The gospel is the power of God for salvation. The gospel is how people get saved. The gospel is what anybody needs to clearly understand in order to go to heaven. The gospel is the bloodline of the Christian. So what is it?
The gospel means good news, and it is just that, the greatest news mankind has ever known. A problem has been solved. A terrible fate has been changed. A people have been sent a Savior.
I can assume that anybody who has internet access and can read this has also heard this much of the message and probably more. So is knowing this much information what it means to be a Christian? Does knowing that Jesus “died for our sins” get us to heaven? What does that mean?
The purpose of this series is to lay out the absolute basics of what we must believe to be saved. I believe we can summarize the gospel by explaining no less than 3 topics: What is the problem? How did Christ solve that problem? And how is that solution applied to us? I would argue that if anyone has not clearly understood these 3 issues, they have not heard the gospel, and no matter how many decision cards they’ve signed or aisles they’ve walked, they can not saved. In this post I’ll discuss:
What is the problem?
We have to start in the beginning to see the severity of the situation. And in the beginning was God. God is holy. This means that he is without imperfection. God’s mercy, wrath, love and justice are perfect. This is very good for us, His creation. We would have no source for absolute truth, if God compromised. Now let’s talk perfect justice.
When someone commits a crime against us, we want justice, and hopefully we receive it. Justice is good. It means that people get what they deserve. If a murderer didn’t get penalized because the judge was feeling merciful that day, we would throw the judge in prison. The popular concept of karma isn’t far off. We must get what we deserve, it’s only fair.
But here’s the problem. What do we deserve? God’s law demands perfection, or we are punished. Not only are we not perfect, but we are desperately wicked. We sin in thought and deed. We deny God in everything we do. We take credit for things He has done, and we suppress the obvious truth that He exists and rules over us.
The Bible teaches that the problem started in the garden. Adam had a “free will” to obey God or disobey with the consequence of death. When he ate of the fruit, he brought spiritual death upon himself, the world at large, and all of his descendants that were in him. Adam was our representative. Now we are not born with the same neutrality to sin that Adam had. We have a bent toward sin, indeed, we can’t do anything but sin. Everything we do, even “good” things in the eyes of other fallen people, is sin.
When an unbeliever volunteers at a soup kitchen, they can not give the glory to God for working through them. No, they receive the glory, they feel righteous in themselves. Their goal is not to serve the Creator, but to look good in the eyes of others and even to justify themselves. Everything we do is sin, and we can’t stop.
This perpetual sin will not go unpunished by a perfectly just God. We choose to sin and deny God, and the punishment is death. God is angry toward sin and his anger is ultimately poured out on us in Hell. This is called God’s wrath. God has wrath against everyone, because everyone sins.
Religions teach that we can undo the bad stuff with good stuff and make it to God. But our own concepts of justice demonstrate that this isn’t true. Does driving the speed limit make your speeding violation go away? Does not killing more people lead us to forgive the serial killer who stopped 6 years ago? Does obeying the law erase our illegal activity? No, and worse yet, as I’ve demonastrated, you can’t even do the bare minimum to keep the law.
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” -Romans 3:23
Contrary to popular opinion, most people are not headed to Heaven, save the really bad few. The Biblical account is that every single person who has ever lived is in sin and is headed straight for Hell. No one is innocent, no one is going to Heaven.
This is a big problem. What on earth could possibly help this condition? We need a savior…
What is the solution?
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, sent His son. Jesus Christ, the eternal second person of the triune God became a human. God miraculously made a virgin woman pregnant with a God/human child. He came with a mission: to redeem a people.
Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life. He obeyed God’s law perfectly, and fulfilled all the scriptural prophecies of the promised suffering Messiah. When He began His ministry, He performed miraculous healings and signs. He taught about the mysteries of God and Heaven, and confronted the hypocrisy of the religious leadership.
Jesus also brought the law, that the Jews were to live by, to a whole new level. He taught that looking at a woman with lust was adultery, hating a man in your heart was murder, and he said that unless you were as perfect as God Himself, you could not enter Heaven (Matthew 5:48). Jesus did not make things easier to get to God. He drove the nails into our coffins, making sure we understood that we were doomed.
Jesus’ ultimate claim is that He was equal with God. This claim brought the religious leadership into a blind rage and they brought about a plan to kill Him.
Jesus was betrayed, arrested, illegally tried, and brutally beaten. No charges were brought against Him except that He taught false doctrine and that He claimed to be God. The Roman government found no guilt in Him, but were persuaded to kill him to appease the Jewish cries for His death. The legally, morally, and religiously innocent man was put to death by the most humiliating, prolonged, cruel death of the time. His body was nailed to wooden crossbeams and lifted up to be seen by the public.
After a dramatic three hours Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished!”, and died. His body was placed in a tomb, sealed, and guarded, so it would not be stolen by propagators of His movement. His body lay lifeless for nearly 3 full days.
Amazingly, on the third day he came back to life. He showed himself to His disciples and told them to spread the message of his death, burial, and resurrection to all the earth. He then lifted off the ground and ascended in to Heaven. He is now at the right hand of the Father God, in pierced human flesh, interceding for His people.
This is the solution God executed to solve our problem. Now how does it apply to us? What was Jesus doing on this planet? What was He doing on that cross? How can sinful men be saved through the death of God’s son?
How does this apply to us?
The work of Christ, and the subsequent work of the Holy Spirit, solves every problem that keeps us from God. God’s agreement between Himself and mankind was this: If you obey me, I will bless you with life. If you don’t, I will punish you with death and wrath. Again this is the natural law we see everywhere, we get what we deserve, and God is just to fulfill His end of the bargain, but we only disobey, and are all running mad straight to Hell.
Christ’s first work in our world was his perfect life. God became a man and fulfilled our end of the bargain for us, because we couldn’t. Where we were disobedient, He was obedient. Where we sinned, He was innocent. Where we hated and denied God, He loved and pointed to His Father. He did what was required of us to do. He earned a status that no man can earn on His own, “righteous”.
Now the Father actually gives that earned righteousness to every person who believes in Christ. A Christian is looked at by God as if he actually lived the perfect life that Christ lived. We know we’re sinners, but God looks at us as if we were Jesus. This giving of Jesus’ perfect life to believers is called “imputed righteousness”.
The death of Jesus on the cross is where we see how much God loves His people. The crucifixion was a greater sacrifice than it might appear on the surface. He was actually receiving a punishment more torturous and humiliating than any man has ever received. The sovereign King of the universe was stripped, beaten, mocked, and destroyed by His subject. Worse, God Himself was allowing, even orchestrating, His own Son’s death. So what good came from this seemingly senseless and barbaric murder?
In the first post, I talked about God’s wrath toward sinners. God is angry with our sins and justice must and will be served for our crimes. We deserve to die, but Jesus died in the place of believers. The wrath God owed to us was being poured out completely on the Son, who laid His life down for us. Our sins were laid on Him, and those sins were completely paid for by His death. A believers sins are totally forgiven, past, present, and future because they were atoned for in Jesus. The work of Jesus on the cross completely satisfied God’s angry wrath toward believers. This satisfaction of God’s wrath is called “propitiation”.
How can I be saved?
Jesus lived and died for every person who would believe in Him. And all of those people have been forgiven, justified, and will receive eternal life in Heaven with God. All you must do to receive this perfect work is turn away from your sinful, selfish life (repent) and believe in the good news of the saving work of Jesus. All the people who believe in Jesus were somehow united with Jesus on the cross. We, on a spiritual level, lived His life and died His death. All the work to reach God has been completed by someone else. What you couldn’t do, God came and did for you.
This is what a Christian must believe: Jesus’ work is perfect. The life and death of Christ was 100% sufficient to reconcile us with God. There is no work we can do to add to His work. God is satisfied by Jesus, and loves everyone who believes, just like He loves His Son. Jesus promises we can never be taken away, if indeed, we are in Him.
I’m not inviting you to pray a prayer or just say that you believe. Becoming a Christian means to sacrifice your whole life to God. To see what Jesus did and die to yourself. To live the rest of your life being directed by God, the Holy Spirit, God’s word (the Bible) and looking forward to the day you can see Him and love Him more fully. You can not do this on your own, you are weak, and you need God to do the work, just as Christ did all the work to redeem believers. The Holy Spirit is the person of God who comes inside us and lives our Christian life with us. Yes, when we become Christians, God literally takes up residence in us… how can we fail?
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20