Some readers may be familiar with Ian Hamilton’s earlier work, The Faith-Shaped Life — a series of 43 short pieces examining dimensions of our faith as believers in Jesus. The Gospel-Shaped Life follows the same pattern. It aims ‘to explore the multi-faceted character of the gospel and to show how the gospel comes to shape every aspect and detail of our lives’ (p.xi).
The author is concerned that our understanding of the gospel should not begin and end with John 3:16. ‘The gospel,’ he says, ‘is not one iota less than John 3:16; but it is very much more’ (p.xi). It is this ‘more’ to which we are helpfully introduced in the succeeding chapters.
The variety of topics addressed is apparent from the merest glance at the chapter headings. The first four include: ‘God Is Trinity: The Gospel’s God’; ‘What Is a Christian? Gospel Foundations’; ‘A New Covenant Command: Gospel Fear’; ‘Isaiah’s Life-Changing Encounter: The Gospel’s Transforming Power’.
Later chapters address such matters as ‘The Covenant of Redemption: The Gospel’s Eternal Roots’; ‘The Crook in the Lot’: Gospel Living in a Fallen World’; ‘When I don’t feel forgiven: how the Gospel Gives us Comfort’; ‘The Heart of Calvinism: Gospel Humility’.
Most chapters are of this stand-alone kind. There is, however, a series of six chapters which deal with a linked theme, namely ‘Living by the Means of Grace: How We Grow Up in the Gospel’. The focus here is on what are known as ‘the ordinary means of grace’, i.e. the preaching, hearing, and reading of God’s Word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer (both corporate and private) and godly discipline. Mr Hamilton wisely acknowledges that growth in grace is not tied to these. Nevertheless, since it is supremely through these ordinary means that we make progress in our Christian lives, they must not be neglected.
Who will benefit from the reading of The Gospel-Shaped Life? Mr Hamilton writes with a clarity that makes this book accessible for new Christians. He also writes with a warmth and depth that will enrich the maturest Christian. One great advantage of the brevity of the chapters is that they can be easily read as part of one’s daily devotions.
One quotation to whet your appetite. The author asks his readers, ‘Do you prize every given opportunity to hear God’s Word?’ He then appeals to them to ‘see this question as a loving exhortation to hunt out every opportunity to sit under the ministry of God’s Word. Not because quantity matters more than quality; but because God himself speaks to us by his Spirit through his Word every time it is faithfully proclaimed’ (p.34-35).