is the gospel?
time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe
in the gospel."
"By this gospel
you are saved...that
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that
he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared
to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time..."
What is the gospel?
The gospel of Jesus
Christ is the summary explanation of who he is and what he accomplished
for you. The word gospel literally means "good news". It's good
news because it's an answer to a problem. So...what's
The problem is no one deserves to go to heaven
Christians don't deserve
to go to heaven. Muslims and Jews don't deserve to go to heaven. Agnostics,
atheists . . . NO ONE is worthy of heaven.
Worthy means to be deserving.
Do you think you deserve to go to heaven when you die? Do you deserve an
eternity of peace and good in return for the life you've lived?
If you're like most
pretty good. You and I have both been kind to others, volunteered for charities,
given money and so forth. But, of course, no one is perfect. You and I have
also committed unworthy acts. We've
each at some point committed injustices like leaving some kind act undone,
failed to be grateful, unfairly judged someone, lied and so forth.
Also consider the people
who have committed injustices against you. Do
people who robbed from you or hurt you, maybe for years, deserve the same
consequence for their cruel acts as friends who gave to you or helped you?
Do the people who injured you or treated you like dirt - or maybe even in
the end murdered you - deserve good in return for having done so?
They don't. Injustice
does not deserve to be rewarded at all. If we are to accept that there is
justice, either in this world or the next, then the consequence of unjust
acts must be different from that of just acts.
Even secular law reflects
this: Justice and associated behaviors incur better consequences (rewards)
than injustice. Injustice incurs either the subtraction of reward, or the
addition of punishment, or both.
universe is the product of God, then he is our moral judge. Good,
bad, right, wrong are his to define. And what is a moral judge to do with
the wrongs of which you and I are guilty?
"I can see where this is going, but I'm more good than bad."
Yes, you probably are,
but unfortunately things like thoughtlessness, hurtful words, and pain that
you and I caused cannot be taken back. We can no more undo our past sins
than we can recall ripples on a lake. Their influence proceeds outward across
time and history, touching more lives and for a longer period of time than
perhaps we ever wished or imagined.
We all hate pain and
suffering and injustice, yet we acknowledge this one awful truth: we have
each been someone else's worker of iniquity. We have all been someone else's
thoughtless stranger, someone else's hurtful friend.
You and I are undeserving.
I say this not to put you down, but to reveal everyone's deplorable position
before a perfect and just God. What is the consequence of what we have done?
What punishment does the guilt of our injustices merit?
The Bible reveals to
us with painful clarity that in God's court, the penalty for sin is death
(Romans 6:23). Eternal death, or eternal separation from God, for any sin
whatsoever. Worse punishment for worse sins (Luke 12:47-48), but zero access
to God's presence (heaven) for anything less than perfection.
Why is this? Why
such an impossible, unachievably high standard?
The Character of God.
The character of God
is our problem, and yet it is also our salvation.
God is "holy, holy,
holy". He is utterly set apart from all that we know. I don't pretend
to know more about that than what's revealed in the Bible. But what God
has revealed is that he is holy, he is just, and he is love. He created
each of us in order to love us and to have us enjoy his presence forever.
What he will not have
in his presence, however, is sin.
Sin is anything antithetical
to his holy, just, loving nature; our injustices mentioned above as an example.
Those things God hates and keeps removed at a distance from himself. He
would destroy them immediately if we, those he loves, were not immersed
in them so deeply.
So is anyone worthy
of God's perfect love? Anyone so pure they are compatible with the holy
presence of God? Not you or I or anyone we know. We have all sinned and
fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are each spiritual
losers deserving of eternal separation from any and all of God's glory.
That is the problem. But it is also here where the solution so mercifully
enters in - the "gospel", the good news, of Jesus Christ.
2. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is one who is
worthy of the glory of heaven and his name is Jesus. God himself came to
earth in the person of Jesus. Referred to as the Son of God, or Messiah
(in Hebrew), or Christ (in Greek), and long prophecied
throughout the Old Testament to come, Jesus first and foremost lived
a life that was finally worthy of good in return. To Jesus alone did
God say, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased (Matthew
3:17). Jesus alone perfectly obeyed God's laws. Jesus alone loved with a
perfect love. Jesus alone committed no sin.
More than just coming
to teach us and serve as our example for living, Jesus also came to die.
When Jesus died upon the cross, he took upon himself sin's penalty of death
on behalf of all who will believe and follow him. Only Jesus was capable
of dying for another's sin because only he was without sin; he had
no personal sin-debt to pay.
Jesus' death on the
cross was the single forthcoming act of mankind's salvation which the Old
system was designed to teach all along. (That was the expression
of the gospel to those whom had preceded Christ.) As only God would and
could do, Jesus, out of love for his people, became their sacrificial lamb.
"How could Jesus transact this?"
While God's holiness
keeps us at a distance from him, and God's justice requires that
sin and sinners be dealt with, it is God's love and mercy that we
have to thank for providing the way we can become holy and enter his presence.
That way was for God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, to bear his
own legal consequence of our sins for us. Jesus could transact this because:
- Jesus' characteristic
of holiness enabled him to live a life free of sin, perfectly obeying
all his laws, which qualified him to serve as our guiltless substitute
(foreshadowed by the Old Testament's sacrificial use of spotless lambs),
- Jesus' characteristics
of being both just and eternal permitted his substitutionary death
on the behalf of others, which fully satisfied his law, and enabled him
to survive the grave; plus...
- Jesus' characteristic
of love led him to endure that ultimate penalty on our behalf so that
all who believe in him will be imputed with his own holy righteousness
and FOR THAT REASON ONLY qualify to enjoy his glory forever.
what does it mean to "believe in Jesus"?
If you believe in Jesus, then you recognize and admit your sinfulness; you
repent of each and all your sins. In other words, you acknowledge them
to be the rebellion against God which Jesus proclaims they are. You forsake
them; all of them when you first come to Christ, and then individually when
they arise during your continuance in the faith. If in reverence and humility
you ask God for forgiveness, he promises to place your guilt upon the cross
of Christ, wiping your own record clean.
I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how
God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that
his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins
may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, -
you repent, then it was your penalty for sin that Jesus bore on that cross.
As Isaiah prophecied more than six hundred years before Christ's atoning
But he was pierced
for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment
that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We
all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Jesus paid for your sins, God's wrath over your sin debt no longer remains.
In exchange for the payment of Jesus' life, the righteous worth of Jesus'
life is now extended to you, and you are saved from eternal separation from
the Lord. Because Jesus himself was without sin, he rose
again from the dead to be with God the Father; providing us with
utter certainty of who he was. Jesus now reigns from heaven with all authority
given to him;
his salvation work accomplished, his life for yours, your spiritual debt
paid in full.
your sin debt was fully paid by Jesus, then the life you're living now belongs
to him. You are a new creation, a continuation of Jesus Christ's life;
you are no longer your own. The words you choose, the actions you take,
the people you touch: it should all be as Christ. Jesus-the-hand in you-the-glove.
To the extent you're living the life of Christ, you demonstrate the degree
to which you have really surrendered your life to him. Christ's essential
commission for you: 'I'll finish your life; you finish mine'.
you are living Christ's life, not only is he in you, but the Bible says
you are in him. That might be how, in the spiritual sense, the moment
you believe, your old self effectively died back on that cross two thousand
years ago. Consider every core aspect about you as crucified; your pride,
your selfishness, your lusts, every sinful aspect of your soul - now all
dead to the world, but alive to Jesus Christ.
Not being physically
dead, of course, and still subject to sin until you are, God commands you
to be a living sacrifice. Every day you are to put to death what resembles
your old self and grow closer to God. Filling yourself with his Holy Spirit
whom Jesus has sent to help each and every believer, you are to persevere
over the inclination to sin, and thereby grow towards the goal of living
in perfect and continual communion with the Father.
Love the Father as Jesus
loved him; serve as he served, obey as he obeyed. That is being a Christian;
or literally a "little Christ".
The gospel is thus
humanity's single hope for eternal life; a call to repentance, self-denial,
submission to the will and authority of God, and following in the teachings,
love, joy, and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is what it means
to believe in Jesus. If you truly believe in him, you act in concert with
his living presence. If you are in concert with him, you not only share
in his death on the cross, but you share in his righteousness, or spiritual
worthiness. By sharing in his worthiness, you are enabled to share in his
eternal life. Have faith that Jesus has accomplished all of this for you,
for that is the good news, and that is the only way anyone is ever
rescued to heaven.
found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to
men by which we must be saved.
through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that
leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate
and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Jesus himself is
the narrow gate which he contrasts to the wide gate and broad road.
The wide gate or broad road represents all the ways people think they are
getting to heaven other than by faith in the gospel of Jesus and the cross.
The broad road collectively appeals to far more people than the narrow path
and possibly fills more churches. That might be successful marketing, but
that's not the gospel.
What today's spiritual
consumer wants, the gospel might not have. But what the gospel does have
is Jesus at its center, and it's Jesus that you need. Jesus paid the ultimate
price, and won the ultimate victory. Jesus didn't endure the cross for
nothing; not if your salvation could have been accomplished any other way.
Nor would his apostles have endured their own torturous
deaths for refusing to preach of the risen Christ if there was any
doubt about it in their minds.
I assure you the gospel
is truly good news, even if the only reason left to believe it is simply
because it's true. Such
might be the case considering the following aspects of the extreme narrowness
of the gospel:
1. The gospel is rooted
in specific, literal historical events. It is also rooted in humanity's
position before an unchanging and uncompromising God. As such, the gospel
message is the same today as it was in Jesus' day. The gospel does
2. A clear
presentation of the gospel does not mean that it will be believed. On
the contrary, Jesus indicated more people will reject the gospel than
believe it. That's partly how you can tell if you're dealing with
the authentic message.
3. Remember that the
angry mob didn't shout "Crucify him" because Jesus was only saying we
should be nice to one another. Many of them had heard his message
firsthand, and it wasn't the watered-down tolerate-everything blather
you hear from a great many churches today. Christ's message has never
been widely popular, and popularity is not a goal of the gospel.
4. Jesus Christ
is the core of the gospel, and the cross reminds us of the send-off he
got. In return for believing, you, too, will experience some form of
rejection. Certain friends or family might think less of you or give
you trouble. Declaring your newfound belief might even get you killed
if you live in a nation ruled by Islamic shariah law.
5. What the gospel
is not: the gospel is not about increasing your self esteem or
giving you self-improvement techniques. Believing in the gospel is no
guarantee that you'll get any of this stuff. God willing, you might receive
the blessings you want or more, but the gospel isn't about what God can
do for you. It's chiefly about what God has already done for you.
6. The true
gospel is very narrow in delineating the way to pleasing God. It is so
narrow that, according to the Bible, it is actually impossible
to believe the gospel unless the hearer is first drawn to it by God
(John 6:63-66). That is exactly why the gospel should be presented honestly
and with enough clarity for people to reject it. In one sense, it isn't
a message for everyone.
in it for me?
As if belief were a
competing product to the alternative, the consequence of having believed
is eternal life in the presence of the perfect Lord Jesus Christ. The consequence
for not doing so is eternity in darkness, torment, and self-hatred for having
neglected such a great salvation.
The reward awaiting
believers seems to be nicely summed up in the first seven verses of chapter
twenty-one in the book of Revelation. As is often the case with God's providence,
this happened to be the sermon topic the week I had dedicated to write this
Then I saw a
new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had
passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
First to note is the
renewal of all of creation. This is not any slight improvement to the status
quo, but an entire re-working of life as we know it. Darkness and chaos
will be gone, and whatever exists will be shaped in accordance with the
character and holiness of God.
I saw the Holy
City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared
as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Not just creation, but
believers themselves will be recreated in the likeness of and to the glory
of Jesus Christ. Gone is the sin that stains our lives. Believers will be
clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, and in the righteous acts
they were given to accomplish while on this earth.
And I heard
a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with
men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself
will be with them and be their God.
Most importantly, with
sin taken away, no longer will God be separated from those who believe.
The glory that Moses only glimpsed will be ever-present with believers forever.
He will wipe
every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or
crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
God himself will comfort
believers from all that has transpired, and never again will there be the
agonies of life with which we are all so familiar.
He who was seated
on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write
this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
These promises of a
new life in the presence and unveiled love of God are certain; and furthermore
God wants everyone to hear them and have confidence.
He said to me:
"It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring
of the water of life.
All that needs to be
done in order to provide you with access to heaven has already been accomplished
for you. If you thirst for what God promises, if you are not content with
what passes for life here and now, you can find satisfaction by believing
in Christ. For those that have faith that Jesus paid the penalty for all
their sin, Jesus indeed paid it all.
He who overcomes
will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
remains for those who believe is the exercising of that belief. If you truly
believe Jesus to be the Christ, Emmanuel ("God with us"), then
your life will reflect it. It will reflect it more and more each and every
day until the Lord calls you to your heavenly home and finally welcomes
you, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
Parables for today
culture, Jesus spoke in parables, likening the kingdom of God to elements
which his audience knew well. Following
his example, here are some of my writings for our culture. Perhaps they
will assist you to see some part of the gospel more clearly.
of the stray cat: This is a true story generally illustrating
the care and rescue we receive from the Lord. It best illustrates the role
of Jesus before the Father who is always interceding for us. (My wife's
traffic ticket: This is an amusing, fictional dialogue featuring
the most common objections to the Bible and Christianity. Beyond that, it's
a surprisingly accurate illustration of sinful humanity's legal standing
before a holy and just God.
of the sinking ship: If someone handed you a piece of paper telling
you the ship you're on is sinking, but it didn't look that way, what would
you do? You'd find out if it's true. This analogy logically walks you through
why you should do the same concerning the Bible.
of the S.S. Titanic: This is another true story; the real-life events
of the Titanic's crew and passengers, broken down event-by-event to show
how both Christians and non-Christians are making the same mistakes. This
is one of my favorite writings as the longer I live and the more details
of the ship's history I learn, the more the tragic saga seems to perfectly
capture the predicaments of BOTH the spiritually saved and the lost.
do we know about Jesus - from nonbiblical sources?
The Bible's most
How to prepare for judgment
belief in the resurrection