The one is the product of the Fall—the other is the fruit of regeneration. The one is the breathing of self-righteousness—the other is the outcome of self-renunciation. The one is the work of pride and independence—the other is the outflow of humility and dependence. The one is the enmity which the carnal mind has against the grace of God, the other is the acquiescence of the renewed mind in undeserved mercy.
An evangelical spirit is found where the heart beats in accord with the essence and substance of the Gospel. The Gospel makes nothing of man—and everything of Christ. The Gospel comes to us on the assumption—or rather the fully demonstrated fact—that we are lost creatures— hopelessly, helplessly, irretrievably lost in ourselves. It comes unto us as those who are justly condemned by the holy Law of God, as those who are even now under the Divine curse, as those who are rushing headlong to eternal destruction! The Gospel tells of the amazing provision which God has made for depraved and vile sinners. It announces the exceeding riches of grace, unto those who are His inveterate enemies. It proclaims a full and perfect salvation, for all who are willing to receive it. It not only publishes a full pardon and deliverance from Hell—but it promises eternal life and everlasting glory to all who believe its glad tidings; and it offers these inestimable blessings freely, "without money and without price."
The Gospel makes known how God can show mercy unto the rebellious, without compromising His justice; how He can receive the ungodly, without sullying His holiness; how He can remit the penalty of sin, without dishonoring His Law; how He can save the very chief of sinners, to the praise of the glory of His grace. The Person and work of Christ supplies a full and perfect answer to each of these "hows." God has not shown mercy at the expense of justice—for He set forth Christ "to be a propitiation (a satisfaction rendered to Divine justice) through faith in His blood" (Romans 3:25). God has not sullied His holiness—but rather has He exemplified and glorified it by refusing to spare His own dear Son (Romans 8:32) when He bore the sins of His people. God has not slighted the Law, for it was magnified and made honorable, by Immanuel's rendering unto it a perfect and perpetual obedience in thought, word and deed. God can save the very chief of sinners unto the praise of the glory of His grace, without requiring any price from them—because He has received full payment of his debts in the sacrifice of Calvary, which was and is of infinite value!
Where the Gospel is applied by the supernatural power of the Spirit, beating down all opposition thereto, the mind cordially assents to its contents, the heart rejoices therein, the will responds thereto, and thus an "evangelical spirit" is born in the soul. The sinner is then evangelized in the true and full sense of that word. He not only throws down the weapons of his warfare against God—but he repudiates the filthy rags of his own righteousness. He has been made to see and feel himself so condemned by the Law as to know there is no help in himself. He has been brought to realize that his soul is sick unto death—and that none but the great Physician can do him any good. He now knows himself to be a pauper, utterly dependent upon Divine charity—and therefore the Gospel of the grace of God is most suited to his need and most glorious good tidings unto his heart. It is as truly welcome to him as food to a starving man, as a cup of cold water would be to one who was suffering the fires of Hell.
Wherever an understanding has been Divinely enlightened, wherever a heart has been opened to receive the Gospel of God—there an "evangelical spirit" prevails. The language of such a one is, "You O Christ are all I want—more than all in You I find. Your righteousness prevails to justify me before God. Your holiness is my sanctification. Your blood removes my foulness. Your merits meet my unworthiness. Your power is sufficient for my weakness. Your riches supply all my need. I have heard Your voice, Lord Jesus, tell me not of anything beside. I have seen Your face, Lord Jesus—all my soul is satisfied."
Such a one has been accepted in the Beloved, accorded a standing before God which neither the Law nor Satan can challenge, and made nearer and dearer to God than are the holy angels. Tell such a one that something else is still required from him, before God can regard him with approbation—that the redemption of Christ must be added to, by his own good works—and he rejects such an aspersion with the utmost abhorrence, as the Devil's lie!
It is, however, to be pointed out that whereas all "evangelical spirit" is the opposite of a "legal" one, it is also the very reverse of a "licentious" one. Christ saves His people "from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). That is, He saves them from the love and dominion of them—as well as from their pollution and penalty. The Gospel announces the amazing grace of God—but His grace is not exercised at the expense of righteousness, rather does it "reign through righteousness" (Romans 5:21). The very grace which proclaims a free and full salvation, without money and without price—also works mightily and transformingly in its recipients, "teaching us (effectually, not theoretically) that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:12). The Gospel is very far from inculcating lawlessness. When the Apostle asked, "Do we then (by preaching salvation by grace alone) make void the Law through faith?" he answered, "Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31), for the believer is "under the Law to Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21).
The more the Gospel works effectually in those who believe—the more are they conformed, both inwardly and outwardly, unto the image of Christ. And the Lord Jesus declared, "I delight to do Your will, O My God; yes Your Law is within My heart!" (Psalm 40:8). This, too, in their measure, is the experience and acknowledgment of each one saved by Him. Said the Apostle, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22), which was the voicing of an essential element in an "evangelical spirit." Where the heart beats true to the Gospel, the possessor is not only delivered from legality or self-righteousness, but he is also preserved from spiritual lawlessness. While no sinner is or can be saved on account of his own doings—so far from the Gospel and salvation by grace being the enemy of good works, it inculcates them: "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10 and cf. Titus 2:14).
An "evangelical spirit," then, is one which cleaves to the happy means between two evil and fatal extremes: legality and lawlessness; self-righteousness and self-pleasing. Against these two evils, the Christian needs to be constantly on his guard both in doctrine and practice, for while on the one hand there is ever a tendency in him to "frustrate the grace of God" (Galatians 2:21), to "fall from grace" (Galatians 5:4), which is done whenever we bring in anything of our own as the ground of our acceptance with God. On the other hand we are ever prone to "turn the grace of our God into a license for sin" (Jude 4), which is done when we presumptuously give license to the flesh and follow a course of self-will, on the pretext that this cannot jeopardize our eternal security in Christ. To counter the uprisings of the spirit of legality, we must constantly remind ourselves that we have nothing good but what God has wrought in us, and therefore we have no cause for boasting— that we are what we are—by the grace of God. To oppose the workings of licentiousness, we must continually ponder the fact that we are not our own—but "bought with a price" and that we most glorify Christ as we follow the example He has left us.