Prophetic Momentum

Jon Cressey writing mostly about church, prophets and prophecy...

The gospel palimpsest!


I discovered a new word recently. Well, I’ll come clean: I heard it on Radio 4 as I drove to work, and after looking it up in the dictionary, I began to muse about it.

The word is “palimpsest,” which refers to a piece of writing material, like parchment, that was used multiple times after earlier writing was erased or scraped off to make room for new text. This was common in times when such materials were scarce or expensive. It is also a similar idea to some of the grand paintings that were whitewashed and then painted over where the original painting is either partially or completely obscured, though traces of it may still be detectable beneath the new work.

As I thought about it, it struck me that there is a similar process that happens in our lives as Christians – it is an idea worth considering because, as you see it in operation, it brings encouragement and hope.

The good news that transforms us

The Gospel is the greatest news ever written, and as we apply it to our lives, it evokes change, but the work is never finished. We are constantly engaging with the Gospel and being changed, renewed, challenged, and transformed as the Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts. What we know and understand today about the Gospel is far more precious today than when we first believed because we have grown to treasure, understand, and apply the various nuances of the Gospel.

Just the idea that we learn that hearing is not just hearing, as we grow in God, hearing means also to obey. God’s grace writes over our hearts the message of His kindness and provision, and does it again and again! When we consider the Gospel as written over our lives in a palimpsest manner, it speaks of transformation and renewal that comes through faith in Christ.

Writing and rewriting our lives

Our lives, with all their past mistakes, sins, and experiences, are not discarded by God. Instead, He works over them, rewriting our story with the message of grace, redemption, and new life in Christ.

The original text of our lives — the hurts, the past, the mistakes — may still be visible, as they contribute to our testimony, but they are covered by the grace and truth of the Gospel. In some sense, palimpsest is the context of sanctification in our lives; it is not a complete final work but the ongoing result of learning to walk in faith, trust, and obedience to the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit.

God is at work, again and again…

There are three Scriptures (many more spring to mind) that will help you see this process at work in your life – and in that, you can see that God is continually at work. You are never being left to your own devices; instead, God is at work again and again, and the outcome is that you see the faithfulness, providence, and sovereignty of God taking place in your life. Look under some of the layers, and you might see the words, “I struggle with…” but now time has passed, the text has faded, and the words “Overcomer!” are prevalent. There are just three verses I want to consider here:

Several scriptures highlight the palimpsest effect of the Gospel on our lives:

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Here is the concept of our lives being rewritten. The old self, with its sin and brokenness, has passed away, and we become a new creation in Christ. The traces of our old self remain as part of our story, but they are covered by our new identity in Him, and in the course of time, are challenged and renewed continuously as we grow in Him.

Galatians 2:20 (ESV): “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul’s words reflect a similar palimpsest nature of the Christian life — our old self, with its sinful desires, is crucified with Christ, and our new life is now lived through faith in Him. Our past is not erased but overwritten by the reality of Christ living in and through us. Who you are today is not who you were 10, 5, or a year ago, but you can look back and remember, sometimes awkwardly, but also with praise and thankfulness.

Ephesians 4:22-24 (ESV): “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Paul once again encourages believers to actively participate in the palimpsest process by actively putting off the old self and being renewed in the spirit of their minds, allowing their lives to be rewritten according to the likeness of God.

Sanctification continues

You might be able to think of better verses, but can you see the transformative effect of the Gospel as akin to a palimpsest — where our old selves and pasts are not obliterated but are beautifully overlaid with the new life, identity, and purpose we find in Christ? This metaphor not only highlights the depth of God’s redemptive work in our lives but also the ongoing process of sanctification, where we are continually being made more like Christ, with the Gospel eternally shaping and defining who we are.


Palimpsest is not a word that makes for easy reading, but I have one last thought for you – palimpsest can be a valuable process of deliverance. Sometimes a person troubled by demonic activity needs not so much a ‘casting out’ of something, or to be ‘throwing hatchets at the moon’ but to be more tentatively and carefully applying and reapplying truth to their heart about given situations. It is the truth that makes you free, and the continuous application of truth to the human heart is a salve better than any other.

When we are troubled by the wildfires of life, we should remind ourselves of the great truths that God has given us, the promises, reassurances, challenges, and hope-restoring Scriptures that remind us we are not alone, that all things work together for our good, that our sin is removed as far as the east is from the west, that nothing will separate us from the love of God, that all things are possible with God… <fade>

The gospel palimpsest!
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