Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Gospel Truth

I’ve recently been working on a project that involves writing a presentation of the gospel. The task has struck me as a weighty one, given that the goal is to correctly and persuasively convey the good news of God’s grace in the context of redemptive history.

I’m posting below the rough draft. If any readers have suggestions or corrections for improvement, I’d welcome any feedback you might have.

The Truth of the Gospel

You can read this Bible cover to cover and yet not know God. You can be baptized and not be a true believer. You can be a lifelong member of a church and yet not go to heaven. You can even do great religious deeds, and yet hear Jesus say on the final day “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt. 7:22-23).
The greatest thing any of us needs—the greatest truth in the world—is the gospel. The gospel means “good news.” It is not a twelve-step program of things for you to do; it is the story of what God has done in Christ. In order to understand it fully, we need to look at who God is, who man is, who Jesus is, and what our response must be.

1. God Is Our Holy, Loving Creator

God is holy. He is set apart in a category all his own: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isa. 46:9). He is pure and righteous: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God is love. “God is love” (1 Jo. 4:8). When we hear that, we tend to think only of God’s love for us. God’s love for us is precious, but it existed before we did. Before the creation of the world, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit experienced perfect love and fellowship and joy. God is creator. God did not create the world because he was needy or lonely. A God who needs you would be too small for you to need him. He created the world as free act of sovereign love.
There is only one true God, and he is our Owner and Sustainer, our King and our Judge. To him we owe absolute allegiance.

2. We Were Created for God’s Glory

God—our holy, loving Creator—created the world and declared that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Men and women, specifically Adam and Eve, had been created “in his own image” (Gen. 1:27)—to reflect and represent God as they expanded his kingdom on earth. We were created to glorify God (Isa. 43:7)—to shine forth the beauties and excellencies of who he is. We were created to fellowship with God, free from sin and pain. The greatest philosophers and poets and religious leaders have debated for thousands of years the purpose and meaning of life. Here it is—the purpose for your life—“to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.1). The reason you exist is to enjoy and reflect the glory of your holy, loving Creator.

3. But We Became Sinful Rebels Against God

Adam and Eve were our legal representatives. That means that they were to represent the rest of the human race as they underwent a test of obedience. If they failed, we failed. If they passed, we passed. They lived in a perfect place under the rule of a perfect Creator with whom they had perfect fellowship. All of their needs were met by God, and he gave them but one authoritative prohibition: not to eat from the tree of life. But Satan, a fallen angel in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve to doubt God’s authoritative Word: “Did God actually say . . . ?” (Gen. 3:1). Adam and Eve rebelled against their holy, loving Creator, and we have inherited their guilt. The result is a fallen world full of sinful rebels who refuse to submit all of their thoughts and desires to their holy, loving Creator.
This includes you. Many of us imagine that we are good—but we can only do so if we lower the standard, comparing ourselves to “the next guy.” When compared to our holy, loving Creator, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Read through the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3-17). Ask yourself whether you have ever valued any created thing above God, whether you have always reverenced the name and character of God, whether you have perfectly honored your parents, whether you have ever taken or longed for something that was not yours, whether you have always spoken the truth about everything. Or read Jesus’ summary in Matthew 22:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Have you loved God and neighbor perfectly?
God is infinitely holy, infinitely loving, infinitely glorious, and therefore infinitely just. Our sinful rebellion cannot be swept under the rug of the universe. Many imagine that if God is loving, he will just forgive everyone their sins. But precisely because of his love and justice and holiness, he must punishment our treasonous sins with the only punishment that fits the crime: eternal, conscious punishment. “The wages of sin”—the consequences of your sin!—“is death” (Rom. 6:23).

4. Jesus Christ Is a Gracious Redeemer

Who is Jesus? Jesus is God—he is eternal (John 1:1; 8:58) and all things were created through him (Col. 1:16). Jesus is man—God, in his grace and love toward us, sent his only Son to earth. Jesus remained God but also took on human nature. Jesus is our representative—just as Adam and Eve were the legal representatives for all mankind, so Jesus became the legal representative for all who would trust in him (Rom. 5:19). He came to fulfill what Adam—and Israel after him—failed to do: perfectly keep and fulfill God’s holy law. He was tempted in every respect, yet he lived a righteous life without sin in perfect conformity to his Father (Heb. 4:15). Jesus is our redeemer—this perfect obedience culminated in his bloody death, a sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 9:26).
Some people view Jesus and his death as a traffic figure in a tragedy. It was indeed a horrible event, but we must remember that this is the very reason that Jesus came to earth. He lived to die. He knew it would happen. In fact, God had planned it from the beginning of time (Acts 4:27-28).
But couldn’t there have been some other way? Why did Jesus have to die? The reason can be found be considering what we have already learned. We are sinful rebels. We have committed high treason against our Lord and Maker and Judge. God is holy and just. He would be unrighteous to overlook an infinite offense against his majestic name. There are no escape routes. God cannot just wave a magic wand and pronounce our sins forgiven. This is as unthinkable as a judge in a courtroom deciding to let a convicted mass murderer go free because the judge is such a nice guy. So here is the greatest dilemma of the universe. How can we have fellowship with God and forgiveness of sins before a righteous God?
There is only one way. God sent Jesus to be the representative and the redeemer for those who would trust in him. Jesus lived a righteous life. And Jesus died a righteous death. When Jesus hung upon the cross, God the Father poured out his wrath upon Christ’s head in our place. (That’s what the word propitiation means in Romans 3:25.) God the Father punished Jesus in our place. He died a humiliating death was buried in a tomb. On the third day, however, he rose triumphantly from the grave and appeared to his disciples. After forty days he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of his Father.
For treasonous rebels who cast themselves upon Christ as their representative and redeemer, they will receive the righteousness of Christ and the forgiveness of all their sins.

5. We Must Turn to and Trust in Jesus

What then must we do to be saved? Before we can ask what we must do, we must make certain we are clear on what Christ has done. Man-made religion invariably starts with us, but divine revelation starts with Christ. Reread the previous section if you have to. You must first recognize the no amount of good deeds or righteous acts done by us will suffice.
We must turn (or repent) from our sinful idols (or competitors) and trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins, the gift of righteousness, and the hope of eternal life. It is not simply a matter of believing this intellectually. The demons believe all of this—and shudder (Jas. 2:19). You must trust in Jesus Christ as the only way to God (Acts 4:12). You must cherish Jesus as you would a hidden treasure or an expensive jewel (Matt. 13:44-46). You must submit to Jesus as the Lord of your life and the Savior of your soul, believing this in your heart and confessing it with your mouth (Rom. 10:9). You must cast yourself upon him and bank all of your hope in him, becoming like a child in your dependence and trust (Mark 10:15).
If this is the desire of your heart—if the “gospel” truly seems to you like “good news”—then we encourage you to cry out to God in prayer. Your prayer might be as simple as the tax collector who beat his chest and cried, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). It would also be wise to seek out a Bible-believing church (see the section on this below) and talk to a Christian friend or to a pastor.

Two Final Questions

Imagine that you are standing before your holy, loving Creator on the Day of Judgment, and he asks you two questions: (1) Why should I let you into heaven? and (2) Why do you want to be here in heaven? Your answers to those two questions will reveal whether you have grasped the truth of the gospel. So before you read further, stop to ask yourself how you would answer those questions.
The answer to why God should let you into heaven is: he shouldn’t! You have rebelled and committed high treason against the King and Judge of the universe. You only deserve one thing: eternal punishment. So you cannot plead your own case. You have no righteousness that earns you a right to heaven. But then you point to Christ. Christ paid the price. Christ bore the punishment that I deserve. Christ provided the righteousness that I cannot provide. I can therefore enter heaven because I am united to Jesus my Savior, my Lord, my Treasure, my Redeemer, my Refuge, my Delight.
But why do you desire to enter? Many of us want to enter heaven to be free from pain and sickness, sin and suffering. We also want to be reunited to lost loved ones. These desires are good, not wrong. But they are never sufficient. Ask yourself this question: Would I want to go to heaven if it had everything that I desired, but God wasn’t there? God would not be honored by an affirmative answer to that question. If we have embraced the truth of the gospel, then our greatest desire will be to be with God himself, in whose presence there is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).