The Transforming Power of the Gospel
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
Through the many decades that Jerry Bridges has been active as a Navigators staff member, one refrain has rung clear and true in all his preaching, teaching and writing: that of the centrality of the gospel. Even when he has stressed the importance of the Christian pursuit of holiness, he has always insisted that this pursuit follows on from thanksgiving to God for the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Bridges recapitulates the glorious refrain of his entire life and ministry.
In some ways this is a most unremarkable book, by which I mean to commend it and not to detract from it. In an age where even gospel-centered authors cast about for a slant or angle or gimmick, Bridges is content to explore the gospel and its manifold implications by walking around it slowly, as it were, like one would a priceless, multi-faceted diamond on display in a museum, then simply describing it in everyday language. In this way – and many other ways – Bridges is like his heroes the Puritans and their 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century successors.
But the gospel is no museum piece, and this Bridges knows well very. In his own self-described “structured and methodical” way, Bridges impresses the urgency of the gospel upon his readers. The word “pursue” appears many times, and it’s for good reason that Bridges’ first book was the bestselling The Pursuit of Holiness.
Bridges’ latest book, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, had its beginnings many decades ago, when Bridges began to teach at colleges and seminaries across the United States. He decided to develop a curriculum of twenty to twenty-five lectures suitable for post-secondary audiences. But he eventually discovered that this format did not translate as well into lecture format for the general public who could usually only attend a two-day seminar featuring about ten lectures. This book is basically that seminar with an introduction, conclusion, and some material culled from Bridges’ other books. These materials are sound, consistent, and compelling. Page 26 is a case in point, possibly my favorite page in the entire book. Following quotes from William Plumer and George Smeaton, Bridges offers this illustration:
Suppose you want a new rug to cover the wooden floor in your living room. Being of modest means, you go to the local discount store and pay three hundred dollars for a rug. I come into your house with a bottle of black indelible ink and spill that ink on your rug. I have just ruined your three-hundred-dollar rug. But suppose you are a wealthy person and your pay thirty thousand dollars for an expensive Persian rug. If I spill ink on that rug, it is an entirely different matter. Why is that true? It is the same act on my part. In both instances. I have spilled black indelible ink on a rug. The difference, of course, lies in the value of the rug.
This is the way we should view the enormity of our sin. God’s holiness cannot be compared to even the thirty-thousand-dollar rug. It is infinite. It is immeasurable. Furthermore, we do not accidentally “spill” our sin on God’s holiness. For the most part, we rather pour out our sin; that is, we choose to act out our pride and selfishness, our judgmental attitudes, and our unkind words about others. And when we do that, we deliberately pour out sin on the holiness of God. That is why our sin, be it ever so small in our eyes, is always an abomination to God.
We need to be clear in our minds that the pursuit of holiness – that is, seeking to be holy as God is holy – is no light, incidental matter. It is central to the Christian life. The psalmist wrote, “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently” (Psalm 119:4). Diligently! That is the way we are to respond to God’s command “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
And with that, we see why Bridges is one of the authors to whom we can turn when we need to rehearse – that is, “re-hear” – the truth of the gospel, a gospel we need every hour of every day. Namely, the dual truths of God’s holiness and the lengths to which He went to save our souls. I highly commend this new Bridges book to you for that very purpose.