The Fundamentals

If you interview a football coach at halftime who is down 14 points, whether it’s pee-wee football or the NFL, they’ll sound the same.

“Well, we need to keep control of the football. Obviously those turnovers hurt us and we need to manage the clock. We need to control their offense by making solid tackles and contain better; we can’t give up big plays on the outside. We’ll establish our run game in the 3rd quarter and that’ll open up the pass for us. We’re going to execute on the fundamentals.”

Thanks coach.

The scenarios are always changing and the stakes get higher as the season progresses, but you never graduate from the fundamentals.

For Paul, the gospel was fundamental. Everything in the believers life flowed from it. The gospel was the liberating play that God called before the foundations of the world. All of Paul’s letters, his teaching and his doctrine hung on the fundamental truth that we are justified by Christ’s blood and not our sweat. Over and over and over, you find Paul telling the church to ‘protect the football’ – remember the gospel. This is because Paul knew that there is no transformation apart from a revelation of substitution. [1]

I remember studying the Pauline letters in seminary when my prof said something in one of my classes that I’ll never forget: “Paul never says anything new.”

Wait, what? You have a Ph.D from Oxford and that’s it???

I spent the next 8 weeks studying Paul’s doctrine to see how he arrived his conclusions on his theology of the cross. I started to see what my prof was getting at. The magnificent depth contained in each of Paul’s letters unfolded a new application of the gospel for the church.

One play, many ‘formations’.
One gospel, many applications.

Paul was like a football coach who pulled in the battered, bruised, pain ridden church at halftime. No matter what they were going through, he began by pointing to both their sin and their Saviour.

He applied the gospel to their specific situations and showed them how strength, hope, joy and liberation was theirs – even in suffering. He listed their sins, showing them how they were all failed attempts to garner identity, acceptance and love and announced how all those things were already theirs, in Christ. He showed them what gospel freedom looked like in the life of someone whose heart that was set free. [2]

He didn’t motivate them to be ‘better’ Christians and perform by asking the church to dig down deep because they could do it if they just tried a little harder. He didn’t want the church to perform. He nourished them with Christ so that by His Spirit they would transform. Time and time again, he was drawing the church back to the fundamentals. [3]

He did this because the one who remembers the gospel is never at the mercy of circumstance or a slave to sin. That person is free to love God and enjoy Him forever – regardless of what’s going on in their life. He knew that personally. [4]

Paul coached the church by pointing them upward, not inward.

This is all very good news.

God planned for your new life, the Son gave you your new life and the Spirit empowers your new life. Your new life is one of great freedom. This freedom is enjoyed by remembering and celebrating:

It is finished.
You are loved, accepted, forgiven and free.
You have been given a great gift, so go and live in freedom to the glory of the One who gave it to you.

Remember the fundamentals.

Press on,


[1] Ephesians 1-2

[2] Ephesians 1-3 is divine action “what God did” 4-6 is human action “what we do in light of what God did”. This is the form true freedom takes

[3] Galatians 3

[4] Philippians 4 (Paul writes this letter from prison. “I know how to be abased or to abound … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Circumstances of life cannot dictate the joy in the life of the believer whose hope is in the gospel.

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