For a fifteen-minute video overview of the Gospel Eight diagram, click here.
The Gospel Eight diagram has evolved over the years as a way of explaining the tug-of-war going on in my heart. It helps me make sense of my journey in the gospel and shows me how to “preach the gospel to myself every day.” The diagram reminds me of who I am and gives me a way understanding what living in relationship with God is all about. As you learn how to use the diagram I hope it will be an encouragement to you and a resource for you to share with others!
The Gospel Eight diagram reflects what the process of repenting and believing looks like in our lives. This is a fluid process, and so you will notice little arrows that indicate movement around the diagram. These arrows represent God’s grace and His relentless pursuit of us. You will also notice that, no matter where you might be “standing” in this diagram, His grace is always propelling you, moving you back into relationship with Him.
to download a PDF copy of the diagram or a blank version for you to complete, as well as other resources from the book.
A Quick Overview of the Gospel Eight
Looking at the diagram, you can see there really is no beginning and no end. Since it’s a cycle and a process, anywhere you start will be “jumping in midstream.” But we have to start somewhere, so let’s begin with the top part of the diagram that reflects the ideal of a believer’s relationship with God as Father. As Christians, we enjoy all the spiritual blessings offered to us in the gospel. As His children, our identity is based on who He is, not who we are. Secure in the Father’s love, we delight in sharing with others and inviting them to join the journey. The diagram has no beginning and no end; it’s a cycle and a process.
Even as His children, we fail miserably. If I’m honest, I know I’m constantly confronted with my inadequacy and sin. Like a mirror, God uses His Word, the Holy Spirit, and the community of believers to expose my unbelief and the way sin has power over me.
Burdened by this reality, the intersection of the two circles reflects the choice where we decide what we will do with the growing awareness of our sin and the accompanying shame and pain it brings. How will I respond when I feel the weight of my sin? I can repent and run to the cross, or I can resist and turn away from the cross.
In repentance I find full forgiveness that restores me to an intimate fellowship with God. Some have referred
to this top portion of the diagram as the Cycle of Faith—a repetitive cycle of repenting and believing, repenting and believing. This is preaching the gospel to yourself.
Oh, if only it were this easy! Unfortunately, my heart is easily derailed. Perhaps Satan plants a seed of doubt large enough to make me suspicious of God and His intentions for me. Or maybe I simply mistrust God’s plan. Or maybe I just feel like I’m not really that bad. For whatever reason, I convince myself I can handle my sin and my pain on my own and don’t really need Him.
Although I am aware of my sin and brokenness, I bypass the cross, resist repentance, and instead head down a path of false repentance that leads me away from God (and into the bottom circle of the diagram).
On this downward path, I develop clever schemes to “manage my sin.” From the outside, managing my sin can look like repentance, but it’s not. It’s false repentance.
False repentance is looking to something else to take away the shame, guilt, and consequences of my sin.
I might do this by blame-shifting, beating myself up, denying my sin, minimizing my sin, or trying to “fix it” on my own by self-effort and trying harder. But all of these lead me further away from God. I feel more and more isolated and separated from Him. I end up living a life more characteristic of a spiritual orphan than God’s child.1
Instead of finding my identity in Christ and what He has done for me, as in the top circle, my identity as a spiritual orphan is defined by my pain, my past, and my circumstances. Life as an orphan robs me of hope, freedom, acceptance, and joy. It leaves me with precisely the life Satan would have me live—one that is disconnected from Christ and that feels spiritually sterile and wearisome.
As a result, since I’ve rejected the righteousness that Christ has given me, I strive to establish my own (like the Israelites, Romans 10:3). I do this by propping myself up with anything that gives me value and fulfills my need for acceptance. The Bible calls these things idols.
Idols are a cheap substitute for Christ. They may work for a little while, but they all disappoint in the end. At some point I realize these idols don’t deliver and are actually sucking the life out of me. They are driving me further from Christ and the life He intended. Once again, like a mirror, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and the community of faith help me realize my brokenness and my need for a Savior.
Now I face the same choice. I can run to the cross and be restored through repentance and faith, or I can resist the cross and continue managing my sin on my own, living like an orphan, and settling for cheap substitutes instead of the real thing.
This cycle is repeated, over and over, in my life as a Christian. As I am confronted with my sin, I can run to the cross, repent, and believe the gospel, or I can resist the cross and live like a spiritual orphan.
A Christian’s position as a child of God doesn’t change. All of us experience ups and downs in the cycle of faith. There will be times when my faith is strong, repentance is real, and I live more in the reality of who I am as His child. Then there will be times when my faith is weak, my heart not convinced that He loves me, and I will live as if I were a spiritual orphan.
Those who have not yet asked Christ to forgive their sins are doomed to spin around in the bottom circle, desperately seeking ways to manage their pain and brokenness. They crave acceptance and fulfillment but seek it in what the world has to offer instead of finding it in the grace and faith offered through the cross.
This diagram shows both the believer and the nonbeliever that the solution to our despair is the same: we both need to run to the cross and put our faith and trust in what Jesus has already done for us.
I hope that as God makes the gospel even more real in your life, this diagram will give you away to share what you are learning with others and that God will use it in your own life to shorten the gap between your head and your heart!