The Gospel: Part One

Grace is at the heart of the Christian message. The Good News of the Gospel is, at its core, about the death of Jesus Christ as a substitute for you and me. He died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in Him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” (NIV) God’s love is different than natural human love. God loved us even when we were unlovable.

Water Color of Crucifixion

When Jesus died, He died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for His enemies. Paul pinpoints the depth of this love when he writes in Romans 5:7, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV) The death of Christ was effective in its purpose. And its goal was not just to purchase the possibility of salvation. It was to claim those who believe in Him. John 6:37-39 says, “All the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day.” (NIV)

The context of the Gospel message is not only about our salvation; the context of the Good News is the supremacy of Christ and the glory of God. Yes, the story is personal, but it is also cosmic. It is important for us to emphasize that not only is there a personal side to the Gospel, there is a social side. The full picture here is that Christ will be set up as the head in all things. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 1:9-10: “He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (NIV) Salvation is not merely a subjective experience, a nice feeling, or peace, or whatever it is we are seeking. That is part of it; but there is something more important, namely that the whole universe is involved. We must give the people a conception of this, of the scope and the bounds, and the greatness of the Gospel in this all-inclusive aspect.

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Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) In other words, the entire universe is involved. What a wonderful thing to look forward to considering the depth of the sufferings we see in the world today. Paul tells us, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:18-22, NIV)

It’s truly amazing to see the comprehensive theme of Christ’s redemption. We all witness the terrible things that go wrong in the world. We know hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tornados, horrific wildfires, and other natural disasters can be very bad. We watch endless news reels of terrorist bombings, domestic violence, school shootings, murders, sexual assault, government corruption. In times of such troubles, we may wring our hands and wonder whose sin brought it about. It is easy to say, “Not me. I’m a fairly good person. It must be the gays or the liberals or the commies. Maybe the drug dealers and prostitutes.” We need a scapegoat. That’s human nature. But we don’t stop to consider that all this horror and disaster is directly related to fallenness. The Fall of man that is on the heads of all of us. Paul said all of creation has been subjected to futility, which means creation has been knocked down from where it was supposed to be to where it is now.

In Romans 8 all of creation groans; it’s in the pains of childbirth. I’ve been in the delivery room for the birth of my sons. I experienced the pains only in a secondary fashion. I’ve been in the room to see it, but I have not felt it firsthand. What I can reasonably deduce is that if the pain of childbirth is significant enough that it turns a would-be mother’s idea of, “Yeah, I love this,” into “I don’t want to feel this happening. Give me an epidural now,” it’s got to be pretty heavy.

Our world is longing for and in pain about what it’s supposed to be. The world isn’t capable of feeling pain, of course. Let’s not take a pantheistic notion of the universe being divine or having a personality. The way Paul develops the metaphor in Romans 8 follows a biblical thread where mountains sing and trees clap. Isaiah 55:12 says, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (NIV) When the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (RSV) The very natural world itself is responding to the introduction of sin into the world. The world feels.

As we examine what creation is, in all its diversity and wonder, and we ponder how this creation came to be, we must remember that all the complexity and beauty in the universe is not meant to terminate on itself but to trace its origin to the Creator. We can examine the what of creation and grasp to some degree the how, but the why still remains. God created the universe. What He created was good. We should be driven to worship Him as a result of all He has provided. It’s the same when we love a meal at a restaurant. We don’t admire the food, but the creator of the food. The goodness of creation is designed not to declare itself, but to act as a signpost pointing heavenward. This is why Paul can say, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Human beings seem to be created for worship. From sports fanaticism, to obsession with celebrities, to all the other strange sorts of voyeurisms now commonplace in our culture, we prove that we were created to marvel at something beyond ourselves, desire it, like it with zeal, and love it with affection. Our musings, our appetites, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshipping or attributing worth to something. If it’s not God, we are engaging in idolatry. Regardless, we cannot simply turn the worship switch in our hearts off. Any time we orient our heart around something, we are worshipping that thing. The aim of Scripture is to direct our worship to where it belongs: to the one true God of the universe. The heavens do not declare the glory of themselves. The angels do not sing of their own perpetual beauty and majesty, but rather the glory of God.

We are meant to worship, to give glory to something greater than ourselves. We should therefore interact with the earth in such a way that our hearts and minds are being stirred by its beauty, gracious to God for all He’s given. God’s chief concern is for his own glory. The main point of human life must be regard for God’s glory. That’s the purpose of of God’s creation.

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Justification, propitiation, and redemption – all benefits of Christ’s death – have one sole purpose: reconciliation. Jesus’ death enables us to have a joy-filled relationship with God, which is the highest good of the cross. Paul writes, “Once you were alienated from God, and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (NIV) It works the same way in our daily relationships with other people. When we sin, not only do we hurt the person we sinned against, we harm the relationship. It might never be the same again, especially without our seeking forgiveness. And from my experience, when we hurt the same people again and again, forgiveness is much harder to come by. Thankfully, it is not the same with our relationship with God. We enter this sinful world, and as a result, we’re alienated from God. Only forgiveness – forgiveness which was purchased at the cross – can heal the relationship so that we are able to enjoy fellowship with God.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospels tell the story of the Son of God Who became a human being, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, was resurrected from the dead, and ascended back to the Father, offering salvation for all who believe in Him. The “good news” of the Gospel is the availability of God’s salvation to everyone who believes. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (NIV) Not everyone is open to the message, of course, and to some it sounds rather absurd. For me, when I first heard it as a youngster at thirteen, I was able to take it on blind faith. By the time I reached college, I started picking it apart, trying to reason it out and explain it. As Paul said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Paul summarizes the Gospel message in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you –  unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

Who is Jesus?

This is the most important question a person could ever ask. We must know Who He is, and the Gospels provide the answer. Herod, who had John the Baptist beheaded, was perplexed by the miracles performed by Jesus and thought He was John raised from the dead. (Luke 9:7-9) Some thought Jesus was Elijah, risen. Christ asked His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They respond in the same manner as Herod: John the Baptist, Elijah, or perhaps other risen Old Testament prophets. Jesus asks Peter, “But who do you say that I am? Peter answers, “God’s Messiah.” (Luke 9:18-20)(NIV)

The disciples had been rather slow in grasping Who Jesus is, and His earthly ministry was coming to an end. He was about to enter Jerusalem where He would suffer and die. Although Peter’s confession seems sincere, he ultimately denies Jesus three times. Of course, Peter later remembers his conversation with Jesus about His true identity, and it would strengthen him tremendously. Of course, this question is for all of us. Who do we say Jesus is? Do we fully grasp His identity?

What is the Meaning of His Death?

The death of Jesus served several purposes, some of what are interconnected. It was substitutionary He died for our sins in our place so that we will be freed from the death that we deserve. It is atonement for our sins – though we were separated from God through sin, we are now reconciled to Him (Romans 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:26; Colossians 1:20, 21), thereby reuniting God and man in a personal relationship; thus the term “at-one-ment.” It is a propitiation one of my favorite terms, meaning appeasement or satisfaction (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) – and it expiates our guilt. It redeems us. We are ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19; Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28), and are forgiven (Colossians 1:14) and delivered from the curse of sin. (Ephesians 1:7)

Through His death we are adopted as children of God, having been born again through faith in Christ (John 1:12), and we are justified, as we are declared legally righteous. (Romans 3:21-26) Charles Spurgeon argues that when God sees saved sinners, He no longer sees sin in them but instead sees His dear Son  Jesus Christ covering us as a veil. “God will never strike a soul through the veil of His Son’s sacrifice,” says Spurgeon. “He accepts us because He cannot but accept His Son, who has become our covering.”

The Reality of His Resurrection.

Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) The Christian message that Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death is not allegorical. As expressed in Genesis 3:15, Jesus allowed Satan to “strike His heal” by voluntarily dying on the cross, but in the very process of dying (and being resurrected), Jesus “crushed [Satan’s] head,” thereby defeating Satan, sin, and death. It’s been said by William Romaine, evangelical author and minister of the Church of England in the mid- to late 1700s, that “Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ.” You might recall that the honey bee, when it stings, cannot retract its stinger, thereby tearing out part of its digestive tract, leading to its death. In this regard, the honey bee sacrifices itself in defense of the hive.

Christ’s resurrection consummates God’s salvation plan for mankind. The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is pivotal to Christianity. Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19)(NIV)

A Call to Repent.

Repentance is not a separate requirement for salvation. We are saved through faith alone, but repentance goes hand-in-hand with believing. Faith and repentance must be seen as marriage partners and never separated. Repentance is a change of attitude and action from sin toward obedience to God. The Greek word for repentance (metanoó) literally means “I change my mind.” I’ve heard it described as a turning away from or doing a 180. This is a big issue for me. Presently, I am at a crossroads where I am finally ready to be obedient to God. Repentance signifies a person attaining a divinely provided new understanding of his or her behavior, and feeling compelled to change and begin a new relationship with God. Hebrews 6:1 says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.” (NIV) Walter Elwell, noted evangelical author, declares that repentance is “literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God.”

A Call to Believe.

To believe in Jesus Christ requires more than mere intellectual assent that He is the Son of God. Saving faith is not merely accepting certain propositions as true. After all, even the demons believe and shudder. (James 2:19) I had a sponsor in my 12-step program say to me, “I hope one day you get God from your mind to your heart.” At first, I was offended. How dare you question my commitment to God? Yet my behavior was nowhere consistent with the Christian worldview I claimed to hold true to my heart.Indeed, I needed to stop thinking about God and start living God.

A call to believe involves trusting in Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins. It involves an act of the will. Personally, I have come to believe that our will resides in our heart and not in our mind. We have to see it as a faith-union with Christ, in which we cleave to our Savior. We need only believe in Christ for our eternal salvation. Nothing else is required. The Bible is clear on this. When the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they respond, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31) We cannot earn our way to salvation. This plagued Martin Luther as a young monk. He wrestled with Romans 1:17 for months, lying awake at night, convinced he could never attain the righteous needed to live by faith. He constantly confessed his sins, fearful he’d left something out and would not be forgiven. He practiced self-sacrifice in order to “earn” God’s favor. His epiphany came when he realized God’s righteousness is not acquired by works but by belief.

Salvation is a gift from God. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (NIV)

My hope is that you have found salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. If you have not made that step, but are ready to do so, here is a simple prayer you can say right now:

Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Savior. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.

God bless.

Steven Barto

Things We Tell Ourselves

“Every day you preach to yourself a gospel of your loneliness, inability, and lack of resources or you faithfully preach to yourself the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Paul David Tripp

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Every day we preach to ourselves some kind of gospel, whether a false “I can’t do this” gospel, or the true “I have all I need in Christ” gospel. Here’s the thing: No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. It’s a fact that you and I are in an endless conversation with ourselves. Most of us have learned that it’s best not to move our lips because people will think we’re crazy, but we never stop talking to ourselves.

In this inner discussion, we’re always talking about God, life, others, and ourselves. The things we say to ourselves are very important because they are formative of the things we desire, choose, say and do. Luke 6:45 says, “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (BLB) What have you been saying to you? What have you been saying to you about yourself? What have you been saying to you about God? What have you been saying to you about life, meaning and purpose, right and wrong, true and false, good and bad? What have you planted in your own heart?

In Psalm 42, we are invited to eavesdrop on a man’s private sermon. Like us, the psalmist was always preaching some kind of message to himself. We either preach to ourselves a gospel of lonliness, poverty, and instability, or the true gospel of God’s presence, power, and constant provision. We can preach to ourselves a gospel that produces fear and timidity, or one that propels us forward with courage and hope. Shall we convince ourselves God is distant, passive, and uncaring, or that He is is near, caring, and active. We talk to ourselves about a gospel that causes us to rest in God’s wisdom, or a gospel that produces panic because it seems as if there are no answers to be found.

Today, when it feels as if no one understands, what gospel will you preach to you? As you face physical sickness, the loss of a job, or the disloyalty of a friend, what message will you bring to you? When you are tempted to give way to despondency or fear, what will you say to you? When life seems hard and unfair, what gospel will you preach to you? When parenting or marriage seems difficult and overwhelming, what will you share with you? When your dreams elude your grasp, what will you say to you? When you face a disease you thought you’d never face, what gospel will you preach to you?

It really is true: No one talks to you more than you.

Tripp, P. (2014). New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. Wheaton, IL: Crossway

God Brought the Syrian Refugees To Us In Order To Hear The Gospel

Did you ever think that the reason non-extremist Muslims (Refugees) are immigrating to our country is because God wants us to speak to each one of them about the Gospel? We certainly weren’t going to them in great numbers. Perhaps we were afraid. (And rightly so. There’s much to be afraid of in the Middle East. Extremists appear to be in charge there.)

Remember, God knows every man was born into a sin nature. Doesn’t matter his “religious” leanings, he’s a sinner. Muslims believe they merely need to do more good deeds than bad. Tip the scale a little. That will get them into heaven. So we obviously need to get the Good News out to Muslims. But are we doing that?

Despite Christ’s command to evangelize the world, 67% of all humans from AD 30 to the present day have never even heard the name of Jesus Christ. Of the 140,000 protestant missionaries, 74% work among nominal Christians, 8% among tribal peoples, 6% work with Muslims, 4% are working among non-religious/atheists,3% among Buddhists, 2% Hindus, and 1% Jews. Over 160,000 believers will be martyred this year. Many of the Syrian refugees coming to America have been shunned by their families, disowned, cut off, sent away, because they came to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

We weren’t sending enough missionaries into these regions to preach the Gospel. So, maybe God said, “Well, since you’re not going to them, I’m going to bring them here.” And He did just that.There’s tons of them. Hey, you know why we didn’t go to Heaven the minute we got saved? Because God left us here for the specific purpose of loving others, and leading them to Christ. Sharing God’s love with them. Letting them know what it means to be loved by God. That’s why we’re here. And God equips us to do the work He expects of us. There’s hope, and purpose, and peace and love, and salvation, and that IS the Gospel. That is the Christian message. And it is worth absolutely everything.

So if you have Muslim friends, neighbors or co-workers among you, they need to know. They’re just like the rest of us before we knew the Lord. I was a horrible young man before I turned my will and my life over to Christ. I burned buildings, got high on drugs, drank to excess, stole a car, robbed people, used women for sex, failed to meet my basic obligations as a human being. As a man. As a husband. As a father. I turned my back on God and everyone, and did my own thing for decades, and yet God saved me. He took me back after numerous times of backsliding.

These Muslims who are moving into our neighborhoods, or who get jobs where we work, or have children in our schools, they need hope, they need life, they need purpose, they need meaning, they need love. Don’t be afraid just because they look different or talk different or eat different foods.That is no excuse to hold back from them this type of love. The Gospel cannot truly be held back by anything. The Gospel conquers all.

Let us pray that we are able to meet with and witness to these lost souls, just as Paul, and Peter, and Barnabas, and Timothy, and Titus, and James and all the others who spread the Gospel throughout many peoples and nationalities despite concern for their personal protection. God does not want one soul to perish, no, not one. And that is the Good News.