total greatness of the loss you almost suffered. Your gratitude, your amazement, your new outlook on life takes a giant leap forward. That is the difference between the gospel wakefulness of conversion and the greater gospel wakefulness that often occurs later.
As I said, gospel wakefulness isn't always an event subsequent to salvation. For many of the unchurched who experience the new birth, wakefulness is simultaneous with conversion. They know the cost of salvation deeply almost at the instant the Spirit opens their hearts to see it, because they know deeply the depths of their depravity. But for many of us who either grew up in church or lived what many would call "a good life" prior to our regeneration, feeling the weight of our sin and brokenness, and thereby experiencing the wonder of gospel wakefulness as we see what we've been forgiven of, doesn't come until later, after we've exercised the barest of saving faith.
Puritan writer Richard Sibbes captures the sanctifying work of gospel wakefulness well in his classic book The Bruised Reed when he writes:
Let us remember that grace is increased, in the exercise of it, not by virtue of the exercise itself, but as Christ by his Spirit flows into the soul and brings us nearer to himself, the fountain, so instilling such comfort that the heart is further enlarged.
Sibbes is not talking about conversion in this instance; at least, he's not talking about first conversion. He is writing within the context of depressions like grief or pain or despondency, so what he is referring to is how God works in and through our "bruising" to bring us closer to him, to make us more dependent on him, and to "enlarge our heart." That is a good phrase for gospel wakefulness. In conversion we receive a new heart, a resurrected heart. As we abide in Christ, the fruit of the Spirit of that new heart results in qualities dead hearts do not produce — things like kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, patience, etc. Our hearts get larger. They suffer what Thomas Chalmers calls "an expulsive power of a new affection." In the gospel wakefulness God often grants in and through moments of intense bruising, our hearts undergo a growth spurt! Maybe, like the Grinch who didn't really understand Christmas at first, our heart grows three sizes in one day.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Gospel Wakefulness"
Copyright © 2011 Jared C. Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Ray Ortlund, 9,
1 What Is Gospel Wakefulness?, 19,
2 Nonnegotiable Brokenness, 39,
3 Renewed Affections, 59,
4 Wakened Worship, 77,
5 Freedom from Hyperspirituality, 95,
6 Chief Spiritual Rhythms, 113,
7 Gospel-Driven Sanctification, 131,
8 Depression, 147,
9 Gospel Confidence, 169,
10 The Gospel-Wakened Church, 183,
11 The Blessed Fixation, 201,
Recommended Reading, 219,
What People are Saying About This
“Gospel Wakefulness was a joy to read. My eyes filled with tears and my heart flooded with joy on numerous occasions. It’s been a long time since a book created the emotion in me that this book has. The chapters on brokenness and sanctification were humbling and beautiful reads. I am praying that Gospel Wakefulness falls into a lot of hands and hearts.”
—Matt Chandler, lead pastor, The Village Church, Dallas, Texas; president, Acts 29 Church Planting Network; author, The Mingling of Souls and The Explicit Gospel
“Is it possible that in our evangelical desire for bigger, better, faster, shinier, and louder we’ve actually dulled our spiritual senses? What can wake us up? Only the astonishment the Spirit brings through the gospel of Jesus. In his new book, Jared Wilson beautifully keys in on our need to be bowled over by the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God and helps us seek real amazement in God’s ‘amazing grace.’ Writing with passion and clarity, Wilson shines the light of Christ on every page.”
—Ed Stetzer, Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism, Wheaton College
“Anyone hungry and thirsty for righteousness will be refreshed by the invigorating streams of truth that flow from Gospel Wakefulness. Jared Wilson wants us to delight in the gospel to the point that sin becomes bitter and Christ becomes our supreme treasure. May this book awaken your affections toward the Savior who deserves all praise.”
—Trevin Wax, Managing Editor, The Gospel Project; author, Gospel-Centered Teaching, Counterfeit Gospels, and Holy Subversion
“To paraphrase Solomon, of making many books (about the gospel) there is no end. And I’m glad of it! I pray we never reach the day when we grow weary of writing and reading books about the gospel. That is why I’m profoundly grateful for Jared Wilson’s contribution to this growing genre of Christian literature. He awakens us to the power of the gospel—that alone brings hope in the midst of brokenness and joy—in the stunning truth that a holy God is actually for us. If you need to wake up to the beauty of the gospel (and who doesn’t?), this book is for you. If you’ve ever wondered how the gospel quite literally and radically changes everything, both now and tomorrow, Gospel Wakefulness is must reading.”
—Sam Storms, lead pastor for preaching and vision, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
“Gospel Wakefulness is one of the most theologically faithful, refreshingly honest, pastorally sensitive, and eminently practical books on the gospel I have read in a long time. Accessible without tiresome clichés or self-serving anecdotes, Jared writes as a man astonished at the riches of God’s grace, committed to the maturing of Christ’s church, and engaged with the advancing of God’s kingdom. The gospel is more clear and precious to me for having read Jared’s book. I cannot think of a greater compliment to be able to offer.”
—Scotty Smith, Teacher in Residence, West End Community Church, Nashville, Tennessee
“How many of us really understand the power of the gospel? It’s about more than just knowing the facts; it’s a deep-down realization that something amazing and wonderful has taken place. Jared Wilson explains that our lives will overflow with incredible joy and thankfulness when we truly comprehend the gospel. Jared’s book changes how we see the gospel and reminds us of just how amazing grace is.”
—Greg Surratt, Pastor, Seacoast Church
“By God’s grace this book will help ignite a burning obsession with the always-overwhelming, always-underrated, and always-powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t read this book unless you are ready to be ignited with a passion for the gospel in an extraordinary way.”
—Burk Parsons, Copastor, Saint Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, Florida; Editor, Tabletalk magazine
“You’re a Christian, but you’re lagging. Joy is elusive. You struggle to get as excited about your faith as you do about Monday Night Football or lavishly dressed housewives. As sinners, we will all find ourselves in this position at some point. What we need is a fresh vision of the gospel, a new savoring of God’s grace in Christ. Jared Wilson gives us just this gift in Gospel Wakefulness—a book that makes us laugh even as it makes a mark.”
—Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; coeditor, Designed for Joy and The Pastor as Scholar, the Scholar as Pastor
“Jared is a brilliant writer with an important message, calling us back to the power of the gospel. He reminds us that we don’t need to desperately try to make it attractive because it already is the most attractive thing in the universe! Wilson demonstrates how we can simply and powerfully proclaim the gospel through our lives and ministries. I feel liberated by this much-needed call to gospel wakefulness!”
—Jud Wilhite, author, Eyes Wide Open and Uncensored Grace; senior pastor, Central Christian Church, Las Vegas, Nevada
“You may not recognize your need for this book until you read it. You won’t be sorry that you did, but be warned: Jared Wilson’s relentless focus on the wondrous grace of Jesus Christ may prompt some painful if ultimately liberating reflection on your desperate, everyday need for a Savior. Enjoy highlighting Wilson’s many pithy lines on our ongoing need for the gospel and rejoice over the stories of redemption he tells.”
—Collin Hansen, Editorial Director, The Gospel Coalition; author, Blind Spots
“It’s been said you can’t commend what you don’t cherish. It is clear Jared Wilson cherishes the life-saving, life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ. In this book he also commends it, so we will do the same.”
—Elliot Grudem, Director, A29 Network; pastor, Mars Hill Church; Editor, Christian Beliefs
“Gospel Wakefulness clearly explains the difference between simply knowing the content of the gospel and being utterly captivated by it. Jared masterfully paints a picture of what a truly ‘gospel wakened’ soul looks like, all the while pointing to our inability to accomplish this ourselves. He continually points to the magnificent work of Jesus and clearly states how the good news should influence our lives. This book tells the story of how a proper understanding of the law and the gospel leads to not only a bigger view of Christ, but also to a life completely transformed by him. It challenges both new and seasoned Christians to go beyond merely intellectual Christianity and experience the full majesty of the cross of Christ.”
—Justin S. Holcomb, Episcopal Priest; Professor of Christian Thought, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; coauthor, Rid of My Disgrace and Is It My Fault?
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