I attend a 'gospel-centered' church. We believe the gospel, preach the gospel, share the gospel, worship because of the gospel, and seek to live according to the gospel.
To be clear what I mean when I use the word "gospel," I would point to these definitions of the gospel from Tim Keller:
Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.
The 'gospel' is the good news that through Christ the power of God's kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus' work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us."
These definitions describe both the source and the scope of the gospel. The gospel is founded in the finished work of Christ, and it affects every area of our lives, not just what we do on Sundays. I trust this is true of your church as well. Because the gospel changes our lives, it also changes (or should change) how we view retirement.
Like many of you, I am getting close to "retirement.' And, perhaps also like you, I am trying to figure out how to live out the rest of my days in a way that honors and glorifies God and is also joyfully fulfilling to me.
So, in this article, I discuss what a gospel-centered retirement might look like and how we can pursue it. Regardless of when we retire, this is one of the most important things when thinking about how, and most importantly, who and what, to live for in retirement.
The gospel changes everything
You've probably heard (and perhaps said) the phrase: "The gospel changes everything." You have (hopefully) experienced its transforming power in your own life and observed it in the lives of others.
To say that the gospel changes everything is not an exaggeration. When you believe the gospel and put your faith in Christ, it affects everything in your life. As D.A. Carson once said, speaking of 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 at an early TGC Conference:
This book … repeatedly shows how the gospel rightly works out in the massive transformation of attitudes, morals, relationships, and cultural interactions… Just as Paul found it necessary to hammer away at the outworking of the gospel in every domain of the lives of the Corinthians, so we must do the same today…
In this respect (and many others), we are no different than the Corinthians. We all have to work out a theology for our everyday lives based on the reality of the gospel and what the Bible teaches about how it changes us and also what it requires of us. And that includes how we view, plan for, and live in retirement.
Tim Keller, writing in his Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything, also pointed to the all-encompassing power of the Gospel to impact every part of our lives:
…if you want to really change, you must let the gospel teach you – that is to train, discipline, coach you – over a period of time. You must let the gospel argue with you. You must let the gospel sink down deeply into your heart until it changes your motivation and views and attitudes.
To say that the gospel changes everything is a broad statement and can even be a little abstract – so what exactly does that mean? Well, to try to address that in more detail, it might be helpful to look at some of the specific things that change when we believe the gospel and put our faith in the saving work of Christ:
First and foremost, the gospel changes our position ('legal standing') before God. None of the other effects of the gospel would be possible without this positional change. As sinners, we were separated from God and subject to his righteous judgment and wrath against our sin. But that has all changed. We have been justified by faith and now have peace with God because of the grace we have received through Christ, and we are no longer subject to the judgmental wrath of God (Romans 5:1-2). We can, therefore, rejoice in the eternal hope we have been given – the assurance that we will live forever in the presence of God!
The gospel changes our relationship with God. We cease to be haters and enemies of God and instead become reconciled to him (Rom.5:10). We have become his adopted children and can call him 'Abba Father' (Rom. 8:15, Ephesians 1:4-5). We love him, and he loves us, and we can experience his presence – and his goodness – each day. We can progress through all the stages of life with the knowledge that God will be with us every step of the way (Hebrews 13:5).
The gospel changes our relationships with others and the world. The gospel doesn't just change our hearts and eternal destinies – it changes how we view and relate to others and the world around us. Jesus himself called it "the Gospel of the Kingdom" (Luke 16:16). Ultimately, the gospel is all about the rule and reign of Jesus; he rules within our hearts to bring personal salvation, but his redemptive work affects all areas of our lives. It changes our relationships in how we view and interact with the world around us.
The gospel changes our retirement
John Piper, in his inspiring book, Rethinking Retirement, describes a gospel-centered retirement this way:
So finishing life to the glory of Christ means using whatever strength and eyesight and hearing and mobility and resources we have left to treasure Christ and in that joy to serve people—that is, to seek to bring them with us into the everlasting enjoyment of Christ. Serving people, and not ourselves, as the overflow of treasuring Christ makes Christ look great.
There are several major themes of a gospel-centered retirement that Dr. Piper calls out here and I think they can be summarized as follows:
… to do all we can to lead others into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and the eternal enjoyment of him by all people – the gospel changes our purpose and mission in life.
Because the gospel affects all areas of our lives, it also changes how we view, plan for, and live in retirement. Returning to my earlier description of a "gospel-centered-retirement," here are a few of the ways it changes our hearts and minds and actions to make that happens:
The gospel changes our hearts – it affects what and who we love, what we highly value and treasure. The gospel causes us to love God and to treasure Jesus Christ. Instead of loving ourselves and living only for our joy and pleasure only, the gospel changes what we love and gives us the desire to live for God and others (Gal.5:13).
Jesus told us that whatever we most treasure will captivate our hearts – it will be what we most love and desire and give our lives to. (Matt.6:21) But because of the gospel, instead of treasuring riches, leisure, and worldly pleasures, we instead desire to lay up treasures in heaven to build for ourselves "… a firm foundation for the coming age, so that [we] may take hold of what is truly life." (1Tim.6:19).
The gospel changes our priorities – it changes what we do with our time, talents and treasure. For many, the thing about retirement that they most look forward to is freedom – freedom to do whatever they like, whenever they like. Because they are no longer tied to a full-time job, they are free to pursue any number of things.
That is an attractive aspect of retirement (more freedom to choose how to spend our time in various activities and pursuits), but the challenge comes when people turn retirement into a self-centered instead of God-centered time because of this new-found freedom they enjoy. In fact, retirement is sometimes portrayed as life's ultimate goal and sign of freedom, but it's not – getting into heaven and spending eternity with God is.
The gospel changes all of this because it orients our lives 'God-ward' instead of 'us-ward.' Because we love God and his people, we structure our lives around our local church and gospel ministry. We use our gifts and talents, the extra time we have for as long as we have it, and the financial and material resources God has given us, to serve God and others (1 Peter 4:10-11).
The gospel changes our purpose and mission in life – it causes us to seek to bring the joys of the gospel and the salvation that it offers to others, and by the grace of God, to persevere in faith to the end.
Much has been written about finding and fulfilling our 'life purpose' in retirement. There are many paths a person can follow, but for those of us who have been changed by the gospel, our calling and purpose is already clear: We are called to invest ourselves in the lives of others, both within and without the church, and to persevere in godly zeal as we grow old so that we can finish well to the glory of God (2Tim.4:7).
Retirement can undoubtedly be a time for some fun and relaxation – a time to enjoy the fruit of our labor. I am planning on a little more traveling, hiking, fishing, etc., (at least as long as I am able)., But it is not a time to neglect the mission we have been called to and get to be a part of. Our main goals should not be learning how to paint or improving our golf score (although there's certainly nothing wrong with painting or playing golf); it should have more to do with finishing well so that we can hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Using the creative gifts and skills that God has given us to paint or play golf with whatever ability we have (both are severely lacking in my case) is a blessing on the side.
Life can be challenging, and getting older presents many difficulties of its own. But perseverance means we keep going in spite of obstacles and setbacks. We need to stand firm – the Bible exhorts and encourages us to do so time and time again. But standing firm is not the same as standing still. We must be continually moving forward and pressing ahead against all opposition to receive the prize. That's what running and finishing the race well is all about.
Pursuing a gospel-centered retirement
Because we have been changed by the gospel, the Bible is clear that we are to live out our lives for the glory of God and the good of others. Practically speaking, that will look a little different for each person depending on their situation, but here are some thoughts:
A gospel-centered retirement takes planning. I like this piece of advice from John Piper:
Put a governor on your life. Make as much as you can, give as much as you can, and save what you need to in order to be a responsible non-borrower. Then do retirement with some minimalistic plan that frees you up for gospel ministry till the day you drop.
Piper is most focused on positioning ourselves for gospel-ministry-work when we no longer have to work for a living, but for us to be able to do that, we will need a plan. Fortunately, the Bible offers some wise guidance when it comes to planning for retirement. Proverbs 6:6-8 tells us that it is wise to save for retirement. Luke 14:28 reminds us that it's prudent to count the cost and make plans for our eventual retirement. You don't need millions of dollars, but you may need enough to live on when you are no longer working for a living. Plus, you will need to steward it well.
A gospel-centered retirement requires the continual practice of the spiritual disciplines. As in every stage of life, we need God's daily sustaining presence in our lives. We need his nearness and love. We need conviction of sin, mercy and forgiveness, and the power of the Holy Spirit, even more so as we grow older. God offers us new mercies each day (Lamentations 3:22–24).
One of the most critical disciplines is the daily appropriation of the gospel. We must be continually aware of the depth of our sin and the magnitude of the love and mercy of God in forgiving our sin through Christ's sacrifice. The gospel is for sinners, which we all still are. So, we need his mercy and forgiveness every day as that is the only way we can experience God's love and be truly free to express his love to others.
The gospel gives us the confidence to come into the very presence of God and commune with him. Communion with God is just being with him and asking him to speak to us. It is also talking to him in prayer, reading his Word, and listening to what God is saying to us as we do. This kind of daily communion with God and his Word helps us to love ourselves and the world less and Jesus more and to find our greatest joy and delight in him.
Knowing God and his Word helps us to rest in his sovereignty and love. It enables us to maintain a biblical perspective on the vagaries of the circumstances of life (both blessing and hardships). Because life can be tough at times, especially during our later years, an accurate understanding of God's sovereign control over everything that happens in the universe and every event in our own lives can be very reassuring as we face the inevitable ups and downs (Ephesians 1:11).
A gospel-centered retirement is focused on relationships. As just discussed, our relationship with God is of the utmost importance. But it's also vital to especially to focus (or perhaps refocus) our time and attention and affection on our families and friends. Growing in love for our wives (or husbands), and enjoying our children and grandchildren, should be the goal of every older Christian. One of the blessings of 'retirement" is that we will have more time for these important relationships in our lives.
Given the tendency of many older people to withdraw, disengage, or fade into the background, it is also essential to be in relationship and fellowship with other Christians, primarily within the context of the local church – the brothers and sisters you worship and serve alongside every week. The Bible urges us not to avoid being together with the saints (Hebrews 10:24-25). The opportunity to be in fellowship with lots of different people of different ages and backgrounds is one of the great blessings of being a part of a local church. I recently had the privilege of emceeing our church's homeschool graduation, and I reflected on the joy of being with the graduates, many of whom I have known since they were small children.
We also don't want to avoid our relationships with unbelievers outside the church. Because of the gospel, we are compelled to reach out to them in love while always being prepared and ready to share the Gospel with the lost and to explain the great hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
For many of us, most of our contact with non-believers was in the workplace before we retired. Therefore, we may need to take deliberate steps to find ways to make contact with non-believers in new and different settings. These might include gyms, clubs, sports activities, community groups, neighborhoods, etc.
A gospel-centered retirement involves work, but work of a different kind. We must remember that our work is not finished in retirement. Yes, we may be 'retired' from our full-time job, but the work of the gospel never ceases. As John Piper said, this is what retirement should be about – doing gospel ministry till the day we drop.
Because of the temptation to focus more on ourselves, we need to consecrate ourselves to the Lord's service continually. We are to offer him all that we are and all that we have as a living sacrifice. In the same way, to tend to revert to a works-based basis for our salvation, we tend to withhold or even take back what we have committed to God. Our lives are no more our own when we are retired than they were before.
The idea here is that we daily present ourselves to God for him to use us as he wills (Romans 12:1). We put ourselves at God's disposal and plan our lives to maximize our ability to give and serve. This is while being aware of, and by grace endeavoring to fulfill, our purpose and calling, using whatever gifts God has given us for His glory by serving and engaging in ongoing ministry in the local church.
God's plans for us don't end just because we are older. Sure, we may have limitations, but unless we are incapacitated, we can still have a significant impact during our retirement years. I love the picture painted by these verses from Psalm 92:
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green (verses 12 thru 14; ESV).
A gospel-centered retirement is increasingly focused on eternity and anticipates the joys that await in heaven. This is about being joyfully expectant at the thought of "being absent with the body, and present with the Lord," seeing heaven as our ultimate home. We want to enjoy every day that God gives us on this earth, but we all know they will be limited (Job 14:5). Therefore, we will want to make the most of the time we are given while remembering that eternity awaits us.
In his excellent book, Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End, David Gibson writes, "Once we grasp the big message of Ecclesiastes—that life in this world eludes our control—how then should we live?" Allowing the gospel change and then reorder our lives until the very end is the best way to answer this difficult question.
A gospel-centered retirement will enable us to finish well
The ways to live a gospel-centered retirement are not all that different than how we are called to live our lives as Christians from the very beginning – surprise, surprise! Finishing well means that we continue to live much as we always have, but with a heightened awareness of both the challenges and opportunities that mid- and later-life can present to us. In many ways that is what this blog is all about: persevering and overcoming those obstacles and challenges while also seizing the opportunities that God gives us so that we can say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7; Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
May God richly bless us all as we begin this journey together, a journey that we have already been on but need to 'finish well' by keeping the gospel at the center of our lives for as long as we live. In doing so, we can leave a legacy of gospel-informed, motivated, and inspired love for God and others – there is no greater legacy than that.