What is the Gospel?

Introduction

Martin Luther — “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine . . . most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.” The Gospel is both the means by which a person enters God’s kingdom as well as the way we live in the kingdom.  The Gospel is necessary for justification (being declared forgiven and righteous by God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross), it is the means for our sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus) and it is the means for our glorification (at the return of Christ). Tim Keller writes, “The Gospel is not just the “A-B-C” but the “A to Z” of Christianity.  The Gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom, but is the way to address every problem and is the way to grow at every step…Our problems arise largely because we don’t continually return to the Gospel to work in it and live it out.” Our hope is that as a church we would grow in our understanding and belief in the Gospel not just for our salvation, but also for how it changes us and makes us more like Christ. To do this we need to begin to see the Gospel in its entire redemptive story form:

  • God’s work in Creation
  • The Fall of mankind
  • God’s gracious act of providing Redemption
  • God’s plan of Restoration

This storyline gives us a fuller picture of the Gospel: the good news about how God is saving sinners (means of salvation) and about how He is restoring all things for His glory (the reason for salvation).

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Creation

Genesis 1 & 2 — “In the beginning God created”. Everything we see in the skies, everything we see on land, and even the things that are past the realm of our eyesight were created by God and for God.  All that God created He looked upon and declared it good. God did not stop there; “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:27-28)  God declared this to be very good. From the moment of creation onward, God continued to interact in relationship with His creation by giving mankind instruction, entrusting them with responsibility, and providing for their every need.  He gave them paradise and it was theirs to enjoy and to tend. (Genesis 2) Not only was mankind created in a Divine-Human covenant, but God also created mankind to be in relationship with one another.  Genesis 2:18 tells us the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him”. God created man and woman and placed them in covenant relationship: joined together, made one flesh. The Garden was truly paradise as relationships functioned in perfect harmony. But if God created everything just as scripture tells us (harmony, peace, provision), then what happened? It is obvious that we no longer have this “paradise” but rather a broken world: full of sickness, death, injustice and suffering. What Went Wrong?

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The Fall

In Genesis 2:15-17 were told God initiated relationship and provided everything we could ever want or need (food, relationships, and purpose). He also established one moral guideline:  do not eat of the tree in the center of the garden—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God clarified that it was off limits, and if they ate of it they would die. In Genesis 3:1-6 we find out the man and woman are deceived.  Instead of being faithful to their loving Creator, they succumb to the temptation to exalt & worship themselves and chose to rebel against God’s commands, doubt His perfect nature, and questioned his plans. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Rom 1:21-23), believing Satan’s words and the pull of their own hearts desires. This rebellion is sin and Genesis 3 marks its entrance into the world and the damage it brings. Description #1: Sin is missing the mark of God’s perfect standard. God and His commands are perfect, yet we fall short and are unable to meet his righteous requirements. Romans 3:23 tells us – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Description #2: Sin is rebellion against God. As Creator, God is ruler over all, yet mankind rejects that rule and chooses to go his own way, living according to his own will. Isaiah 53:6 describes this: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.Description #3: Sin is idolatry. Sin is not only moral failure, rebellion, or disobedience; it is all of those things and more.  Underneath all of these “outward” sins lies a much deeper problem.  Fundamentally, all sin is a result two things:  a failure to believe the Gospel, and a selfish motivation of the heart.  Rather than placing our faith and finding our identity in Jesus, we look to created things for our security and identity.  This is called idolatry. In Romans 1:21-25 – Paul says there is something behind our disobedience, rebellion and inability to live according to God’s standards – Idol worship D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (“Idolatry” in Life in God. Studies in 1 John) – “An idol is anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone.  Anything that . . . is central in my life, anything that seems to me . . . essential.  An idol is anything by which I live and on which I depend.” Stephen Charnock (The Existence and Attributes of God) – “[Each person] acts as if God could not make him happy without the addition of something else.  Thus the glutton makes a god of his dainties; the ambitious man of his honor; the incontinent man of his lust; the covetous man his wealth; and consequently esteems them as his chiefest good, and the most noble end to which he directs his thoughts.” Consider Adam and Eve. The root of their disobedience was a belief that God was not enough for them, so they looked to something else as more meaningful. Anytime we place our trust or our worship in something other than God we are worshipping idols. Anytime we are trying to direct & rule our own lives we are worshipping an idol.  Anytime we disobey, rebel, or go our own way we are worshipping some form of an idol. And God is very clear that we are to have no other gods before him. To do so is sin.  The Effects Of Sin On All Creation – Genesis 3:7-19 Sin essentially destroyed all relationships. First, man’s relationship with God was broken.  Genesis 3 tells us that after their terrible choice, Adam & Eve heard God walking toward them. They hid themselves not because they were afraid at this sound, but because they knew they had acted wrongly. Before the fall, mankind enjoyed a remarkable personal relationship with God.  However, a holy, perfect God cannot remain in relationship with a rebellious, sinful people. Sin separates man from God and carries with it the punishment of death (Romans 6:23, Hebrews 9:27). This death is not only physical, but also spiritual and eternal. Sin distorts our thinking, enslaving us to a life of sin and death (Romans 1). The second relationship that sin destroyed was the harmonious relationship between mankind.  As God confronts Adam & Eve about their disobedience, accusations fly as to who is at fault (Genesis 3). Harmony turns into havoc as their beautiful relationship is forever broken by the selfishness of sin. We see the relational effects of sin throughout scripture.  From Cain & Abel to the current events of our time, there is no shortage of evidence that mankind is inherently self-seeking and self-worshiping. The third relationship that sin destroyed is the relationship between God, man, and creation.  As we have seen, we were created to enjoy God and to enjoy working with one another.  We were created to enjoy the beauty and harmony of all of God’s creation – culture, music, art, etc.  But the Fall marred what was once beautiful and unifying, so that brokenness is visible even in God’s creation (Romans 8:22). We can do nothing to restore what sin has destroyed? In our own ability we are powerless to re-establish what God has created.  No one is wise, good, or powerful enough to work his or her way back into the covenant relationship with God (Psalm 14:2,3; Romans 3:23). But the good news is that our loving God can do something about our problem, and He acts on our behalf to redeem us and restore us!

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Redemption

To redeem is to recover ownership of by payment, to set free, rescue or ransom.  Redemption then is the overall saving work of Jesus Christ that purchased sinners out of their bondage to sin, Satan and death. Man is responsible for his sin, and a holy, righteous God must punish sin.  However, rather than pour out His wrath towards sin on the rebels who deserved it, He poured it out on Jesus.  God the Father sent God the Son to us. Jesus took on human flesh and then lived a perfect, sinless life. This made Jesus the only sacrifice worthy of taking all of God’s wrath.  Jesus became our sin, he bore the punishment and separation from God that our Sin caused (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He is now the only One who can offer salvation and freedom to Mankind and all of creation. Through Christ we are able to rightly know and worship God through Repentance and Faith (Romans 3:23,24; 6:23; Acts 20:21). As the preaching of the Gospel goes out, the scriptures teach that God will save those who respond to the message of the Gospel by turning away from their idols and trusting in Jesus alone to save them (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).  This is Good News!

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Restoration

At conversion we are transformed into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), set free from sin (Romans 6:18), and made righteous (Romans 5:19, 2 Corinthians 5:21). While our standing before God is ‘declared righteous’ we have still not been made perfect.  We continue to struggle with sin but the difference is our struggle is not alone or without hope.   God the Father and God the Son have sent God the Holy Spirit to reside in us and take us through a lifelong restoration process (2 Corinthians 3:18, Hebrews 13:20-21).  God is making us Holy, as He is holy, and when Jesus returns the restoration process will be complete (Philippians 1:6).  In that day we will live in new bodies in the new heaven and earth.  We will enjoy the riches and beauty of God in the new creation, the new City of God (Revelation 22). But until that day, God is at work restoring both our hearts as well as our relationships and culture through believers.   The restoration of our hearts is God’s work of sanctification and the restoration of all creation is God’s working through his people to bring about renewal in our cities, cultures, homes, vocations, etc. Christ’s redemption, purchased with his own blood, is the only thing that makes any of this possible!   This means we must continually be turning to the finished work of Jesus Christ and trusting in Him to do the work of restoration in our hearts, lives, cities, churches.   Dr. Timothy Keller — “Sin cannot simply be resisted at the volitional level through mere will power… Sin must primarily be rooted out at the motivational level through application of Gospel truth.”   Pastor Richard Kaufman gives us a helpful model.  He writes, “the two errors I continue to fall into are: 1) I deal with the surface sin instead of root sin & 2) I preach moralism to myself instead of the Gospel.  The following is an outline I have found helpful in preaching the Gospel to myself.”   Down the Slope of Repentance

  • See and own your sin – examine yourself in the mirror of the Gospel.
  • See the sin beneath your sin – push the ‘why’ question until you find what you are looking to other than Jesus for meaning and purpose in life.
  • Expose the idols/false lovers of your heart.

Up the Slope of Faith

  • Jesus lived for me – Jesus lived obediently where I have failed.
  • Jesus died for me – Jesus died on the cross for my specific sins and idolatry.
  • God sees me in Jesus – God sees me in Jesus clothed with perfect righteousness.
  • Jesus lives in me – He does not leave me to live the Christian life on my own.

I need more than a “stop it” plan to root this out. As I trusted Christ for salvation I need to trust him for my sanctification. Anything I depend on other than Jesus (myself, good works, another person) in my battle against sin is insufficient – it’s a functional savior that will disappoint.   Colossians 2:6-7 – “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”   Our only hope is Jesus:as we received Christ in humble, trust and submission so we continue walking in him in this way. Notice some of the things that are taking in place in us as a result of the gospel’s work…   We are Rooted in Christ – roots provide structure, health & strength. If you trusted in Christ you are rooted in Him – he gives security, strength, health. Nothing can change that: sin, satan, nothing. Walk in faith   We are being Built Up in Christ – He began the work & will finish it – doesn’t always feel like progress is being made but it is. As we rely on Jesus he is guiding, growing, developing – building us up in him   We are Established in Christ – established means to confirm or to prove. God has given you favor, you are forgiven, you’re no longer under guilt but grace, you have Christ’s righteousness & you will be restored   Abounding in Thanksgiving – Our thanksgiving is something that flows from a heart that realizes there is reason to be grateful. We who were once enemies have been made children of God. We who were dead have been made alive. We who were once rebels have been transformed into worshippers. We have much reason to abound in gratitude and to do so in spite of whatever might come our way in this broken world.

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