I don’t feel any different

Checkin“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13 ESV).

My wife and I married when were very young. When we arrived at the hotel to check-in to the honeymoon suite that I had reserved for us on our wedding night, I was very nervous. I had never been in charge before. The few times I had ever stayed at a hotel some grownup had always checked in for me. But now, I was supposed to be the grownup. As we approached the check-in desk, the lady behind the counter said, “May I help you?”

Even though I had been mentally rehearsing my response from the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot, my voice croaked as I replied, “Yes, um… we’re Mr. and Mrs. um… Gary Combs and um… we have reservations…”

I don’t know if it was my imagination or not, but the clerk looked at me like she thought I was lying. I felt like she was going to ask for proof or something. Like she might want us to show her our rings or produce our marriage license. But she simply said, “Ah yes, we have it right here. Yes, the bridal suite for Mr. and Mrs. Gary Combs for three nights. And by the way, congratulations!”

“Thank you.” I muttered, relieved that she had actually believed me.

Right after our wedding day, I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel married yet. Intellectually I knew that I was married. I knew that we had taken all the appropriate steps of commitment together. We had said the “I dos.” But my feelings took a little longer to catch up.

Sometimes new believers express a similar sentiment. Right after they commit their lives to Christ, they have doubts about their salvation, saying, “But I don’t feel any different.”

Perhaps they expected to have an experience like the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. In their minds, they wonder, “Where was the bright light and the audible voice?”

Yet, God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We are to put our faith in His promises, not in our feelings. Feelings are fickle, but God’s Word is firm. When we trust God’s Word, our feelings will eventually follow.

Perhaps the recipients of the apostle John’s first letter were struggling in the same way. They needed assurance of their salvation. So, John wrote to them to give them confidence. He said they could “know” that they had eternal life because they had “believed” into the name of God’s Son. They didn’t have to worry or work to be sure. They could “know” that they were saved because they had believed in Jesus.

In many ways, getting saved is like getting married. Have you given your life to Jesus? And do you believe that He has already given His life for you?

Good. Now, stand on that profession of faith. Walk it out. For some people, the feelings will wash over them like a flood in the very moment they commit. Yet for others, the feelings will follow later.

Why Eastgate?


Eastgate’s 1st preview service on June 28, 2015!

“But He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:38 NKJV).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV).

This coming Sunday, September 27, 2015, we are launching a new church location in Rocky Mount, North Carolina called Eastgate Community Church. We have been planning and working on this launch for two years. My son, Jonathan Combs, will be the Lead Pastor. He worked with us as a church planter intern for a year, learning about church planting and leadership, doing demographic studies of nearby towns, raising startup monies, and other ministry tasks, all while still working full time at a drugstore in Wake Forest, NC and serving as a Chaplain in the North Carolina National Guard.

11703297_1687075254849194_7042805752606223722_nThis past year, Jonathan and his wife, Nicole moved to Rocky Mount. They took over leadership of our Castalia community group, whose members were driving an hour to attend WCC. And they have now helped launch two new groups in the Rocky Mount area. In June, they held their first public worship service at Rocky Mount Academy. This was the first of three “preview services” that they have held. The purpose of these preview services is to attract interest, train volunteers and to build momentum before the launch. A lot of work has gone into preparing for this coming Sunday!

As we pray and prepare for the Eastgate launch this coming Sunday, there are still some who may have questions about why and how we’re doing this. Questions like…

“Why plant another church? Isn’t there enough to do in Wilson?

When the Lord was asked by his disciples about focusing on ministry in one town, he answered, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

Jesus was crystal clear about his purpose. He came to preach the gospel throughout Israel. Then, after his resurrection, he commissioned his disciples to carry the gospel throughout the whole world. He even gave them a strategy as recorded in Acts 1:8, to be witnesses of the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In other words, start at home, then to your region, remember the people groups near you, but not like you, and finally reaching out to the world. Applying this strategy to our setting we might say, “We want to be witnesses in Wilson, in Eastern NC, to unique people groups near us, and to other nations in the whole world.”

“Why Rocky Mount? Don’t they already have enough churches?”

The short answer is: Rocky Mount is in our “Judea,” it’s within our Eastern NC regional assignment. It’s the “next town” near us. But there are also many reasons that we felt called to go to Rocky Mount over another Eastern NC town.

One reason is demographics. At a population of 57,136 (Wilson’s is 49,610), it is the largest city within a 30 minute drive of Wilson. According to surveys, over 31,000 of them don’t attend church. We’d like to change that. The current churches in Rocky Mount have reached 45% of the population. There is not only a need for one more church, there’s room for many more.

Another reason is that we already had people driving from the area to WCC. We wanted to go towards them, so that they would have access to a local church and so that they could actually help us plant and grow Eastgate.

Christ’s command to reach out to our “Judea,” the evidence of demographics, the people already driving from there to us, these all contributed to our decision to go to Rocky Mount. Yet, the most important reason was a sense of confirmation from God through prayer. Our leaders have been praying about this for several years now. We feel called to Rocky Mount.

Of course, as we continue to answer Christ’s call to reach out to Eastern NC, we will be prayerfully considering other locations for future church plants. Recent studies indicate that Eastern NC is the most under-churched region in North Carolina. We need more gospel centered churches here!

Is Eastgate a separate church from WCC?

No. We are one church, three locations (Don’t forget our Hispanic service). Eastgate will have its own pastor, local leaders, volunteers, and budget, but they will follow the same leadership and DNA culture as WCC. What we are doing is called “multisite” church planting. But we will not be doing video broadcasting of my sermons in all locations as some multisite churches do. We have developed a preaching team that will preach the same sermons live in all locations. If I’m preaching on prayer, then Pastor Jonathan will be preaching on prayer (and so will Pastor Miguel).

How can WCC afford to plant another church?

How can we afford not to? We haven’t been called to build our own kingdom, but to join Christ in His work of kingdom building. Yet, we are being very conservative in our finances as we seek to grow. For this reason, up until now, other than sending volunteers and sharing physical resources that we already owned, like trailers and sound equipment, we haven’t had to support Eastgate financially. They have raised their own financial support.

Pray for our “Judea.”

I don’t know if I’ve answered all the questions you may have about Eastgate. We’ve tried to be transparent and clear about our process all along the way. If you have more questions, let us know. We want you to be confident and clear in our vision to follow Christ’s Acts 1:8 strategy.

So, will you join us in praying for our “Judea.” There are many who are far from God in our region of Eastern NC. We have a calling on our lives to share the gospel with them. And especially pray for our Eastgate launch this Sunday!

“Let us go to the next towns” that we may plant churches and preach the gospel there!






Books I’ve recently recommended…

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV).

While I know that I am at risk of going against Solomon’s advice and recommending too many books, I would like to list several in response to the many requests I have received. These are all books that I have recommended in connection to our last two sermon series.

Books I recommended during our “Faith and Family” series…

… on parenting:

ShepherdingShepherding a Child’s Heart by Dr. Tedd Tripp

This is one of the best books on parenting from a biblical perspective that I have in my library. Dr. Tripp teaches parents how to aim their efforts at heart change, rather just behavior change. We want more than just good kids, we want saved kids. Dr. Tripp teaches us how.

DontMakeMeCountDon’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard

In a book that Hubbard refers to as “a mom’s look at heart-oriented discipline,” she follows Dr. Tripp’s approach, while offering even more specific discipline strategies for moms. For those that want more than theory, this book is as practical as they come.

LeadingKidsLeading Kids to Jesus: How to Have One-on-One Conversations about Faith by David Staal

So many parents have question about this topic. Staal addresses questions of when and how to have spiritual conversations that your child can understand. Every Christian parent should read this book.

…on marriage:

SpeakingNow You’re Speaking My Language: Honest Communication and Deeper Intimacy for a Stronger Marriage by Dr. Gary Chapman

Dr. Chapman, also the author of The Five Love Languages, offers a very helpful book on communication in marriage. In my experience, poor communication is the number one cause of marital distress.

GraceGrace Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel

Kimmel, who has also written an excellent book entitled, Grace Filled Parenting, has written a very helpful book for couples that helps them understand the importance of grace and forgiveness in their marriage. A marriage without grace will eventually lead to bitterness.

…on singleness:

SingleSingleness: How to Be Single and Satisfied by June Hunt

I found Hunt’s book to be very helpful in preparing my sermon on how singles can live spiritually fulfilling lives. I think our singles will find this book very encouraging.


RedeemingRedeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life by Barry Danylak

Our church has often overlooked the singles in our fellowship, but we are trying to change. Reading books like this helps. Danylak makes a very insightful case for the biblical significance of singleness.

Books I recommended during our “The Rhythm of Prayer” series… 

PrayerPrayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster

Foster’s book is one of the most helpful on prayer that I have in my library. His insightful way of organizing types of prayers according to three prayer movements is particularly encouraging. Read this book to change your prayer life and to learn new ways of praying.

PrayerKellerPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller

Keller writes as a pastor to his flock, but also as an academic to his students. This book is both for the one who needs help in their prayer life and also for the one who would understand the purpose and practices of prayer more fully. A very readable and helpful book.

FreshFresh Encounters: Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer by Daniel Henderson

My son, Stephen, recommended this book to me. I took it on my first of the year study break. It was the inspiration for our prayer series and prayer emphasis for this season. Henderson has convinced me that our church needs to grow in its commitment to corporate prayer, not just teaching on prayer, but actually spending time together in prayer.

Well, that’s all for now. I hope these books are an encouragement to you as you seek to grow in your faith.

Boda-boda gospel partners

” I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6 ESV).

As I traveled with Pastor George Mbonye to reach out to the Batwa Pygmies near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the Kanungu District of Uganda, it became clear to me that transportation is a key ingredient to effectively carrying the gospel to this region. The roads there are terrible and barely deserve the name. Most of the pastors either walk or ride bicycles to visit their churches and their members.


Pastor George Mbonye & Johnny Kinton

Pastor George is one of the fortunate few that own a dirt bike. Or as the people of Uganda call them, a “Boda-boda.” This gives him the ability to traverse the difficult terrain and visit the many people groups that he is trying to reach with the gospel and plant more churches.

One of the pastors that helps George lead the churches in the Kisoro Baptist Association, is Pastor Wilson. He tries to visit all of the 20+ churches regularly on his bicycle. But as you might imagine, this is very physically demanding. And it also means that he can’t get around to all the churches as often as is needed.

One of the prayer requests that Pastor George and Pastor Wilson asked me to remember is this need for transportation. When I asked Pastor Wilson how much he needed to get a Boda, he replied, “My church has already raised 2 million shillings, but we need 4 million more to get a Boda that can handle the terrain.”

As I quickly checked my currency converter app, I realized that 4 million Ugandan Shillings is only about $1200. So, I told Pastor Wilson that I would ask WCC members to not only pray, but to partner with him for a motorcycle.

After all, with a name like “Pastor Wilson,” shouldn’t we already recognize our partnership?

If you desire to partner with us in this, please designate your offering “Uganda Boda-boda.” We’ll make sure Pastor Wilson gets it, so the gospel can be carried with greater effectiveness in Uganda.

Of gentleness, scarves, and neckties

RuthBut we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ESV).

We just returned from our second two-week mission trip to Uganda. My wife, Robin, and I led a 4-day Pastors and Pastor’s Wives Conference in Kisoro, Uganda for the Kisoro Baptist Association. On the last day of the conference, we gave out a few small gifts that church members in America had donated.

Pastor George Mbonye was our host again this year. He asked me to teach leadership principles from Nehemiah and he asked Robin to teach the book of Ruth.  So, my partner, Mike Laramee, and I spent the first two days of the conference teaching from Nehemiah and the final two days teaching how to preach through a book of the Bible using the book of Jonah as an example. Robin and her teaching partner, Donnas Kinton, taught a chapter a day from Ruth for the four days.

RobinScarfRobin gave the women small bottles of lotion and crochet scarves to illustrate the way that Ruth had prepared herself before going to Boaz on the threshing floor in Ruth 3. The women were very thankful and excited to receive these gifts. Robin said they actually danced after receiving their scarves. The joy and gentleness with which they responded was very moving. Robin felt such affection for these women.

GeorgeWe gave Pastor George several preaching books for the Bible school he is building for local pastors. We also gave each pastor a journal notebook, a WCC pen, and a copy of Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. The surprising highlight of our gift giving time was the suitcase full of neckties that we gave away. We told the pastors to pick two ties each. They took great care in choosing ties that they thought would match their clothes.

NecktiesThere was only one problem: Most of them didn’t know how to tie a necktie. So, Mike and I ended up doing a necktie-tying clinic. My problem was that I can’t really tie a necktie on someone else, so I had to tie it on myself and then slip it over my head onto theirs. There was much laughter and good-natured fun during this time. The Ugandan pastors are so humble and gentle in their demeanor that it keeps me coming back to invest in them and in their gospel ministries.

In America, we can often be so brash and sarcastic in our communication with one another. But the Uganda Christians are so humble and gentle. The way they would introduce us to their church members was so honoring to us.

Intro“This is Pastor Gary from Wilson Community Church in North Carolina, USA. How many of you remember him?” Pastor George would ask at each church, as hands shot up and smiling faces nodded. Followed by, “And who remembers his wife, Mama Robinah?” To which many hands would go up around the church.

They made us feel like family. As the apostle Paul said, we shared not only the gospel with them, but our own selves because they have become very dear to us.

Who loves more?

Gary&Erin“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”  (Luke 7:41-43 NKJV).

When my daughter was young we had a bedtime ritual that involved a competition of declaring who loved the most.

“Good night Erin. I love you.” I’d say, beginning the nightly ritual.

“Good night Daddy, I love you MORE!” She’d say, while leaning over my recliner to kiss my offered cheek.

“No, I love you the MOST!” I’d reply, quickly turning my face towards her, surprising her into kissing me on the lips (she still holds onto my face when she kisses me on the cheek to avoid this surprising possibility).

“No Daddy. I love you the MOSTEST! She’d exclaim. “I love you this much!” She’d quickly add, while extending her arms outward as far as she could reach.

Jesus once told a story about the one who would love God more. He said that the one who was “forgiven more” would love more.

According to Jesus, our capacity for love is measured by our receptivity for and awareness of God’s forgiveness. When we recognize our own great need for forgiveness and receive the gift of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sin, we become recipients of his great love. Receiving this great forgiveness opens our hearts to God’s love for us, and through us to others.

Do you love more?

This is an edited reprint of my blog from October 1, 2009.

The sincere faith of my mothers


“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV).

The church of my youth had annual revival services. We would often have an evangelist come and share how God had miraculously saved him from a life of sin. He would preach with fiery enthusiasm and through tears about how God had taken a former drunkard, (or addict, thief, murderer, etc.) and saved him.

These “Damascus Road” testimonies were amazing to me. I was envious of their certainty and passion. As a boy, I often doubted my salvation because I hadn’t had such an awesome conversion. I had no flash of light, no voice of God. At age eight, I had just decided to give my life to Jesus the way my mother and grandmother had taught me.

As I grew in my faith, I no longer doubted my salvation, but I still sometimes wished that my testimony was more exciting. Why couldn’t I have a testimony more like the apostle Paul’s?

Maybe that’s what Timothy was feeling when Paul wrote him that second letter. Paul was so fearless and certain when he testified of his faith, but Timothy was a little timid. When he compared himself to his mentor he just didn’t feel like he measured up.

Paul would have none of that. He reminded Timothy of the spiritual legacy that his mother and grandmother had given him. Timothy had been spared the suffering and sorrow of Paul’s many mistakes before coming to Christ. Paul reminded Timothy that the “sincere faith” which had “lived” in his mother and grandmother, now “lived” in him.

As a grown man, I’m glad that I have a “Timothy testimony.” The two most influential people in my spiritual development were women. They were my grandmother Ettie and my mother Wilda. They didn’t have the same names as “Eunice and Lois”, but they did have the same “sincere faith” living in them.

Sincere faith. The kind that is more than religion, more than rules and ritual. These women loved and lived for their Lord in such a sincere way that what they passed on to me was more caught than taught.

My mother and her mother are with Jesus now, but their sincere faith still lives here in me.

Happy Mother’s Day.



This article is a reprint of my original post on May 7, 2010.

Thanking God for gospel partners

11096506_10152892617333246_7594704329458691510_nI thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV).

The days leading up to Easter are some of the busiest for our church. Our members and staff go beyond expectation to take advantage of this annual window of opportunity to share the gospel in our community. This year, they did even more…


10516698_10152868824698246_141820563859059953_nWe went door to door in local neighborhoods on the two Saturdays before Passion week, to collect food for our annual Hope Station Food Drive. The first Saturday we hung 1800 bags on doorknobs inviting our neighbors to fill them with food. “Help us feed the hungry.” declared the flyer stapled to every bag. “We’ll be back at the same time next week to pick up your donation.”

21158_10152880663503246_5406645167201666983_nAnd our neighbors responded. We collected 522 filled bags or about 13,050 pounds (6 1/2 tons) of food the following Saturday. As we went through the neighborhoods collecting the food, we also put doorhangers on every door inviting them to our Easter EGGstravaganza event. We figured that since our army was already on the field, we may as well get full use out of them!

11072257_10152880666413246_5306369463901820389_nAfter collecting the food, we delivered it to the Hope Station. The director was ecstatic! She couldn’t believe how much food we’d collected. We brought in so much food that it completely filled the pantry, so we had to stack bags down the halls to get it all inside.


On the Wednesday before Easter, April 1, 2015, a tragedy occurred. Eleven year old, Julia Manuel, the daughter of Percy and Amanda Manuel, was hit by a pickup truck while apparently crossing the road in front of her house to get the mail. She was killed almost instantly.

I received a phone call from Percy to come to the hospital quickly. Arriving at the hospital, I sat with Percy and Amanda at Julia’s bedside as we prayed and surrendered her to God’s loving care. When we came out of the emergency room, we found nearly 30 people lining the hallway. Manuel family members, friends, and a great many WCC members had come to lend support. There were so many of us that we were hindering the hospital’s work.

Turning to one of our church members, I asked, “Since the Manuels are in your Community Group, and since your group normally meets tonight, may we bring them to your house to be with their family and receive comfort?”

“Absolutely.” She replied, before I could even finish asking.

In no time at all, we had the Manuel family at the Bryant home and their Community Group members and other WCCers had filled the house with food and support.


11113578_10152887579968246_893789693578390280_nOn the Thursday evening before Easter, several members worked hard to set up a meditative experience called “The Twelve Stations of the Cross.” Our church family was so grief-stricken over the loss of Julia that we questioned whether we could accomplish all of our Easter week plans. But this was a night that helped prepare us for the Easter weekend, as we contemplated the cost of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.

Each station depicted a scene from the story of Christ’s passion, offering a multi-sensory experience with instructions for Scripture readings, prayers and response. It concluded with a station for remembering the Lord’s Supper.


Some of our members wondered about having our annual Easter outreach after Julia’s death, but when Amanda Manuel heard talk of this, she said, “You better not cancel! It was one of Julia’s favorite events!” So, we decided to do it even better in honor of Julia.

11102936_10152890286583246_9190551342733519636_nOur WCCers wore purple, Julia’s favorite color, to the event. And so did most of the community who attended, because the Wilson Times had published a front page article the day before telling Julia’s story, and promoting our Easter event.

10676239_10152890302733246_1686427199770755432_nNearly the entire WCC family served in some capacity in order to offer this year’s EGGstravaganza event. I was astounded at the work that our WCCers put into this outreach. We stuffed 15,000 plastic Easter eggs with candy and offered age appropriate egg hunts. We offered everything free to our community. Games, bounce-houses, cotton candy, hotdogs, drinks, chicharrones, snow cones, live music, and demonstrations from local 11128188_10152890299538246_3132777766210079405_ndance groups and even a police dog demonstration from our local police were offered. Our mayor came and greeted our gathering and thanked WCC for its community work. Dozens of local vendors set up booths. We estimated that over 3,000 people attended our event.


11150962_10152897089888246_9109617197257941532_nWe held four services on Easter Sunday morning, three in English and one in Spanish. Actually, we had a fifth service in our theater room on Sunday afternoon. A local church that had lost its building the week before Easter contacted us, so we offered to let them meet in our building. After all, we remember what it was like to be homeless as a church.

11140381_10152897089878246_3667195224934965938_nDozens of WCCers offered their weekly service of greeting, ushering, teaching, leading worship and serving. We had a baptism service during the first service, witnessing five candidates identify with Christ in believer’s baptism. We showed a video of the baptisms at the others service, so everyone had a chance to witness them and to praise God for their testimonies.

10155728_10152892617313246_8892548239864459805_nThe deacons had to set up the baptism pool the day before (while doing double duty at Easter EGGstravanza). Then, immediately after the third service they had to empty the 400 gallon pool and dry and disassembly it, to get ready for the evening visitation for the Manuel family. The deacons and their wives really worked hard all weekend. Setting up and then tearing down the baptismal. Ushering at both the visitation and the funeral for Julia. And also preparing and serving lunch to the family after the funeral.


11057909_10153175587000539_2530398418013648130_nBut Easter weekend was not over yet. On the Monday morning after, we held a Celebration of Life service for Julia Manuel at WCC.

The night before, the Manuel family had stood in our worship center for two hours while people waited in line to offer their condolences. The train of people ran from the parking lot, through our foyer and into the worship center for nearly the whole time. The publicity in the Wilson Times concerning Julia’s untimely death, and especially her life and faith, had deeply touched the Wilson community. We weren’t sure what to expect at the funeral on Monday, so we prepared for a large crowd. We had volunteers working late on Sunday night setting up a live-feed from our worship center to our theater room for overflow.

It’s a good thing we did. The worship center was packed within minutes as the crowd started to gather nearly 45 minutes before the service started. People were then directed to the overflow room, where we were happy to hear that the live-feed worked perfectly on the large theater screen.

The funeral service was Spirit-filled and marked by gospel preaching and congregational singing of worship songs. Our worship band did an amazing job of leading us. And the Lord gave me the words to say to celebrate Julia’s life and to offer the family godly comfort, while preaching the gospel to those in attendance that might be far from God.


As we left the WCC campus for the graveside service, I was amazed to see the entire front parking lot and most of the side parking lot full of cars. What an opportunity God had given us to declare the resurrection of Christ and also because of the gospel, the future resurrection of the saints, to our community in Wilson!

Looking back on the last couple of days and weeks, I am filled with thankfulness to God for the gospel partnership we have at WCC! I am both humbled and amazed to be your pastor.

As one of our staff commented this past Tuesday, “The 80/20 rule has been turned upside down at WCC. Where most churches experience the usual 20 percent of the members doing 80 percent of the work, in our church, we have 80 percent of the members serving. This is not supposed to happen.”

Yet, it is happening in our church. Praise be to God! We give Him all the glory for our gospel partnership!

Two gospel thieves

Gospel Centered
“Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves,” so the gospel “is ever crucified between two opposite errors”
(Tertullian, early church father).

“If our gospel message even slightly resembles ‘you must believe and live right to be saved’ or ‘God loves and accepts everyone just as they are,’ we will find our communication is not doing the identity-changing, heart-shaping, transformative work…” of the gospel.  (Tim Keller, Center Church).

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NKJV).

I designed the above graph with the cross of Christ at the center to illustrate the way the gospel challenges both sides of the coin of human religion (this was inspired by Tim Keller’s graph in his book, Center Church). I describe it is as one coin with two sides because although both approaches seem radically different, they both have in common their avoidance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and their desire to retain control of their lives. These two sides of the coin are like gospel “thieves” as Tertullian described them, misrepresenting and robbing the gospel of its appropriate focus on the person and work of Christ.

On one side is the legalistic/religious approach that takes the idea of truth and holiness to the extreme. It says that one must obey the truth and keep the rules/laws of God in order to be saved. On the other side is the relativistic/irreligious approach that takes the idea of love and grace too far. Believing that all are accepted by a loving God (if there is a God), they say that everyone has the right to follow their own sense of right and wrong.

The first approach emphasizes truth without grace. The second, grace without truth. But truth without grace is not really truth, and grace without truth is not really grace. However, the gospel is neither religion nor irreligion. The gospel is about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ who is “full of grace and truth.”

The gospel is the good news that Jesus has already accomplished our salvation, reconciling us to God and satisfying both His holiness and mercy. The true gospel hangs between the two gospel “thieves” offering two striking corrections:

  • “I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.” (vs. legalism)
  • “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe.” (vs. relativism)

By believing and receiving the Person of Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord, who is full of grace and truth, we rightly respond to the gospel and put away the two gospel “thieves.”


This is a reprint of my blog entry from April 5, 2013.