Gospel Ontology: How Being Precedes Doing

“Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of beingbecomingexistence, or reality.”

This definition is incredibly important to grasp when it comes to Christian identity because we think about Christianity, we typically think about doing, not being. We tend to be so doing focused that we end up connecting our identity to our activity.

But what if my identity has nothing to do about my doing at all? This could be interesting! So, let’s take a look at this concept of “gospel ontology” from 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.



17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

I remember the first ad I saw in a magazine for what Apple was calling the iPhone. This was not just an improved phone. It was totally new. Revolutionary!

The same thing is true for the believer. We are not just improved, but new. Totally new.

But what does this mean? I don’t look new. I don’t necessarily feel very new; I don’t even feel very improved most of the time! I struggle with the same sins. You’d think I’d have it right by now.

Sometimes I wonder, “Am I even really saved?”

When I get to that point of despair, the problem is that I am focusing on my doing rather than my being, which is the result of Jesus’ doing, not mine.

To be “in Christ” is a positional standing.

In Romans 5:1-2, Paul says it like this, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

One key to what is new may be to consider what has passed away:

  • There is no more condemnation.
  • No longer spiritual orphans.
  • No longer alienated, but reconciled.
  • No longer spiritually dead, blind, and deaf.
  • We have been raised to new life with Christ.
  • New eyes. New ears. New heart. New desires. A new indwelling power.
  • A new love.
  • A new hope and a new eternal future.
  • But the chief among them is a new standing. Not what we do; but where we stand. Where we are. Whose we are.

Being “in Christ” we belong to God. It is like how Noah was in the ark and saved from the flood.

This is a stunning declaration of newness that is based upon…



18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

You remember from grammar class what nouns, prepositions, verbs and things are, right?

Did you notice the subjects, prepositions and verbs Paul used:

  • All this newness is from God…
  • Christ reconciled us to himself
  • God was reconciling

The grammar of the gospel is so important!

God is the one doing. We are the ones receiving.  And in receiving, we are given a new ontology – a new being… a new reality!

In Psalm 40, David puts it like this:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

Who God has declared us to be is the foundation of our ontological gospel identity; it is a gift identity; not based on what we do, but who we are.

This is why we say that being precedes doing. Being influences and motivates doing. But any moral improvement that takes place is a result of and in the wake of spiritual newness.

In theological terms, we are saying that justification is the foundation of sanctification, not vice versa.

Therefore, the theological and practical priority in the Christian life is living in view of the ontological reality of the gospel – who we are in Christ, not in ourselves.



20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

If something has changed your life, you talk about it. You share it. Cooking products. A brand of shoes. Essential oils.

How much more would we want to share the message of reconciliation with God. The way the Bible presents it is not religion as we expect it. While world religions emphasize that to be forgiven, loved and blessed is the result of our obedience and sacrifice, the gospel proclaims that we are forgiven, loved and blessed because of the obedience and sacrifice of someone else in our place.

What a counter-intuitive, revolutionary message! Lives could be dramatically changed if folks could believe this.

In 1919, Karl Menninger founded the famous Menninger Psychiatric Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Reflecting on the common cause of most of his patients’ psychoses, he wrote, “If my patients would only believe that they were truly forgiven, 80% would walk out of the clinic the next day cured.”

In verse 19, we read that God was “not counting [our] trespasses against us.” Because he counted them against Jesus!

This is all a gift. All grace.



21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul is describing what Martin Luther called the Great Exchange. I call it “the Grade Exchange.” It is found in the small book that Pete referenced last night.

Imagine that you are a university student taking your comprehensive final. As hard as you try, you fail miserably. But there is one student who passes the exam with a perfect score. This student offers to exchange grades with anyone who is willing to trade. This perfect student is Jesus, where through repentance I hand him my failing grace and by faith, I receive his perfect record as my very own.

Here is what this means.

  • The gospel doesn’t give us a second chance.
  • The gospel does not give us a clean slate, but something so much better! A full slate
  • We are no longer defined by our disease.

Have you noticed how we tend to talk about ourselves in terms of identity.  I am a diabetic. My is autistic. I am a divorcee. I am an alcoholic. If I lose a game, “I am a loser.” If I fail a test, “I am a failure!”

Now, I may have diabetes. I may have high blood pressure. I may have depression, OCD, social anxiety or bipolar disorder. I may lose the game or fail to close the deal, but in the gospel, I am not defined by these things. They are not who I am.

The same thing is true spiritually.

I still have a sin nature that wars against the Holy Spirit within me, and when I cave to that nature, I sin. But “in Christ” I am no longer defined by my sin.  I am not defined by the disease.

This was the perspective of Paul in Romans 7:17 when he said, “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

Paul is not making an excuse for his sin. He simply is holding to the gospel with tenacious faith, reminding himself that he is not defined by his sin, but by God’s grace in Jesus – this is his ontological gospel reality!

He is fully forgiven, perfectly accepted and dearly loved. Period.

When that ontological reality comes home to the heart, everything changes.

So, in the spirit of this passage, let me implore, beg you to be reconciled to God, not by your doing, but by receiving the gift-righteousness of Jesus!

2 thoughts on “Gospel Ontology: How Being Precedes Doing

  1. I found this FANTASTIC! I learned this long ago. I just wished the meninger clinic wasn’t mentioned. That’s a sore subject that need not be praised. Ask some of their patients if you can find them alive.

    1. Linda,
      Thank you so much for taking time to post a comment. It sounds like you and or a loved one had quite a negative experience with the clinic. I am sorry that this post brought up a painful memory. Please know that this post is not an endorsement of the Menninger Clinic. I personally do not know anyone who has been treated there. Again, thank you so much for reading and especially for sharing your experience. Hope to see you back soon.

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