Looking to the Gospel In 2023

Happy New Year Heartland,

With every new year, we are primed to think about new beginnings. We think about new rhythms and habits that we want to form; new initiatives that we are looking forward to; and all of the new things that God has for us to experience. However, with all the consideration of what’s new, we must be reminded to never lose sight of what’s true. One of my favorite quotes from John Piper addresses this tension. He said, “Let us never become so enamored with what’s new, that we lose sight of what is true.” As we journey into 2023 together, my challenge is for us to do so with a commitment to help remind one another of where our focus should lie — the gospel!

When I think about this dynamic, I am always reminded of the first words of Jesus that are recorded in The Gospel of Mark. Mark spends the first several verses of the chapter explaining the ministry of John the Baptist in preparing the way for the Messiah. The people had been waiting for centuries for this new thing that God had prophesied about — and the time had finally come. Mark explained how Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River and how He was then led out into the wilderness to face temptation from the enemy.

And then, after John’s arrest, Mark tells us how Jesus came back into Galilee to declare the Kingdom of God. This is what He says:  “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15) Notice how Jesus introduced this new thing by calling people to repent and believe. He didn’t give them a new set of things to do, or any new initiatives to think about. He simply says, “return to God (repent) and believe Him.” This was a call from God Incarnate (the Messiah Himself) to focus on what was already true.

That is a really good word for me, because I love to start new things and I’m really bad at finishing them. You could fill entire books with examples of projects that I’ve begun and not finished. The reason for this deficiency is not so much laziness (I consider myself a pretty diligent worker), but the lure of moving onto something new. This is how what’s “next” can be the enemy of what’s “now.” If we are so focused on what is next, we can easily lose sight of what is right in front of us. We do this in all sorts of ways, but we must be careful to not do it when it comes to gospel centrality in our lives.

The work of the Christian is primarily a work of repentance and faith. As the Spirit leads us in righteousness, He calls us to believe and remain focused on the gospel. The good news that Jesus Christ has defeated sin and death by substituting Himself for us. The good news that He has done everything necessary for us to be made righteous in Him and to be reconciled to the Father. The good news that we can do nothing to earn this salvation, but that we enter into only by grace and through faith in Him. This is the message that was once for all delivered to the saints and stands today as the only way to salvation. Our primary calling is to be rooted in the gospel and to believe it with our whole being.

So, as we enter into a new year and begin thinking about all the new things that we are going to experience, let’s ask God to help us be primarily focused on what is true. Let’s walk in a way that accords with the words of Paul in Philippians chapter 4 — “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

My great hope for Heartland Church in 2023 and beyond is that we would be stubbornly focused on the gospel of grace and that we would enjoy the gospel culture that God is creating in our faith family. Please know that I am praying for you!

Because of Christ,

Jeff Neville