There are lots of things in life that are relatively simple to explain, but hard to actually pull off. Swimming is just a matter of pulling with your arms alternately whilst kicking with your feet. Writing an essay is all about setting out a clear argument and topping and tailing it with an introduction and conclusion. Cutting through a plank of wood is just about measuring and marking, and then keeping the saw straight and the strokes smooth. Playing golf is all about keeping your head still and swinging the club through the ball. Simple. But simple as they are, all these things are also remarkably hard. And living a gospel-shaped life is like that.

When it comes to living with and for the Lord Jesus, it’s easy to slip into thinking that because it feels hard a lot of the time (and in my experience, it does!) then it must be incredibly complex. But that would be a mistake. The Christian life is delightfully simple and delightfully rich at the same time. Essentially straightforward, but endlessly challenging! That’s why I’m convinced that getting the ‘basics’ of the gospel-shaped life in place as early as possible is so important, and relatively achievable.

Over the years, I’ve realised that lots of our problems in living for Jesus flow from the fact that we are a bit confused about (or lose sight of) the core elements of the gospel. So we forget that knowing God is the greatest privilege in the world. We forget that he is for us, will never let us go, and is constantly speaking to us through the Bible. We insist on doing things on our own, when God has made us part of his people for our good and his glory. We get down because we aren’t making as much progress as we like, and seem to be getting worse rather than better – even though God told us up front that change is a slow and painful process. We make a mess of things because we slide into thinking and making decisions in the same way that everyone around us does, rather than looking at the world through the gospel. That’s why I’m convinced that taking time to lay solid foundations (or to go back and ‘check our foundations’ after we’ve been living with Jesus for a while is such a good investment.

At the heart of the ‘gospel-shaped life’ is, in the words of Paul from 2 Tim 2:8, remembering Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.  Working out from this glorious reality will shape every part of our lives, every day. ‘Need to Know’ is designed to step through the amazing implications of what God has done, is doing and will do for us in Christ (the ‘gospel’) in a way that will set us up for living the gospel-shaped life in the long haul. It’s written to help us to see that life with Jesus is not complicated – just hard. And just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong!

A gospel-shaped life is a matter of knowing God, listening to God speaking to us through his word, speaking to other people about God, being changed by God so that we love like God and allowing his agenda to shape every opinion and action we take. It really isn’t all that complex – we can boil it down to the length of a tweet – but living it? That’s hard.

The great news is, of course, that as Peter says, God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness in the Lord Jesus (see 2 Peter 1:3). Christianity isn’t a ‘try hard and do your best’ thing – Christianity is built on the marvellous news that God has already done and provided everything we need in Christ to enable us to live for him. To put it a bit differently, in Christianity, God has already done all the heavy lifting  – and continues to do it for us! I hope you can see the glorious simplicity of a gospel-shaped life – not least because that’s exactly what will help us to keep going when it’s tough – and I really should warn you up front (if you haven’t got it yet) – that it will be! It will be hard because our world is a broken mess, and things regularly go wrong. It will be hard because this messed-up world is populated by broken people like you and me – who regularly let each other down, and live inconsistently, and hurt each other. It’s hard because the Bible also says that we are involved in a cosmic conflict, and the forces of evil are focused on making it difficult for the church to live for Christ. But ‘hard’ isn’t the same thing as ‘impossible’ – and the marvellous truth of the gospel makes it clear not only how we should live, but how in the strength of the Lord Jesus, we are able to pull it off as we walk with him