I didn’t know what to expect at my first national conference for The Gospel Coalition, but I didn’t expect to be crying in the first ten minutes.
As the worship leaders played the first few chords, the words on the screen seemed unnecessary. More than 8,000 worshippers from all over the globe began singing together, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” Joining in such a beautiful offering of praise to our Almighty God brought tears of joy. It wasn’t quite Heaven—I could feel the pain of my sore foot and the congestion of a lingering cold. But it was a preview of the life to come, and I can’t wait.
The conference theme, “No Other Gospel,” highlighted the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The plenary speakers taught through the book of Galatians and spoke about a few of the Reformers. I’ll share some highlights from the talks on Galatians (and the workshops I attended), so grab a Bible, turn to Galatians, and let’s do a quick fly-by of what God taught me through these insightful and knowledgeable speakers.
From Galatians 1, John Piper taught us that because Paul’s authority and apostleship come directly from Jesus Christ, the gospel that Paul preaches is Christ’s gospel. To turn from the gospel (salvation by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone) is to turn from Christ. How could we leave the One who gave Himself to deliver us? And yet, that’s exactly what we do if we alter, add to, or subtract from the gospel. The truth of the gospel must be precious to us, because Christ is precious to us.
Sandy Willson exhorted us from Galatians 2 to be both tender-hearted and bold as we defend the gospel. He reminded us that the gospel isn’t just something we assent to intellectually—it’s something we commit our whole selves to. He said we have “as much right to heaven as Christ does”—shocking, yet true—because we are dressed in Christ’s righteousness. And he spoke of the beauty of God’s love on display in our justification by faith.
Peter Adams opened Galatians 3 and taught that we either live by law or by the promise. He said that the law says, “do, do, do, don’t, don’t, don’t,” but God’s promise says, “I will.” He exhorted us to consider that the key to the Christian life is hearing with faith. Our hearing is a gift, and we shouldn’t waste it on meaningless words. We need to read the Scriptures and hear them preached, because faith without hearing and hearing without faith are both futile.
From Galatians 4, D.A. Carson contrasted slavery and freedom. We were enslaved by the law as we tried to attain a righteousness of our own. Christ achieved that righteousness for us, setting us free. When we abandon the gospel, we are choosing slavery. We’re saying that Christ’s work on the cross isn’t sufficient. When we embrace the freedom we have in Christ, we experience a “blessed slavery” to the One who loves us and gave Himself for us.
Thabiti Anyabwhile spoke from Galatians 5 about three concerns Paul has for churches who are losing the gospel and the effective solution. When we add any requirement for salvation other than Christ’s righteousness, we fall into legalism, which leads to self-righteousness. We become “spiritual cannibals who devour each other.” Instead of attacking others, we need to attack our own sin. The solution to the problem of division and legalism in the church is to focus on the gift of freedom in Christ. We don’t use our freedom as an excuse to indulge our sinful nature, but rather use it to serve and love others. He concluded, “Live free and glorify the God who set you free.”
Finally, Tim Keller taught us from Galatians 6 about our heart condition that seeks vain glory. We enter relationships with others seeking to build ourselves up at their expense. We are desperate for a reason to boast in ourselves. But to be a new creation is to boast only in Christ. We boast in what Christ accomplished for us in His perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. We boast in what Christ endured on the cross. He endured God’s wrath so that we might hear, “Well, done, good and faithful servant.”
As much as I loved the worship and plenary sessions, the workshops also offered outstanding teaching in a smaller, more intimate setting. I scribbled notes furiously as Gloria Furman took us on a whirlwind tour of Ephesians, “the story of what God has done in Christ.” Her new book, Alive in Him, looks like a fabulous guide to one of my favorite books of the Bible.
Jen Wilkin taught Psalm 139 from a perspective you don’t often hear at women’s events. She asserted that this psalm isn’t meant to teach us about ourselves; it’s meant to teach us about the Lord. We saw our God high and lifted up as she walked through the psalm, pointing out God’s omniscience, limitlessness, eternality, omnipresence, transcendence, self-sufficiency, self-existence, omnipotence, sovereignty, immeasurability, and immutability. She encouraged us to not cling to the truth that we’re precious because God loves us, but rather that the One who loves us is precious. (Her book None Like Him provides great further reading on this topic. I’ve read part of it and highly recommend it.)
In the final workshop, I heard Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell speak from their new book, Hope When It Hurts. They have both experienced a great deal of physical suffering and spoke about how the hope we have in Christ brings peace and comfort. They outline six struggles that sufferers face and how the promises of God’s Word speak into those struggles. They also addressed how we can walk alongside others in their suffering. They recorded the workshop and you can view the video on their Facebook page. I also recommend their book, a devotional for those who are hurting.
It’s hard to summarize in one post all that I learned and experienced in the 48 hours I spent at this conference. I walked away thankful that my salvation has been fully accomplished by Christ. I walked away humbled and encouraged to hate my sin and love others, not the other way around. I walked away joyful because of the freedom I’ve been given and eager to use it to glorify the God who redeemed me.
And I walked away eager for more . . . The Gospel Coalition’s women’s conference will be June 14-16, 2018, in Indianapolis. Who wants to go with me?Share