The Paradoxical Gospel
I don’t remember ever saying this, but here goes. I’ve never been more confident of my salvation. I’ve never felt so secure. I’ve never been so satisfied in Christ. And yet, at the same time, I’m more aware of my sin, ready to acknowledge it, even willing to tell people about it.
Sound like a paradox?
Welcome to the Christian life. I’m convinced that a true understanding of the gospel allows these two truths to dwell side by side.
Some of you know my story. I’ve been a Christian for more than twenty years. Like many people who grew up in church, I came to know and love Christ at an early age. I didn’t know much, but I knew I was a sinner and that Jesus saved sinners. But as I grew older, I focused less on whom I believed, and more on what I’d done to earn the title of “believer.” And I hadn’t done enough. I thought I’d be better suited for heaven if I had a breakthrough, a sudden burst of moral success. I needed to clean myself up, cross off a few items on my spiritual checklist before I felt good enough for God.
But “good enough” never came. My obsession with the Law resulted in years of doubt and downright depression. When you look to the Law and not the Law-keeper, your assurance is blown to smithereens. I know, because I’ve stood in the wreckage, clutching my stone tablets and wondering why I didn’t feel saved.
Then God sent a friend, as he often does, at just the right time. Enter Theresa, a friend of twenty years (and frequent inspiration for my writing). She said, the gospel doesn’t give us freedom to sin, but it gives us freedom to be sinners.
Stop. Let that sink in. Ponder the paradox.
Now listen to the words of Paul: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And later, “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
Paul is a paradox pro. He understands that when we’re saved, we’re finally free to not sin—to choose what’s true and good and beautiful. To do what’s pleasing to God. That’s part one of the paradox: freedom from sin. It’s what some people call the “already.” Yet Paul also knows we’re still sinners, that our flesh and our spirit wage war with one another, even post-conversion (Romans 7:15-19). We acknowledge that, knowing God is faithful—slowly, steadily faithful—to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). That’s part two: the freedom to be sinners. What’s known as the “not yet.”
We live in this paradox, where the “already” and “not yet” intertwine. A place where, when we fail, we need only look to him who never failed—Jesus, who fulfilled the Law on our behalf. Everything we can’t do, everything we still try to do, he did. His righteousness is ours (Philippians 3:9), his death is ours (Galatians 2:20), his resurrection is ours (Ephesians 2:6).
To Law-lovers, it sounds too simple. To skeptics, it’s naïve. But to sinners in the hands of a loving God, it’s the gospel. The real, gritty, paradoxical gospel.