The Most Important Truth
Is the Easiest to Forget
TIMOTHY'S HANDS TREMBLED as he read. He almost
cradled the letter, as though his gentleness with the
parchment would somehow be conveyed to its author,
now chained in a cold Roman dungeon.
The letter came from the apostle Paul; it would be
For years Timothy had pushed the thought of losing
Paul out of his mind. Paul had been like a father. A friend
and mentor who guided and instructed the young pastor.
How could he minister without Paul's reassuring words,
his confidence, his prayers? But now, Timothy knew
Paul's death was imminent.
"I am already being poured out like a drink offering,"
Paul wrote, "and the time has come for my departure"
(2 Timothy 4:6).
Timothy read the closing lines of the letter through
his tears. But then he stopped and pushed them away
abruptly. How could he wallow in grief when his old
friend faced death so boldly?
He could almost hear the voice of Paul through the
words on the page: "Keep your head in all situations,
endure hardship . discharge all the duties of your ministry"
(2 Timothy 4:5).
Now Timothy began to read the letter again. He read
slowly, deliberately. His eyes bored into each word, each
sentence. In the closing moments of Paul's life, would
God give him a flash of insight that he would pass on to
Timothy? Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, a man
who had been swept up into heaven itself (see 2
Corinthians 12:2-4). What special insight, like a long
forgotten key, would he now reveal?
As Timothy read, heart pounding, the truth-the
key-hit him with piercing clarity. He saw more clearly
than ever what Paul had given his life to-and for which
Timothy, too, would spend himself.
The message of Paul's final letter revealed no new
truth, no hidden knowledge, just "one truth" he had
given his life to spread. The good news. The news of the
And now the letter, which at first reading had been
to Timothy the obituary of his dearest friend, became a
joy-filled, bold restatement of all Paul had lived for, and
all he would soon die for.
"Of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an
apostle and a teacher I am not ashamed, because I
know whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:11-12).
The words seemed to shout from the page: "What
you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching,
with faith and love in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy
Timothy could almost see Paul's fiery eyes blazing
into his own, feel his gnarled fingers gripping his arm.
"Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you-guard
it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us"
(2 Timothy 1:14).
You don't need a new truth, he heard his old friend
saying. Guard the one truth. Keep the one message.
"Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,
descended from David. This is my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8).
The apostle Paul recognized the universal danger of forgetting
what is most important. He refused to be pulled
away from the gospel.
The cross was the centerpiece of Paul's theology. It
wasn't merely one of Paul's messages; it was the message.
He taught about other things as well, but whatever he
taught was always derived from, and related to, the foundational
reality that Jesus Christ died so that sinners would
be reconciled to God and forgiven by God.
Theologian D. A. Carson writes of Paul, "He cannot
long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or
Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or
anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is
gospel-centered; he is cross centered."
From his first epistle to his final letter to Timothy,
Paul kept the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus at
the center of his teaching. He "resolved to know nothing .
except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians
And this wasn't a cold theological formula, either.
Paul lived a cross centered life because the cross had saved
and transformed his own life.
Writing thirty years after his conversion, Paul's
memory of what he had once been, and what God had
done for him, remained at the forefront of his mind.
"Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor
and a violent man," he wrote Timothy, "I was shown
mercy" (1 Timothy 1:13).
I can relate to Paul's amazement at being shown mercy.
I've lived in the same part of Maryland since I was a boy.
Hardly a month goes by that I'm not reminded of who I
Before God saved me in 1972, I, too, was a blasphemer.
I lived for myself and my own pleasure. I lived in
rebellion against God and mocked those who followed
Him. I spent my high school and college years deeply
immersed in the local drug culture.
Sometimes, late at night, my friends and I would
seek out quiet, isolated places where we could come
down safely from drug highs. On more than a few occasions
it was a D.C. monument. Other times a peaceful
street under thick, deep trees. Or even the terminal at
what was then a little-used airport called Dulles, where
the doors stayed open long after the day's flights had
ceased and we could move through the nearly deserted
canyon of a building.
Someday soon I'll be near one of those places again,
and the memories will flood back in. I'll remember what
I once was, and be reminded of what I now am.
Often my eyes fill with tears at the memories of my
foolishness and sin. And in the same instant, my heart
will be filled with an unspeakable, holy joy. I am no
longer the same! By the finished work of Jesus Christ on
the cross, I've been forgiven of the countless sins I've
"Blessed is the man," David wrote, "whose sin the
Lord does not count against him" (Psalm 32:2). This
truth echoes through my soul, resonating in places far
deeper than any drug can go.
Many people today try to run from the past. I suppose
I could try to as well, by leaving the hometown that
holds so many reminders of my sinfulness. But I consider
living here a gift from God. The regular reminders of my
past are precious to me.
Why? Because, like Paul, I never want to forget the
great mercy shown me.
WE ALL NEED THIS
If you're a Christian, you don't need to live in the same place
all your life to remember who you once were. And you don't
need a background in drugs, or any other dramatic conversion
experience, for the cross to be dear to you.
Regardless of our pasts, we've all sinned and fallen
short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). My nine-year-old
son Chad's life is very different from mine. He's being
raised in a Christian home. He has been taught God's
Word. And unlike his father, he is surrounded by people
in a local church who respect godliness and humility, not
worldliness and pride.
But as Chad enters young adulthood, the most
important thing I can teach him is that, even though he's
being raised in a Christian family and is leading a moral
life, he's a sinner who desperately needs the substitutionary
death of Christ to be forgiven by God.
And so I'm teaching him the gospel, day by day. I tell
him that he's a sinner just like his dad, and that sin is a
serious problem. I put it in words that his young mind
can understand, but I don't ignore or minimize the seriousness
of sin. Through his actions and attitudes he has
rebelled against his Maker. And this great God is perfectly
holy and must respond with fierce opposition to sin. He
must punish it.
Some might find it surprising that I would teach a
nine-year-old about God's wrath toward sin. But I find it
surprising that any loving person would withhold this
truth from another person they love. Because only when
we understand God's wrath toward sin can we realize that
we need to be saved from it. Only when we hear the very
bad news that we're deserving of judgment can we appreciate
the very good news that God has provided salvation
through His Son.
And this is what I hold out to my young son as the
hope of his life: that Jesus, God's perfect, righteous Son,
died in his place for his sins. Jesus took all the punishment;
Jesus received all the wrath as He hung on the
cross, so people like Chad and his sinful daddy could be
THE ONLY ESSENTIAL MESSAGE
I hope to teach my son many other things as well, but the
gospel is the one essential thing for him to know.
"The gospel," writes Jerry Bridges, "is not only the
most important message in all of history; it is the only
essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands
of professing Christians to live their entire lives without
clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living
Author John Stott agrees. "All around us we see
Christians and churches relaxing their grasp on the
gospel, fumbling it, and in danger of letting it drop from
their hands altogether."
Sometimes the most obvious truths are the ones we
need to be reminded of the most.
George Orwell once noted that "sometimes the first
duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious."
Perhaps the purpose of this book is to restate the
obvious, yet oft-neglected, truth of the gospel, to bring it
before you one more time.
On the other hand, maybe you're thinking, "I
already know this truth-I've known it for years." That's
good, but let me ask you this:
Is your life cross centered?
The symptoms that arise from not being cross centered
are easy to spot. Do any of these describe you?
• You often lack joy.
• You're not consistently growing in spiritual maturity.
• Your love for God lacks passion.
• You're always looking for some new technique, some "new truth" or new experience that will
pull all the pieces of your faith together.
If you can relate to any of these symptoms, let me
encourage you to keep reading. As you learn to live a
cross centered life, you'll learn:
• How to break free from joy-robbing, legalistic
thinking and living
• How to leave behind the crippling effects of guilt
• How to stop basing your faith on your emotions
• How to grow in gratefulness, joy, and holiness
These aren't the overhyped promises of an author
wanting to convince you to read his book. These are
God's promises to all who respond to His wonderful plan
Too many of us have moved on from that glorious
plan. In our never-ending desire to move forward and
make sure that everything we do, say, and think is relevant
to modern living, too many of us have stopped concentrating
on the wonders of Jesus crucified.
Too many of us have fumbled the most important
truth of the Bible, and therefore we've suffered the
But it's not too late to change. It's not too late to
restate and reestablish the obvious truth as the most
important truth in your life.
The message that Paul had for Timothy is the same
message God has for you. You need to rediscover the
truth that first saved you. The key to joy, to growth, to
passion isn't hiding from you. It's right before your eyes.
It's the gospel.
Excerpted from The Cross Centered Lifeby C.J. Mahaney with Kevin Meath Copyright © 2002 by Sovereign Grace Ministries
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.