We’re talking a lot about the gospel lately, as we think through our new purpose statement and values as a church. We desire to be a gospel-centered and gospel-spreading church. And though there are many ways to go about describing the unchanging love of God in the gospel… I’ve grown accustomed to summing it up in five words: God, Man, Christ, Response and Result. Putting together what the Bible says about these four areas leads us down a road of forgiveness and restoration. I am indebted to Greg Gilbert, J.I. Packer, and many others for spurring my thinking on the gospel in these terms. So, here goes…
God. There are many worthy things that we could say to describe God. He is the Creator; He is powerful; He is all knowing and wise; etc. But often times, when we think about God, we end up thinking in terms of what not who. But who is God? Well, the best way to answer that question is to allow God to tell you Himself. In the second book of the Bible, God told Moses that he was a merciful and gracious God who is slow to anger and abounds with steadfast love and forgiveness. But God is also righteous. And so, He assures Moses that He will not leave the guilty unpunished. (All of this is in the book of Exodus, chapter 34) So, how do we sum up God, according to God? Simple. He is loving, and He is just. So then, who are we?
Man. The question of meaning, purpose and design for mankind has been debated for ages. In the Bible, it is answered right up front. The first chapter of the Bible tells us that mankind was created “in the image of God”. (This is found in Genesis chapter 1) That was a fancy way of saying that man was created to reflect God’s character and represent God’s authority and kingship over His creation. But it doesn’t take long in the story of humanity to see that we chose another way. The first man and woman chose to be autonomous and rebel against the kingship of God. The Bible calls this failure to live by God’s design and under His authority “sin”. And the book of Romans in the New Testament shows us that this rebellious disease was not confined to that first man and woman…. it has spread to us all. Now, let me take a moment to remind you of who God is. He is loving and He is just. The second part of that statement now becomes a problem. God will not leave the guilty unpunished, remember? So, we’ve got a problem. But so does God. How can He be such a loving God if He merely punishes us for our failure and brokenness? Where’s all the forgiveness and mercy? Good question.
Christ. At Christmas time, the radio stations often inundate us with carols. But one of those gives a key to our dilemma, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Emmanuel is a name given to Jesus before His birth, which means “God with us”. That’s right, God has come. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, comes into human history. He lived a life similar to most people, but there was one distinct difference. The early witness to the person of Jesus Christ affirm that He was without sin. What this means is that He was the one person to live the way that God designed us to. He perfectly reflected the character of God. He always represented the Kingship of God. He was perfect where we were prideful. But Jesus didn’t just live a perfect life… He also died a horrible death. It doesn’t seem fair, but there was a design in it all. Jesus was hung on a cross in a shameful, horrific execution in the first century. But it wasn’t for anything he did wrong… it was for what God was doing right. You see, God had planned that this perfect Son would die willingly for a mass of imperfect ones who were guilty. Do you remember God’s justice; His “not leaving the guilty unpunished”? Well, the Bible is abundantly clear that in the crucifixion, Christ was taking the sins of the guilty ones on His own back. He carried them to the cross to suffer and be punished so that a great multitude of sinful people could be forgiven. Jesus died on the cross, but three days later, was raised from the dead by the power of God. The resurrection was a sort of stamp of approval. It gave credence to Jesus’ claims to be divine… but it also demonstrated His victory over sin and death. I hope you can see how this is all called “good news” throughout the Bible! But there’s still a couple of things left to consider. How is this good news for you?
Response. In many places, the writers of Scripture describe this work of Christ as a gift that is held out to people. But as a gift, it is not something we earn. We cannot work to receive it… we simply have to receive it. But what does that look like? The Bible has two words to describe the reception of this gift. They function like a two-sided coin. The first side is called “repentance”. Contrary to popular belief, this is not simply becoming a better person, it is turning a better direction. Repentance is literally to change your mind. When we repent, we change our mind about God, ourselves, and our sin… and our need for Christ’s gift of forgiveness. But the other side of the coin is the logical companion to that. Faith is the other side of the coin. We put our trust in the ability of Christ’s sacrifice to purchase our forgiveness. We now put our confidence not in our innate ability to be good and earn God’s approval… but in Christ’s goodness, and in His ability to absorb the punishment of God that we deserved. And if we turn to Christ this way?
Result. The apostles and early Christians used many images and descriptions to picture what becomes true in the life of a person who has trusted in Christ. They are said to be new creations, adopted sons and daughters of God, restored to friendship with God, and purchased back from a sort of slavery to their own self-focus. They are said to receive forgiveness, peace with God and eternal life. But eternal life is not just an extended version of this broken, hurtful life. The Bible speaks of a life which is truly life. A living existence in the presence and blessing of God. This eternal life is to know God, enjoy God and honor God as humanity was intended. So, the result of Christ’s work… received into the hearts of guilty people, could be summed up in one word that the Bible uses consistently: salvation. Those who put their trust in Christ and His sacrifice have been saved from God’s justice, by God’s love, to God’s blessing. Now that’s good news.