Ray Ortlund begins his Foreword to Jared C. Wilson’s Gospel Wakefulness by highlighting gospel-centered change:
What is the spiritual future of our churches? If our future is going to be better than our present, we have to change. How does change happen? Not by our own brilliance or willpower. Not even by agreement with the gospel. We change as we press the gospel into our hearts deeper than ever before. That is how Gospel Wakefulness helps us.
As a biblical counselor, I long to see my clients experience a future that is genuinely better than their present. And Ortlund’s words ring so true. I cannot induce change in them by my counseling brilliance (not even close), by sheer willpower, or through simple agreement with the terms of the gospel.
Real heart transformation occurs only as my clients are arrested by the beauty and unfathomable riches of the gospel into which even angels long to gaze (1 Peter 1:12) and its implications for their struggles and suffering. Then they are able to walk “in step with the truth of the gospel,” as Paul writes in Galatians 2:14. This is what Jared C. Wilson calls “gospel wakefulness”—treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring His power more sweetly.
Of course, Wilson is quick to point out that gospel wakefulness cannot be taught. In fact, he says that, “Really, there are only two steps to gospel wakefulness: be utterly broken and be utterly awed.” And in this we are humbled as biblical counselors. Only the Spirit can create brokenness and awe. All we can do is be yielded to Him, serve as His instruments of gospel wakefulness in our own lives and our clients lives, and ask the Spirit to do what only He can.
As with the gospel itself, there are no “how-tos” in Gospel Wakefulness. No methodologies. No quick-fixes. Gospel Wakefulness is more of an immersion into some of the facets and applications of the gospel, illustrated by the personal stories of real people whose affections have become profoundly entertained by God. Wilson takes the reader through the deep woods of grace and beckons us to gaze upon both the forest and the trees in amazement at the God whose mercies never cease and are new every morning.
Wilson reminds us that our eyes are not ready to behold the soul-stirring beauty of the gospel until they have shed the tears of brokenness. Beyond the nonnegotiable brokenness, Wilson shows how the gospel stirs us to renewed affections, wakened worship, and freedom from hyper-spirituality.
Wilson then devotes two critical chapters to how the gospel motivates spiritual rhythms (read spiritual disciplines like prayer and the study of Scripture) and drives sanctification. Reminiscent of Chalmers’ (The Expulsive Power of a New Affection), Wilson asserts that “no ‘yes’ is as propulsive for saying ‘no’ to sin as the ‘yes’ that is in Jesus.” He reminds us that “the gospel empowers its own implications” and discusses the interplay between gospel indicatives and gospel imperatives, using Carson’s “grace-driven effort” as the proper paradigm for intentionally seeking holiness in light of the gospel. I return to these ideas over and over again in my own war against my (and my clients’) foolish attempts to perfect in the flesh that which was begun by the Spirit (Galatians 3:3).
Anyone who seeks to counsel biblically one who is depressed (or who is themselves depressed) should read and re-read Wilson’s insightful exposition of Psalm 42 in his chapter on depression. His is perhaps one of the best treatments of depression in the believer I have ever read, and is worth the purchase of the book by itself.
Although Wilson does begin his book with a clear and explicit definition of the gospel, Gospel Wakefulness is really more an exploration of many of the multifaceted ramifications of the gospel. A fuller definition of the gospel is found in The Explicit Gospel, which Matt Chandler has written with Jared Wilson. The Explicit Gospel will be the subject of my next review. In many ways, I consider The Explicit Gospel and Gospel Wakefulness to be companion volumes that anyone interested in the gospel and its implications should read and re-read.