Back before there was a gospel revelation at Cornerstone Bible Church, there were rumblings of the change to come. I read The Disciplines of Grace with my Bible study (then called “Flock”) and it began to stir in my heart the beginning of a greater understanding of grace, mercy, and love of God.
Since that change in my understanding of the complete work of the gospel began with a Jerry Bridges book, it’s only fitting that another should contribute so much to my growing understanding of the magnitude of the gospel.
The Bookends of the Christian Life compares the two anchors of saving faith to two bookends that keep the books (i.e. Christian life) from falling over. First of all, it looks at the righteousness of Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life. He never sinned; not even once. And, when He died on the cross, He paid the price that I ought to have paid. Not only did He bear the punishment I deserved, but He also transferred His righteousness to me; when God sees me, He treats me as though I have lived Jesus’ perfect life.
This is so important for the daily Christian life. When sin enters my heart, when I make mistakes or simply give in to temptation, it’s tempting to let guilt paralyze me. I’m afraid that I’ll lose what I received from Christ, and I’m tempted either to just give up or scramble desperately to try and make up for it.
Bridges cites two enemies to the gospel: self-righteousness and persistent guilt. Self-righteousness thinks of the cross as an eraser, wiping the slate clean so that they can fill it with its own good works. This can have the (often unintended) side-effect of feeling as though God owes us something for our good works. But the truth is that we can’t count our righteousness without also counting our sin, putting us right back at square one. But if we count the cross as having paid for ourselves, then we can also count the righteousness of Christ as our own. But instead of breeding the pride and entitlement that self-righteousness does, it breeds humility, gratitude, and joy at what Christ has done.
It also kills guilt because the work of Christ is sufficient. We no longer need to bear the weight of our sin because Jesus has already paid it all. Once we believe this, we are freed from the guilt of sin. But we’re not free to just do whatever we feel like doing, which is really just enslavement to sin; we’re free to obey and love God because we’ve been empowered to do so.
The other bookend is the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s because of the power of the Holy Spirit that our lives and our hearts can be changed. And this power is always at our disposal, ready to help. We can have confidence that we will grow and change because it has been promised to us.
Bridges cites one more enemy of the gospel: self-reliance. The clean slate strikes again: this time, instead of causing us to feel like we deserve God’s favor, it makes us feel as though we need to earn God’s favor. But this is an affront to the cross. It presumes that the work of Christ is not enough. But remembering the power of the Holy Spirit reminds us that we don’t need to work for our own righteousness any more than we need to work to make up for our sin. It’s all been taken care of by the work of Christ already.
This is a short, simple work that simply highlights the truths of the gospel in light of the gospel. It was a balm for my soul in trying times. If you ever feel as though it’s tough going to follow Christ, turn to these truths and let the gospel comfort, encourage, and strengthen you.
This book is a quick, satisfying gospel shot, and if you want to live that reflects the gospel, it’s a great place to start.