In the first post of this series, I discussed the possibility that our 21st century American Christianity has been neglectful in clarifying the gospel, and that in so doing, has caused the “gospel” to become some nebulous message of self-improvement.
If this is the case, then the only we to fix this is to return to Scripture in order to clarify what the Gospel really is. Greg Gilbert, in his recent book, “What is the Gospel”, does an excellent job of doing just that, and suggests that there are four key Biblical truths that form the framework of the gospel message. I will lay out the first two of the truths in this post.
Before I lay out those four truths, it should be clear from the outset that the core of the gospel is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the long-awaited Messiah, that has come to redeem lost people back to God, and any description of the Christian Gospel that does not have Jesus as its core is not the real gospel. But going on from there, one must ask, “Why is Jesus the core of the Good News….why is it good news that Jesus is Messiah”? Answering that question Biblically will give us the following framework for the “Gospel”.
1. God is the holy and righteous Creator, to whom man is accountable
God spoke all of creation into existence, including mankind. As created beings, we are not self-accountable; we are not autonomous beings. We are accountable to Him who created us. So, we must begin with God.
The God of the Bible is perfectly holy, righteous, wise, powerful, loving, just, and merciful. As God He is sovereign over all that He has created, including us. As God, He is worthy of (and due) worship from His creation, and is perfectly just to punish rebellion.
18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:18-21
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Romans 3:19
2. Man has rebelled against God
The apostle Paul, in Romans 1-3, explains that all of humanity is guilty of sinning against God. Nobody is free from this indictment.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23
This “sin” is evidenced by immoral actions, words, and thoughts; however, Scripture is clear that sin is primarily about a heart problem.
24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Romans 1:24-25
Our “sinful behavior” originates from the “sinful desires of their hearts”. It is primarily a heart problem…a rebellion of our allegiance. Instead of giving God glory and worship, we worship things other than God (self, the world, achievement, or any other myriad of “idols”).
As rebels with depraved hearts, we are hopeless. The Bible says we are slaves to this “sin nature”; we cannot do otherwise. This does not mean that we are as evil as we possibly could be, but it does mean that because of our rebellious hearts, we cannot please God.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. Ephesians 2:3
This is the predicament of every human being, and because this is true of us, there is a catastrophic consequence, namely eternal punishment.
“For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2
This “death” Paul talks about is not just a physical death (though, that too is a result of the Fall), but rather it is a spiritual death…a very real separation of our souls from the presence of a holy and righteous God. In this life, this means we are spiritually “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), and thus completely dependent on God to give us new life in Christ. That’s bad news in and of itself; however it gets worse because it’s not just bad news for this life. In the next life (after death), the consequence of our sin will lead us to spend eternity in conscious torment in a place the Bible calls “hell”.
In Matthew 25, when Jesus was talking about the eternal judgment, He explains that in that day He will say to the unrepentant, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41), and then later says of these people, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46). This “eternal punishment” is described in Revelation as a “lake of burning sulfur” where those who are there are “tormented day and night for ever and ever”, (Rev. 20:10). Jesus calls it a place of “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
21st century cultural Christianity is embarrassed of these Biblical truths and shies away from talking about them. We think it is somehow “unloving” to scare people with all this talk of hell and burning sulfur and eternal torment, so instead we talk about how our lives here are all messed up because of sin, and that is the consequence or punishment that we need to be saved from. But if we really believe the Bible is true, then it is terribly unloving to be neglectful in sharing this bad news?
Thus is the condition of all mankind before a God to whom we are accountable.
And this is bad news. Without this bad news, the good news is not good news. Without a full understanding of what we need to be saved from, the Gospel will not be seen as our only hope for rescue from certain doom.
I hate to leave it there, but let’s let the “bad news” sink in a bit. A subsequent post will describe the answer of redemption that God has provided in Jesus Christ as well as what our response must be to His initiative toward us.
Till then, let’s evaluate what we think of as the “Gospel”. Have we sold the Gospel short by eliminating the bad news?