I remember the moment the light bulb went off for me. I remember sitting on the Metro bus headed home from working in downtown Houston, listening to my iPod.
I remember the pastor preaching on Colossians 2 in that podcast, and how that passage teaches that for the believer in Jesus, all of our sin – past, present and future – has been completely paid for at the cross. And I was transformed differently in that moment than ever before.
Now I already knew the gospel. I had been a follower of Christ for nearly 2 decades at this point, but there was something about hearing the gospel preached again that day that brought new transformation that dramatically altered the course of my life.
The shame of past sins, especially those committed when I had been growing in my faith, used to haunt me. But in that instant, the weight of the guilt of my former sin was gone.
I had struggled so much with that concept previously – not with feeling free from my sin before I knew Jesus...that I understood. Rather, I struggled with overwhelming guilt for the sin I committed as a believer in Jesus. How could I sin so often after being so graciously forgiven and saved by Jesus!?
Even though I repented constantly and was grieved by my sin, I never fully felt free of the shame. The consistent refrain in my mind was "How could a believer sin against the One I love so much?" And this was more than appropriate sorrow for sinning against God; it was nearly debilitating shame, far from the "joy of my salvation" and the "freedom" found in Christ that Scripture speaks of.
I struggled to grasp the concept of Jesus dying for my sins that I would commit post-conversion, my "future sins", if you will. I couldn't wrap my mind around it...that is until that day on the bus. That glorious day when that pastor shared the gospel and the Holy Spirit transformed me.
That type of a situation, I think, is what Paul had in mind when he wrote this sentence to Philemon:
“I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 6)
Paul is hoping that Philemon will share about his faith to such an extent that it elevates Jesus and highlights the power of His gospel. What I think is striking is to whom Paul appears to want Philemon to share the gospel with.
In the context of this passage, it appears that Paul wants Philemon to share the gospel with other believers, not just those who don’t know Christ. In verses 5 and 7, Paul alludes to the “saints” (i.e. believers) being impacted by Philemon’s words, words which Paul says in verse 6 should be about the gospel. So do you see what Paul is saying here?
I think Paul is showing us that we should be sharing the gospel, not only with those who don’t yet follow Jesus, but also with those who already are believers.
- The gospel reminds us of our sin – this leads to humility and grace towards others as we remember that we too are sinners in need of the grace of God (Rom. 3:23)
- The gospel reminds us of our forgiveness – this leads to thankful heart and joy in knowing that God chose us, redeemed us and forgave us for our sin against Him (Eph. 1)
- The gospel reminds us of our need for God – this leads us to reliance on the Holy Spirit for everything as we remember that left to ourselves, we cannot do anything to please God (Isa. 64:6)
- The gospel reminds us of our mission – this leads us to pursue evangelism and missions at all costs because we were saved in order to be ambassadors for Christ in this world (2 Cor. 5:11-21)
- The gospel frees us from identity struggles because we know that our identity in Christ is a beloved child of God the Father (Rom. 8:14-17)
- The gospel frees us from people-pleasing as we seek simply to please Jesus in everything (Gal. 1:10)
- The gospel frees us from hell because the penalty of our sin has been paid for in full at the cross of Christ (Col. 2:13-14)
- The gospel frees us from guilt because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)
- The gospel frees us from idolatry because we see that only Jesus brings fulfillment and joy (Psalm 16:2, 11)
- The gospel frees us from slavery to sin because the Holy Spirit indwells our hearts through faith and enables us to put to death our flesh (Rom. 6:1-11)
- The gospel frees us from the kingdom of darkness because, through faith in Jesus, we are transferred into the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13)
- The gospel frees us from fear because the perfect love of Christ casts out all fear (1 John 4:17)
In light of this, not only should we preach the gospel to our fellow believers, we probably need to preach the gospel to ourselves!
Think of Psalm 42 where the psalmist says “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5-6a).
He was essentially preaching to himself – “Self, don’t be depressed! Hope in God…He is your salvation!”
In commenting on this passage in his book Spiritual Depression, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones famously said this:
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have but little experience.
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.’” (p. 20-21)
The gospel is vital not only for those who don’t yet know Jesus, but also for those who already do.