The Gospel (Pt 5)

“The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

We’ll end our discussion on the gospel where we began.  These words of Jesus in Mark 1:15 have helped frame our thoughts on the gospel.  We have been working through the phrase, “Repent and believe the gospel” backwards, asking first what is “the gospel” which Jesus says we should believe in?

We have seen the gospel is the message about God, mankind, and Jesus Christ.

If we are going to know, love, live and teach the gospel then we must think deeply about what the Bible says of God, ourselves, and Jesus.  Without these three elements, we do not really have the “good news.”  When we think of the gospel beginning with who God is (holy), then moving to who we are (wicked at heart), we are left wondering where the “good” of the good news is!  And that’s precisely the point.  It is then that we by grace begin to long for deliverance from sin and death and all that we are in the core of our beings.  It is then we are ready to learn of the Treasure of treasures – Jesus the Savior.

Having come to some sense of God’s absolute, uncompromising holiness, and our utter sinfulness, we are in a place where we see the beauty of the life, death and resurrection of Christ in our place.  The guilt of our sin transferred to Christ on the cross becomes a hauntingly beautiful thing to us.

What remains, then, are the gospel commandsrepent and believe.

To repent in the Bible means to have a change of mind and heart, to turn away from sin and one’s own inherent wickedness.  It involves a confession (agreeing with God’s assessment of us) and a determination to walk in the way of Christ.

To believe or have faith means to submit one’s life to, or to totally trust.  When Paul told the Romans to confess with their mouths the Lord Jesus and believe in their hearts that God had raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:9), he was requiring them to be willing to part with their heads in order to follow Jesus.  Indeed, as Paul was writing, Rome was not a very safe place for those who “believed” in Jesus and refused to call Ceasar “lord.”  This is far from easy believism.

Repentance and belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior are the essential gospel commands.  This is the required human response to the message called the gospel.  Repentance and faith in Christ always go hand-in-hand in the Bible.  One turns from sin and to Jesus alone for forgiveness and justification before a holy God.

Now here’s the kicker.  Salvation is such a complete work of God’s grace that we are told in Scripture that everything involved in it is a “gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:9).  Wow!  It’s all a gift.  This includes the conviction of sin and the compelling power of God bringing us to treasure the perfections of Christ (John 6:44, 65; 16:8).  This includes saving faith.  This includes repentance (2 Tim 2:25).  God saves us.  God gives spiritual life to the spiritually dead!  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

The Spirit of God mysteriously blows into the sinner’s life, giving new life in Christ, opening the heart and making it new (Acts 16:14; 2 Cor 5:17), just as He promised He would one day do (Ezek 36).  And the result of this great, regenerating move of God’s Spirit in the sinner is saving faith in Jesus Christ (1 John 5:1).  And, little wonder Christ alone is the object of saving faith; for He alone has made it all possible.

No more striving to be good enough.  No more praying some formulaic prayer.  No more simple “ABCs.”  No more trusting in the work of Christ plus our own efforts at being righteous.  No, what we see in the Bible when a sinner comes face to face with the Spirit applying the gospel is much more “native,” much more “real,” much less “flashly” and man-manipulated.  It’s the pure, unadulterated cry for mercy: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13).  It’s the helpless plea of a man bleeding out his last on the cross beside Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Makes me think the gospel really is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).  Know the gospel.  Love the gospel.  Live the gospel.  Teach the gospel.  Pray the gospel.  And center your homes on the gospel.  Then one day, by God’s immeasurable grace, you too may have the joy of hearing your children cry out to Jesus for mercy.

May God make it so, for the sake of His Son and our Holy Savior, amen.

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The Gospel (Pt 4)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.  I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Most Christians have read this verse numerous times.  It comes early in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and seems to me to be the hinge or turning point in the sermon.  The sermon begins with the B-attitudes, which tell us the distinguishing marks of Kingdom citizens (those saved by God in Christ).  Then Jesus exhorts His followers to be salt and light so that the world might glorify the Heavenly Father (which means, by the way, Christians owe even their good works to God’s grace).

Then Jesus drops this bomb – He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament, even the smallest pen stroke!  I bet you could have heard a pin drop.  Then maybe some quiet mumbling:

“Did He just say He came to fulfill the Word of God?”

“That’s what I think He said, but we must have misunderstood Him!”

This truth is critical to the gospel – Jesus came to do what we could never do because of our sinful defect.  Jesus’ perfection substitutes for our defection!  Jesus perfectly obeyed God and His law.  Jesus is everything Israel could not be.  Jesus is everything we cannot be.  Jesus’ whole life is a substitute for sinners, including the death He died on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave.

Jesus is perfection personified.  His perfect work (life of obedience and sacrificial death and resurrection) is possible because of His perfect being.  He is all God and all man, the One and Only God-man, the One and Only Eternal Son of God.

No wonder God the Father boomed from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).  God is perfectly pleased with Jesus.  He can never be so with sinners like you and me (Rom 8:8).

To drive home the point even further, Jesus’ goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to bring His listeners to utter despair.  He tells them their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if they are to make it to heaven.  The Pharisees were the religious “heroes” of the commoners.  They were considered “holy men.”  How could the common person with so little access to the Temple and the sacred scrolls ever attain to such a standard?

Jesus continues and tells His listeners that every one of them is a murderer, adulterer, and liar and are all therefore in danger of hell fire.  You see, Jesus was demolishing several hundred years of poor biblical interpretation and application.  The external religion of the Pharisees was never the intent of the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament).  No, no.  God’s law was meant to expose the desparately wicked heart in every person.  God’s law rightly read never leads to a feeling of self-righteousness; but rather despair and self-loathing as one is confronted time and again with one’s innate inability to obey Holy God.

Yet, Jesus said He came to render perfect obedience to God’s Law.  May God give us ears to hear, friends.  God’s perfect pleasure exists only in One Person – Jesus the Christ.  Yahweh had promised 700 years before the Sermon on the Mount:

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows . . . He was crushed for our iniquities . . . it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief . . . He [Yahweh] shall see the anguish of His soul [the Suffering Messiah] and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53).

Oh friends, this is the good news!  God has crushed Jesus on the cross instead of crushing us.  Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross was a perfect sin offering, literally.  God gave Jesus what we deserve so He could give us what Jesus deserves (2 Cor 5:21).  Jesus, the only purely innocent man ever to walk planet Earth, became “a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).

Jesus came as a man, was tempted as a man, and pleased God the Father perfectly as a man (Heb 4:15).  Yes, Jesus is fully God (John 1:1-3; Heb 1:1-4), but He is also fully man.  And as a man He could rightfully pay the price for man’s sin, for as the Medieval theologian Anselm put it, only man should rightly have to pay the penalty for man’s sin.  Yet, only God could possibly meet His own perfectly holy standard.  Jesus, the God-man, secured salvation for sinners who trust Him and Him alone.  His life for ours – O great exchange!

So much more can and should be said of Jesus.  But for now, let’s conclude by reminding ourselves that the gospel finds it fulfillment in Jesus.  Salvation is only in His perfect work and Person (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).  If we trust anyone or anything else for a right standing with God, we are undone and doomed to hell.

God is holy.  We are not.  Jesus is holy in our place.  Little wonder, then, that Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Crystal clear, isn’t it?  No Jesus.  No gospel.  The great eternal plan of God to get glory by redeeming helpless sinners is brought to fruition in the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

 

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The Gospel (Pt 3)

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).

Wow!  Something happened between Genesis 1 and Genesis 6, didn’t it?  Indeed, it’s called Genesis 3, aka The Fall of Man.  Though man was made the crown of God’s creation, bearing the very mark of the Maker, he sinned.  When Adam and Eve sinned they immediately became spiritually separated from God, and their posterity began to be born with the same internal corruption that was gnawing away at their own souls.

Disobeying God is ugly.  Sin is “cosmic treason” as R. C. Sproul has put it.  At the heart of sin is idolatry, namely self-worship.  The desire to “have it our way” is a malignant tumor growing in all of us.  God’s image, though still present in humanity, is warped and nearly invisible.  The earth itself even pays a price for all of this rebellion (Rom 8:18-22).  Yes, sin is ugly.  It brings with it death (spiritually in hell and physically in the grave).  Perhaps even more haunting is the gospel truth of how this resident sin renders us spiritually helpless.

The Gospel is a message about God, as we have seen.  It is also a message about us (humanity or mankind).  Who are we?  What is wrong with us?  Is anything even wrong with us?  And if so, is there a remedy?

The “pop-psychology gospel” pandered by the likes of Oprah teaches the human problem is external (societal conditions, environment, and the existence of Bible thumpers like me).  The solution then is internal, so we’re told.  We must “find ourselves,” “tap into our oneness with the divine,” “become enlightened via education,” and other such trash.

The Gospel of God is the polar opposite.  Look all you want inside yourselves, you will not find God there nor any spiritual power or ability to obtain what you most need – to be set right with your Holy Creator.  In fact, when we look into the mirror of the Bible, here is what we see of ourselves:

“Can the Etiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?  Then you also can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer 13:23).

“Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5).

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is 53:6).

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Is 59:2).

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3).

“Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

Friends, God does not paint a rosy picture of us in our sinful condition.  No words minced, we are all born into a condition so grave that spiritually we are dead.  Physically alive, but nonetheless spiritually walking dead men and women!

Last time I checked, dead people don’t do much.  Spiritually, then, we enter this world completely helpless and inanimate and incapable.  Then, to add insult to injury, we begin to act in character – we willingly and joyfully sin against God.  We don’t love Him above all, nor do we love our neighbors and put their welfare above our own.

Jesus even said sin has rendered us unwilling to seek what is good and right.  We love evil more than good  (John 3:19-20).  This is our natural bent.  We sin because we are sinners.  We act in character, out of our internal rotteness.  This is precisely what Jesus taught people.  We have an internal problem, a heart cancer that if not somehow cured, is eternally terminal (Mark 7).

We are sinners, rebels against God and what He deems good.  Parents had better recognize this and make drastic changes in how they view, correct, discipline and instruct their children.  Little Johnny is not good and innocent.  Little Susie is hell bound and rightly deserving of it.  And, parents, so are we.

The gospel universally condemns mankind in sin and enemity with God.  And, worst of all, we cannot do anything to fix it in our own power.

“Sin when it is fully grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15). 

That’s hard to swallow, no?  But swallow it we must if we are to know and love and live the gospel.

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The Gospel (Pt 2)

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).

The gospel begins and ends with God.  It is His message.  It is His story.  It is His activity in this world.  Consider the wonder of the Creator of all that ever has been or ever will be condescending to reveal Himself to us in our own languages!  While God surely does reveal Himself in and through His creation (Ps 19), this “general revelation” is only enough to condemn us all and remove our atheistic and idolatrous excuses (Rom 1:18-23).  But, praise God He has chosen to reveal Himself to us in an intimate, saving way.  This He has done in the Bible, the record of God’s saving activity on earth (Deut 4-5).

The gospel, then, is first and foremost a message about God – who He is and what He has done.  Though we finite humans cannot exhuastively know God, thanks to the Scriptures, we can know Him truely.  What is it, then, that we should focus upon when studying for ourselves, and teaching others, of God?

Narrowing this study of God down is a daunting task!  (I do not mean to imply we can narrow God down, but only that we must try to narrow down our study of Him to grow in our knowledge and love of Him.)  Again, we could talk about the character and being of God for eternity and never exhuast the subject, and perhaps never even scratch the surface of God’s glory!  This is what makes the prospect of heaven so delightful – being with God and seeing His glory in the face of Christ forever.

R. C. Sproul has gone on record to say: “I think the single most important thing we need to have is an awakening to the character of God” (quoted in Table Talk magazine, June 2010).  I could not agree more.  But, where do we start?

To simplify for our children and the lost around us, I have come to land upon three essential character traits of God that I strongly  believe we must communicate if we are going to be effective witnesses for the gospel of God.

One, God is holy.  That is, He is high above us, set apart, and absolutely morally perfect.  When the Bible repeats things, we had better take notice.  Without a doubt, the emphasis placed upon God’s holiness in the Bible is paramount.  God kills Nadab and Abihu on the spot for violating His holiness before His chosen people (Lev 10).  Twice we are told God is thrice holy and awesome creatures never cease to proclaim this truth (Isaiah 6; Rev 4).  God is holy, so much so that all His other traits can be pre-faced with the word.  His love is holy love.  His indignation is holy indignation.  His mercy is holy mercy, and so on.  God is holy, in an all-consuming way that ought to strike fear and reverance in us.

Two, God is righteous.  He is right, period (Deut 32:4; Jer 12:1).  What He does is by definition right (Gen 18:23-25; Ps 145:17; Rev 16:7).  The Lord’s righteousness is seen in His love for the right and His hate for the wrong (Ps 11:5-7).  God is righteous.

Three, God is just.  Obviously, God’s righteousness and justice go hand-in-hand (as do all His attributes).  Righteousness and justice are a “package deal” with God (Ps 33:4-5).  “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!  Just and true are your ways” (Rev 15:3).  “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (ps 89:14).  Any questions?

God is holy.  God is righteous.  God is just.  The Scriptures clearly emphasize these three Divine attribues, from Genesis to Revelation.  We do well, then, to lay heavy stress upon them in our personal meditation on the Word, and in our sharing of the gospel.

The gospel is a message about God.  It begins with Him.  May the Lord help us get this right.  Talk much of Him.  Think much of Him.  Boast much of Him.  Fear Him.  Love Him.  Trust Him.  Study Him.  Teach our children of Him.  When we do, we are on our way to becoming gospel people.

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Superb resources worthy of your time and attention are: The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul and God is the Gospel by John Piper.  To assist you as you teach your children, try Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware and The Big Book of Questions and Answers by Sinclair Ferguson.  Catechisms are also great tools to teach your children the doctrine of God.  But remember in the end, you can do no better than to teach them the Word of God from an open Bible.

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Chris - I am reminded of Isaiah Chapter 6 when Isaiah is called to the throne room of God. This encounter echoes one of God’s most significant characteristics…His Holiness: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Isaiah witnessed seraphim (burning angels) whose only full-time job in heaven was to continually proclaim the glory and holiness of God. Either that or these beings are always so enamored to be in God’s presence that they continually proclaim His holiness. The point is that even majestic beings that are regularly in God’s presence are still in awe of Him. His holiness is so far above us that we can’t begin to fathom how perfect He is; He is so holy and perfect that we would not survive even to look upon His face. And I am sure that pondering this subject for a thousand years and I would still not have scratched the surface. Thank the Lord for His mercy.

The Gospel (Part 1)

Ask a room full of Christians “What is the gospel” and you’ll likely be stunned at the variety of responses.  This sad truth only speaks to the pandemic of gospel ignorance in evangelical churches today.  The word “gospel” itself means “good news” or “blessed message” but one might not know it given the myriad misrepresentations of it in America today.

By now churches and Christians ought to know that simply showing up and hearing a sermon once a week, and perhaps even sitting through a Sunday School-type class, just will not cut it if the aim is to “present every man complete in Christ” (Col 1:28).  Thousands upon thousands of people fill churches every week, but when asked, they either cannot say anything meaningful about the gospel, or what little they do say is quite shallow.

Christian parents for generations now have frankly expected a sermon a week and a 30-minute Youth Bible study a week to equip their children for Christian living.  The 75% drop-out rate among collegiates raised in Christian churches says this system is broken.  And, it’s broken because it was never biblical in the first place.  God has made it clear parents are the primary Bible teachers of children (Deut 6; Eph 6).  The church, then, must equip parents to do their jobs well to God’s glory.

Nothing is of greater importance in this task than helping our children, by God’s grace, put down deep gospel roots.  This happens in the simplest of ways – by the Spirit applying the Word as it is taught and modeled day-by-day.  And so, we (parents and churches) must have a deep grasp of the gospel ourselves, if we are going to teach and live it!

Let’s start by realizing there are two main ways the church has traditionally used the word “gospel.”  First, it can refer to “the whole counsel of God” given to us in the Bible.  In this sense, Genesis to Revelation is “the gospel.”  Second, and more commonly, the “gospel” refers to that paramount message of the Bible that explains how a holy God has made a way for unholy people to be made right with Him through the person and work of His Son, Jesus.

For the next several weeks, we will focus our attention on this second sense of “the gospel.”  I hope by this effort to help Christian parents and / or children to get a better handle on the basic gospel message, to have an easy to remember outline of the gospel message at their disposal, and to point you to further resources to help you drink more deeply from the gospel well.

Before we dive in, however, let’s state a few things the gospel is not:

1.  The gospel is not “God loves you and has a great plan for your life.”  This statement is so much non-sense to a person who has no knowledge of who God is, nor any desire to really know Him as He is.

2.  The gospel is not social activism.  The salvation that comes to sinners in and through the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel may well lead to various kinds of wholesome, moral activism, but activism in itself is most certainly not the gospel.

3.  The gospel is not “your best life now.”  Rather, the gospel of the Bible is “your best life later” (Rom 8:18).

4.  The gospel is not even “repent and believe in Jesus.”  Though these words are directly biblical, they do not give a full representation of the message that is the gospel.  Rather, they are simply the gospel commands, or the required response to the message that is the gospel.

5.  The gospel is not man’s message.  It is God’s gospel (Rom 1:1).  We are not free to tamper with it or make it more palatable to sinners’ tastebuds.

So, let us allow God to tell us in His own words what is the gospel.  When we do, we shall see that in its essence, the gospel is a message about God, about mankind, and about Jesus the Christ.  This outline is not new; it is ancient and has been followed by prophets of old, Apostles of the church, and by today’s heralds of the good news.

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Chris - Thank the Lord He created us and despite our turning away from Him consistently, He has sent His Son to take my place. Knowing full well I deserve death He seeks me out like a shepherd finding a lost sheep in the wilderness. Thank God He continues to call me His regardless of my transgressions.

Keep the blog.

T r u t h