What is a Gospel-Centered Family?

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By Peter Zimmer, Director of Family Discipleship

Anchors, Walmart, and the…gospel?  Quite awhile ago I was walking with my two older daughters through Walmart.  For whatever reason we happened to pass through the outdoors section.  My eyes panned across the wall littered with bright and fluffy lures and bobbers and all other types of fishing paraphernalia until my eyes landed on the bottom level where there laid a cast-aluminum upside-down mushroom.  What on earth is that thing? My curiosity was piqued and quickly I realized that it was a small anchor for a fishing boat.  I didn’t grow up going out on small boats to fish-so naturally my mental picture of an anchor was the classic image from cartoons and pirate tattoos.  I stopped the girls, knelt down and picked up the 10 lb aluminum mushroom and asked the girls what they thought it was.  I gave them a chance to feel its weight.  Obviously, they had no idea.  A quick crash course followed on the purpose of an anchor.  The whole reason I did this, besides my geekish level of curiosity and high capacity for distraction, was that we’d recently been learning the hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.”  There’s a verse in the second stanza that says “In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”  So I asked them- now that you know what an anchor is, can you think of when you last heard about an anchor?  They nailed it and recognized it from the song, and it was an opportunity to apply what they just learned about the purpose of an anchor to the reality I’ve been calling them to believe about Jesus.  I believe that everything around us in some way, shape, or form is an on-ramp to the gospel.  In this case, a heavy aluminum mushroom was a route to proclaiming the gospel to my children, reminding them that Jesus lived a perfect life and died on the cross to receive God’s wrath against sin, which we deserved, so now by faith we can be restored to a right relationship with our maker.  This is good news!  Because of what Jesus has done we have more security than we could ever imagine.  So, I told them, when the storms of life come, we rest in knowing that the identity purchased for us by Christ is rock-solid and going nowhere, just like a boat with a good anchor. 

This was an opportunity to proclaim the gospel to my children.  But it was more than that, too.  It was a moment where I told them the Good News but also helped teach them that it is powerful for anything they experience in life.  We often think of the gospel only as a theological statement to be proclaimed to someone who doesn’t know it or believe it.  The Gospel certainly is something to proclaim and call people to believe.  However, we often forget (or don’t even know) the comprehensive, pervasive implication of that good news in our daily lives as “believers.”  Tim Keller, a former pastor/author in New York City, puts this so well:

“Paul [shows us] that we never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced’. The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity.  The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.”  He continues, “The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not ‘used’ the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel—a failure to grasp and believe it through and through.”  

In other words, the Good News of Jesus rescuing God’s good creation from sin for all eternity isn’t just a ticket to heaven.  It is something that has power for every moment of our lives now and forever.  It completely changes everything about how we experience life; how we engage trials, suffering, celebrations, time, money, power, sex, parenting, friendships, work, church and more.  Absolutely nothing we experience in life is void of gospel relevance.  But why?  How can we say this?  Because everything we do in life is ultimately an expression of what we believe about ourselves and what we believe about God. 

Think back to my opening story.   It illustrated a teachable moment on the gospel, but it is a poor representation of the entirety of who I am and how the gospel works in my life daily.  It highlights a somewhat successful moment in the discipleship of my kids.  It makes me look good and spiritual.  But if that was the only picture I gave of my life while discussing “gospel-centered” parenting, your picture of the gospel in my life might be inaccurate.  It may look as if our hope of having a gospel-centered home rested on how many successful teachable moments we seized.  The power of the gospel is not bound to our successes, good moments, and external actions, but particularly powerful and relevant in our failures.  The truth is, through my own sinfulness, I incidentally disciple my children daily into anger, impulsiveness, selfishness, and impatience.  Yet, in these daily failures I (and you) experience, the gospel is the answer, the hope, and the way forward.  It reminds me the truth about who I am, who God is, what he’s done and what he’s doing in me.  The gospel tells me I’ve been graciously rescued from my sin at enormous cost to God, not because of my virtue or actions but in spite of my natural-born hostility to God.  While I was estranged from God in rebellion against him, he graciously adopted me as his son, through faith in the perfect work of his true son Jesus.  He has promised that he’s begun a good work in me and will complete it.  The good news here is that my hope does not begin or end with me- I’ve already failed and Jesus already rescued me.  He’s the hero of the story, and I’m free from having to prove to myself or others that I can be the hero.  Jesus has rescued me from the penalty and power of sin in my life and has made me one of God’s children.  This is unmatched security; deeper than the human heart could ever hope for!  This security, accomplished by the gospel, makes me free to confess, repent, and ask for forgiveness from my wife and children when I sin against them and to daily receive God’s unconditional grace and love.  And this means that my daily manifold failures become profound gospel opportunities.  They give me the opportunity to confess not only a wrong action, but more importantly a wrong belief.  My anger, or impatience, or passivity, or selfishness are all different expressions of believing something falsely about who I am and who God is- in other words, momentarily not believing the gospel.   

A common occurrence in my house is tripping on one of my children as they’re running through the kitchen while I’m moving quickly from countertop to stove cooking dinner.  My response to this is not typically patient and gracious.  But why?  Because in that moment I’m believing I shouldn’t have to deal with that.  Ultimately, someone has interjected, uninvited into my plan and expectation for ease and perfection in the execution of my task according to my timeline.  How dare I get interrupted, especially by a serial repeat offender!  They’ve done this too many times to receive patience and grace, and now’s not a good time!  But, what does it look like in this moment for the fullness of the gospel to continue to do its saving work in me?  It reminds me that I’m not God; I don’t exist to get everything perfectly the way I want it.  In fact, God is the only one who could claim that right, but he willingly set aside the priority of getting what he deserved when he absorbed sin to the point of death so that a repeat offender like myself could be brought into a loving and gracious relationship with him.  He conceded for me, someone who didn’t deserve it.  His continuous patience and gracious correction to me ought to be my model for engaging the tough moments with my children.  His life in me is the power and the promise for me to actually respond in a Christ-like way as I mature.  And, His fatherly mercies are new for me every day, every time I fail.  Thus, the gospel is our encouragement in moments of failure, its the power working in us enabling us to do things we’d never choose to do on our own, it’s the source of the greatest security we could ever hope for, and its the lens through which we ought to examine and understand our hearts and motives. 

How do we know this is happening in our life?  We will sense an ever-increasing dependence and affection for Jesus.  The more we see our need for his grace in our daily lives, the sweeter it’s taste will be, and naturally, we’ll want more and more of it.  The power of the gospel that once drew us to our knees in submission to Jesus at our conversion, will continue to deepen that affection and sense of need every day in the life of a believer.  That’s what a gospel-centered life experiences.   

So, this post is intended to explain the phrase “gospel-centered” and then specifically aim at what it means applied to the context of family.  There’s two things to know about making the gospel central to your family.  First, we can be a gospel-centered family immediately.  Second, we’ll never arrive as a gospel-centered family.  As soon as we realize how big and pervasive the gospel truly is, we can decide that it will be the framework through which we view, structure, and process all of life as a family.  In an instant, we can believe that the truth of God’s story of redemption— that he created a good world, we rebelled against him, he worked to redeem his world through his son Jesus and he sends us to tell that story in a world awaiting its final restoration— should be the story that shapes our family life.  But, we will spend the rest of our lives learning what that means and what that looks like through a roller coaster of successes and failures.  If we ever think leading our home in gospel-centrality is a simple and fully achievable task we should probably think again.  The message of the gospel is simple, but the reach of its application and power is endless. 

Nevertheless, we need help.  This takes intentionality.  God in his great sovereign care for us holds us fast and promises our growth in grace, but this doesn’t mean our choices, decisions, and efforts are of no consequence.  The grace that we’ve received ought to increasingly drive how we structure our life.  We ought to see ourselves only wanting more and more of Jesus and his will in our life as time goes on.  A gospel-centered family then, motivated by this grace, seeks to structurally orient all of their life in a way that both tells the story of this grace and drives them to deeper pursuit and love of it.  Every decision we make with our schedules and activities are expressions of what we value.  The gospel-centered family holds the gospel as its supreme value and seeks to increasingly let that value express itself and be reaffirmed through the structure of our time and rhythms.  However, this idea of “all of life” can be vague and overwhelming, so I think it’s helpful to break it down into three categories —the 3 P’s— Practices, Presence, and Praises.  I alluded to this in our first blog, but have yet to flesh out the concept well.  I want to propose these as a framework for how we evaluate and make decisions in our lives in a way that represent the gospel to the world and reaffirm the gospel to ourselves.  “Practices” refer to our core rhythms or most simply what we do; the activities we choose to prioritize and participate in.  “Presence” refers to what we choose to give our physical and emotional being to.  Lastly, “Praises” addresses what and why we celebrate and applaud in our home.  Moving forward, look for at least one post dedicated to each of the “3 P’s” in the near future.  As we’ve discussed the big picture view and importance of what it means to ben“gospel-centered” and how it ought to be viewed in our homes, soon we’ll move further into how that shapes our practices, presence, and praises.