Tell me the old, old story

At the prayer meeting in my home Church we still use the ‘Mission Praise’ hymn books.

Very often we sing songs from ‘Mission Praise’ that we don’t sing on Sundays. These songs are usually the older generation’s favourites. One such favourite is Tell me the old, old story. The chorus is:

Tell me the old, old story

Tell me the old, old story

Tell me the old, old story

Of Jesus and His love

This old story of Jesus and his love is of course the gospel.

If we are honest with ourselves, candidly honest, from time to time this story can get a bit old. We have heard it a million times growing up through: Sunday school, children’s meetings, youth groups, summer camps and teams. And now we hear it every Sunday in church.

To be sure, it is a tragic thing to say that God’s lovingly gracious redemption of rebellious sinners through the sacrifice of his one and only perfect son gets a bit old. But we are sinful creatures who frequently catch ourselves chasing new ideas. The result of these sinful tendencies is that the gospel almost becomes passé, boring, old.

You may be beginning to worry where all this is going – but don’t fear, I am not going to try and offer a new gospel. But I do hope what I share below makes the old, old story feel new and fresh for those of us feeling that way.

If you have been reading my blog posts regularly, or connected with me on Facebook or twitter, you will have gleaned that I love reading. I am currently working my way through The Gospel as Center (please forgive the American spelling, I have).

The Gospel as Center is a collection of essays that seek to unpack and explain more fully The Gospel Coalition’s foundational documents. Therefore, a variety of contributors have completed essays on a variety of topics and it has now been released in this helpful volume.

As you may have guessed, there is an essay called ‘What is the Gospel?’ This essay has been written by Bryan Chapell. Chapell is an excellent preacher and writer – his book Christ-Centred Preaching is one of the best preaching books available. However, I still had that same dread in the back of my mind that I was going to read the old, old story.

I was pleasantly surprised.

It wasn’t that Chapell had come up with some new and fascinating aspect to the gospel that I had never thought of before. It really was the old, old story. But the way it was framed was immensely helpful, and removed any boredom that I anticipated.

I will not regurgitate all that Chapell said, I’ll encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this book instead and read it for yourself. Nevertheless, allow me to whet your appetite by sharing his excellent framework. There are three strands to this framework:

  1. What God requires, He provides

This section really was the old, old story and even the phrase which entitled this section was familiar to me.

Chapell works through God’s holiness, our being made in his image and the fall. In short he shows how we are incapable of providing what God requires. All is not lost though, because God can provide what he requires. Indeed he does.

Chapell then presents Jesus in all of his wonderful facets – those facets that we are aware of – his humble birth, obedient life, sacrificial death, miraculous resurrection and glorious ascension.

Christ in all his beauty is what God requires and is what God provided.

  1. What God provides, He perfects

This second section caught my eye – God perfecting Jesus? This is a little strange, but it is not where Chapell takes us. Instead, our eyes are directed toward the glorious truth that this salvation which God provided will be perfected in us. In other words this section is speaking of sanctification.

This discussion begins with the great truth that we will be kept spiritually safe by God until we die or Jesus returns. God will keep us until our salvation is finally accomplished. He will perfect what he has provided.

This is then fleshed out in our personal lives through our union with Christ and the family privileges we enjoy because of that union.

However, there is also a cosmic aspect to this section. Chapell says, ‘The One who came to save sinners provides a salvation so grand that it restores the whole earth, involves our whole being, and lasts for eternity’ (pg 132).

God will certainly perfect that which he has provided.

  1. Whom God perfects, He uses

Finally, Chapell ensures that we understand the part we have to play.

In no way can we provide our own salvation, and in no way can we bring this salvation to perfection, but gloriously God can and does use us.

The three aspects to being used are individually, corporately and redemptively. These three aspects cannot be separated. As we are used individually, we are used corporately and all of this is for God’s great and redemptive purpose.

In his great goodness God sees fit to use those he has perfected.

As Bryan Chapell relates it, the gospel is God providing what he requires, God perfecting what he has provided and God using those he has perfected.

I admit I have not, and cannot, do justice to all of the nuances, details and explanation that Chapell offers in this essay. However, I do hope that I have given you yet another framework with which to learn, remember and share the gospel.

This framework certainly made me pay attention, and glory in the wonder of the gospel like I used to. I pray that this old, old story never gets boring for me – but when it does I pray God may open my eyes to see the gospel afresh.

In my home church there used to be a senior youth club on a Friday evening. Each evening at some stage there would be a short Bible talk. It was an evangelistic outreach from the church, and a relatively effective one in my eyes. This meant that the Bible talk often revolved solely around the gospel. One leader in particular used to actually make a point of reminding the young people that they were hearing the same thing. They were hearing the old, old story, the same message that has been proclaimed for thousands of years by the church.

We must never change this story, the gospel. But what we can do is present through different frameworks. I thank Bryan Chapell for this framework:

  1. What God requires, He provides
  2. What God provides, He perfects
  3. What God perfects, He uses
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