Applying the Gospel Filter to the Instagram of Our Lives

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I use filters on my Instagram photos. Here are a couple of recents. The first was taken at Dockery Lake, which is in the shadow of the second photo, taken from Preacher’s Rock on the AT near Woody Gap.



But I’m not alone. We all use filters. Even if not on our iPhones, we use filters on our minds and hearts. We call this filter a worldview. It is the lens through which I see, interpret, and understand the world.

The issue isn’t whether or not I use a worldview filter, but which worldview filter do I use?

And there are all kinds of worldview filters. The Darwinist filter is very popular today, as is the religious moralist filter. There is also the political correctness filter as well as the filter of patriotic nationalism. For some, the filter is as simple as material prosperity or physical comfort.

What I want us as a church to learn is how to apply the gospel filter–The filter that enables us to see everything through the lens of the cross, where the crucifixion of Christ provides the tints and hues through which we see everything.

This ability to apply the gospel filter is what Paul calls spiritual maturity. This is his theme in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, where the apostle writes,

6 However, we do speak a message of wisdom among the mature, 6 but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we declare a secret and hidden wisdom of God which God predestined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written: “What no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 And we proclaim this with words not taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities to spiritually awakened and receptive people. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and is unable to understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.  15 The person with the Spirit discerns all things, but such a person is free from human judgment, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Applying a gospel filter is part of the spiritual maturity process.

We see this in verse 6 where Paul speaks of those who are “mature” as those who are able to grasp the practical implications of the cross for their personal lives. But maturity takes time. It is a process.

Just like the growth of a tree from a seed into a full grown oak, or the growth of a child from infancy to adulthood is a process, spiritual maturity is a process.

It is a process by which we learn how to apply the message of the cross to everything.[1]

This means that the question to ask in any situation is “how does the cross influence this moment right now?”

  • What does the cross say in the midst of marital conflict? What am I trying to defend? What am I trying to prove? Am I willing to forgive as I have been forgiven?
  • What does the cross say when my kids blow it? What difference does the cross make?
  • Or when I blow it?[2]
  • What if I miss the shot or fail the test?
  • What about when I face physical sickness, disappointments, or have my dreams shatter?

Learning to apply the gospel filter, is a process whereby we learn how to apply the message of the cross to each and every circumstance in my life.

The second lesson is that…

Spiritual maturity is not measured by worldly position but by spiritual perception.

In verses 6b-8, Paul writes that, “none of the rulers of this age understood.” The Greek word Paul uses for “understood” can be translated “perceived,” meaning that although they had worldly position, they had no spiritual perception. The message of the cross just didn’t make sense.

How can what looks like a loss really be a victory? How can death lead to life? How can someone’s crucifixion be the ground of someone else’s hope and joy and peace? To those in power, a message of weakness was backward. It doesn’t make sense.

On Tuesday nights, I teach Greek for Metro Atlanta Seminary. On the opening night of class this quarter, I started by showing my students the Greek alphabet, which represents the foundation of the language. Some of the students looked at me as if I’d just revealed a CSI crime scene. Horror. Those letters didn’t make any sense. How were they going to be able to read words, decline nouns, or conjugate verbs? Well, we are now three classes in and what seemed incomprehensible before is now beginning to make sense! They have been given a new perception into the Greek language.

It is the same way with spiritual perception. What seemed incomprehensible begins to make sense.[3]

We could say that spiritual maturity is about becoming more and more proficient, not with the Greek language, but with the language of the gospel.

What happens is that, as I perceive the radical mercy of God to me in the cross, I become incredibly humble because of my sinfulness. But I also become incredibly confident because as a beloved child of the true King, I have nothing to prove.

But the key is having the ability to perceive and personalize what Paul calls in verse 7 the “secret and hidden wisdom of God which God predestined before the ages for our glory.”

That wisdom is simply an understanding of God’s grace manifested in the cross—not a cheap grace, but real grace—the kind of grace that says I am more sinful and condemned than I would ever dare to admit, but through the cross can know that I am more forgiven, accepted, and loved than I could ever dare to dream!

Grace is compounded when we realize that the ability to see and apply these gospel realities is itself a gift, or as Paul says in verse 12, things that are “freely given to us.”

It is this freely given insight to perceive the mercy of God that leads to the third lesson for developing a gospel filter, which is that…

The Spirit matures us by revealing the truth of God through the words of God.

In verses 9-14 we learn that those who have received the gift of insight, those who are “spiritually awakened and receptive,” no longer have to live by the false wisdom of the world or by their own deceptive emotions, but now are equipped to live by, as verse 10 says, “the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.”

Paul is clear that the truth the Spirit has revealed has been revealed in words– words that have been permanently and conclusively inscribed for us in the Scriptures, which we call the Bible.[5]

There are those who will push back against living life by the objective, revealed truth of God contained in a book of God’s words, claiming that times have changed and with it, truth needs to be altered to accommodate modern, more enlightened views. We should expect this push back, as Paul wrote in verse 14, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and is unable to understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

Imagine you are on a backcountry wilderness adventure with a group of friends. In the backcountry, you can’t rely on a GPS signal to get you out of a pickle when the temp is dropping to  zero degrees, it is getting dark, and you’ve left your gear back at camp. In that moment, we will need something that is objective—an instrument that you can trust to lead you reliably to shelter. You will need more than feelings or suggestions. In that moment, you hope someone has a compass and knows how to use it.

God’s written word for us is like that—like a compass.

In the same way the Spirit gave the words of God through the prophets and apostles, he enables us to grasp the meaning of those words today. In this way, he gives us a gospel compass to lead us—a compass that is calibrated to objective truth with the cross as its true north.

Now, is there a subjective element in how God leads us by his Spirit today? Absolutely. But the Spirit will never lead you in a direction that contradicts the truth he has provided for us in the Scriptures. Therefore, be truly “enlighted,” we will seek the light of the Scriptures as our filter for all of life.[6]

Because he loves us God as Father has given us a gospel filter, a gospel compass not only for us to possess, but for us to use—to apply to all of life.

The question for us becomes, “Am I seeking to apply this gospel filter? Am I being led by my subjective feelings or by the objective compass of the Scriptures?”

Which leads to the final lesson in verses 15-16, which is that…

Seeing with a gospel filter is possessing the mind of Christ.

In verse 15 there is an important word that is used to describe how the mind of Christ functions within us. That word is “discern.”

To discern is to distinguish—the ability to distinguish moral truth from moral deceit… the ability to distinguish between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the world.

Essentially, gospel discernment is the ability to see all of life through the filter of how Jesus himself sees the world. When called to love the unlovable, to forgive the sinner, or show integrity under pressure to compromise, and when facing temptation, those with the Spirit are able to have, as verse 16 says, “the mind of Christ.” To see the world as Jesus sees. What a gift!

Musician Brandon Heath sings a song called Give Me Your Eyes that he wrote with songwriter Jason Ingram in 2008. The refrain is simple but heartfelt:

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.

I love the heart of compassion that exude from those lyrics and the desire to see like Jesus—to have “the mind of Christ.”

But let’s ask for the eyes of Jesus for more than a second.

And let’s not only ask for eyes to help us see others how he sees them, but to help us see ourselves as he sees us. Not just as he sees humanity, but as he sees… me.

As he sees me though his own gospel filter, as verse 12 says, “so that we may know the things freely given to us.”

  • Freely given forgiveness.
  • Freely given righteousness.
  • Freely given peace, joy, and hope.
  • Freely given grace, mercy and love.

Freely given.

This is where we must begin. Not by applying the gospel filter to others, but to ourselves—seeing ourselves how Jesus sees us in view of the cross.



[1] Learning to apply the gospel filter is a process that takes place the more and more we hear and believe the preaching of the gospel—preaching that centers on the voluntary, penal, substitutionary atonement of Jesus.

[2] This is where we must learn to apply the filter to ourselves. When we do, we begin to live with a greater humility, knowing that we are more sinful and deserving of condemnation than we would ever want to admit but that because of Jesus, we can have complete confidence that we are more forgiven, accepted, and loved than we could dare to dream. This is what leads to a surprising gospel confidence and eventually spiritual maturity, where my core identity is defined by the cross.

[3] Just like I may have advanced theological degrees, I can’t speak Swahili. When it comes to his native tongue, a 3-year-old in Africa is far more advanced and perceptive than I am. The same thing is true with spiritual insight into the cross. Someone may be a brilliant scientist, corporate CEO, or powerful politician, but if he doesn’t get the basics of Christ crucified, he is more spiritually ignorant than a child who knows Jesus Loves Me.

[5] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 510. Note on v. 13 – “2:13. It was this message of salvation which Paul proclaimed and now expounded further. It did not originate in man but in God and was taught by the Spirit. Paul then expressed these spiritual truths which were a message of wisdom (cf. v. 6). The Greek word pneumatikois may be neuter gender and so translated spiritual words as in the NIV (“expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words”). Or it may be masculine gender and translated “spiritual men” (“interpreting spiritual truths to spiritual men,” as in the niv margin). Both senses are possible, but Paul’s primary point in this passage was not how the message of wisdom was received but who received it, as suggested by the context: Paul spoke the message of wisdom to “the mature” (v. 6).

[6] Unless you hear the audible voice of God like Moses at the burning bush, be very careful when you say, “God told me.” To use such a definitive expression not only is probably inaccurate but eliminates your decision from challenge or critique, as Paul will tell the Corinthians later that every prophecy should be tested. A better phrase than “God told me” is “I sense God leading me.” That way, we can get the input of other spirit-filled people to help us discern the mind of Christ.