The Problem with Preaching the Gospel to Yourself3
A number of years ago, in certain circles in the church, a teaching series called "Sonship" became influential. (Disclaimer: Sonship has wonderful, solid, biblical content that I recommend to people. Don't read anything that follows as being a critique of Sonship.)
The gist of Sonship as I remember it was that many Christians need to re-orient how they understand their relationship to God, moving away from a rules-based (and therefore performance-based) relationship and instead embrace the Biblical language of being adopted children of God. This makes our relationship to him more solidly grace-based. As someone who was raised with a rules-based understanding of the Christian life, this teaching was immensely helpful. A familiar phrase that Sonship helped popularize was "preach the gospel to yourself."
I'm sure you've heard it at some point. We are quick to proclaim the grace of God in forgiving sinners, but slow to live as if our sins have been forgiven. Even those who regularly preach and proclaim the gospel to the lost may discover that they find it easier to apply God's grace to other people than to themselves. So you need to preach the gospel to yourself- regularly, faithfully, consistently. Don't let negative self-talk, unchecked emotions, or scars from your past determine who you are. I love the idea of preaching the gospel to yourself.
But there is one problem that I've noticed over the years. I don't listen to myself very well. And I don't just mean in this one area. I mean, I tell myself to eat healthy, but then somehow I still end up in the Dunkin Donuts drive through more often than I should. I tell myself that in marriage I should concern myself with putting my wife's needs before my own, but then I still end up bitter when I'm not treated the way I think I deserve. I tell myself I need at least 6 (but really 8) hours of sleep a night, but still end up scrolling through news, emails, and word games on my phone just 5 hours before I need to wake up. I don't know about you, but I don't listen to myself very well.
So while I commend the practice of preaching the gospel to ourselves, I feel the need to add the caveat that it's not going to be enough. If the message of the gospel is going to permeate my deeply-entrenched, self-destructive ways of thinking and living, it's going to need to come at me from many directions, not just the mirror. That's just one of the reasons we need the church. We are made to live and grow in Christian community. In our community group this week, we were studying the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 and discussing the idea that making disciples is the work of everyone in the church - not just "professional" ministers. We looked at Ephesians 4:11-16, and I was particularly struck by the last two verses: "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."
Picture that - everyone in the church, lovingly speaking truth to each other. The body of Christ building itself up. You need to hear the gospel - not just from yourself, not just in a sermon, you need to hear it from your friends, your neighbors, the person who prays during Bible study, the person you meet for coffee. You need for them to remind you of the truths you are slow to hear, and you need to lovingly call them to hear the biblical good news that they are not believing. Paul told the Christians in Rome that he was eager to preach the gospel to them (Romans 1:15). Because it is not only the lost who need to hear the gospel. Everyone needs it - the gospel is not just about salvation from sin, it is the good news of God's victory over all things - over everything in the world and in your life that falls short of the perfect kingdom he has called us to prepare for.
So preach the gospel to yourself, yes. Preach it to the lost, of course. But also preach it to your brothers and sisters. And make every effort to put yourself in a community of people that will faithfully, lovingly, boldly preach the gospel to you. Because you need to hear it as often as you can.