WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
In the opening verses of his New Testament letter to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote that he had been “set apart for the Gospel of God, which he (God) promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son…” (Rom 1:1-3) The Biblical Gospel is God’s Gospel. It’s good news that comes from God Himself, and it’s a message which God had promised beforehand (in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament in the Bible) concerning His Son. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul wrote that this “gospel” specifically involves the “good news” 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 Cor 15:3-4) and that salvation comes to us through receiving and believing this good news. (1 Cor 15:1-4).
In simple terms, the Gospel is “good news” that comes to us from God Himself about who Jesus is (the Son of God) and what He did during His time here on earth (specifically, His death and resurrection) to accomplish the salvation of His people. In perhaps the simplest expression of the Gospel found anywhere in the Bible, Paul simply writes that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15)
But save sinners from what? And who are these “sinners” that need saving? How was this gospel “promised beforehand” in the Hebrew Scriptures, and what does any of this mean for today? To get the big picture, and to truly understand why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most shocking, sobering, and joyous news to ever fall on human ears, we need to start at the beginning.
The text below has been written in sections. If you’re not a Christian, take your time and think carefully about what you are reading, and pray, asking God to help you understand. In salvation, God always works through His Word, so there’s no better place to be than on our knees with His Word in front of us, praying as we read, asking God to give us true understanding of what He has told us in the Bible, what it means for us, and how we must respond. It is my prayer that God would open your eyes to see your great need of Christ, the glories of His Person, and the perfection of the salvation that He has won for His people, and that you would turn to Him, trust in Him, and that through Jesus Christ, you would come to know the joy of sins forgiven and peace with God.
THE RIGHTEOUS LORD OF GLORY
God is the great and glorious King, the holy and righteous Lord of eternity. To God belongs all wisdom and power. He is utterly holy, absolutely pure, and infinitely glorious in all His ways.
“The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Psa 103:19
“The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” Ps 97:1-2
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isa 6:3
“…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” 1 Tim 6:15-16
“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5b
The Lord God is the only God. No other gods exist, or have ever existed. “The Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king.” (Jer 10:10). “Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after me.” (Isa 43:10). But while the LORD is One (Deut 6:4), the Bible also clearly teaches that there is plurality within this one true and living God. God is triune, which means that this one infinitely wise, powerful, and glorious Spirit (John 4:24), this one true and living God, exists (and has always existed) as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
God the Father is fully and truly God (Eph 4:6, 1 Cor 8:6), God the Son is fully and truly God (Titus 2:13, Col 1:15-16, Col 1:19-20), and God the Holy Spirit is fully and truly God (Acts 5:3-4, 2 Cor 3:17). These three, though distinct, are one God. They are the same in substance, and they are equal in power and glory. This may seem confusing at first, but I bring it up now because understanding that God is a Trinity will be important when it comes to understanding the true nature of Jesus Christ (The God-man: one Man with two natures: divine (God the Son) and human (born of a virgin)) and the glories of the Gospel.
GOD THE GLORIOUS CREATOR
God is eternal, uncreated, all-sufficient, and complete within Himself. God created the Universe for His own glory, not out of need.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Gen 1:1
God created mankind “in His own image.”
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Gen 1:27
Being made in the image of God does not mean that we look like Him in some way (remember, God is a Spirit (John 4:24)). Being made in the image of God means that God created us to glorify Him by loving Him as our Father, worshipping Him as our Creator, serving and obeying Him as our King, and delighting in Him as our greatest Treasure, by loving others as fellow image-bearers, and by governing the earth as His representatives, reflecting the goodness of His perfect character in everything that we do. Although the commands to love God, love your neighbor and do all to the glory of God had not yet been spoken, they capture the essence of what it means to be made in the image of God—of what it means to be human.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God 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.” Gen 1:26-28
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” Psa 29:2
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27
“You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” Deut 13:4
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10:31
God created the first man and the first woman purely and simply “good.” (Gen 1:31). They were righteous before God, meaning they were in a “right relationship” with God in the truest sense. They were innocent and pure, able and happy to give God the perfect and unbroken love, loyalty, worship, obedience, and trust that He deserves—and rightly demands—from those made in His image.
MAN THE REBELLIOUS SINNER
Foolishly, through the temptation of Satan, the first man and woman rebelled against God (Gen 3:1-8), causing all of their descendants—the entire human race—to become sinful and rebellious by nature (Gen 6:5), a devastating reality that we continually prove by the sin that marks our daily lives.
God’s original standard has not changed. He still demands perfect righteousness on the part of those made in His image, but in our fallen condition, we are utterly unable (and utterly willing) to give it. Rather than loving God, in our sin we are “haters of God.” (Rom 1:30). Rather than loving our neighbor as ourselves, in our sin we are “lovers of self” (2 Tim 3:2) and can be selfish, unloving, abusive, and violent toward our “neighbor,” as the history of humanity proves without question. And instead of demonstrating our love for God and reflecting the perfections of His character in our daily lives by keeping His commandments, we break His laws (by lying when He said “you shall not lie,” by stealing when He said “you shall not steal,” by using His Name as a curse, by refusing to offer Him the worship He deserves, etc. (Exo 20:1-17)) and we delight in sin, hopelessly looking for satisfaction in anything and everything except the God for Whom we were created. (Jer 2:12-13)
The apostle Paul summed up the moral pollution of our fallen condition in the third chapter of the book of Romans:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Rom 3:10b-20
If you think this is overly critical, let me ask you to imagine your reaction if all of your thoughts were somehow displayed in an endless loop on the screen at your local movie theater. Don’t dismiss the question. Think about it. You would be horrified, and so would I. If we are honest with ourselves, we must agree with Jesus when he described the reality of the moral darkness within us:
“From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23
This is the reality of our fallen condition. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). And while we may be able to hide it to a degree from others, we cannot hide it from God. God is omniscient, meaning He knows everything. He hears every word. He sees every action. He knows every thought, and He knows every motive. He knows everything about you, and He knows everything about me. God sees through us as glass.
“The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” Pro 15:3
“A man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.” Pro 5:21
“No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to Whom we must give account.” Heb 4:13
GOD THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE
There are no automatic second chances. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Heb 9:27) The most important question, therefore, is this: Because we have rejected the purpose of our existence and instead have made a lifestyle of sin—because we have rebelled against this great and glorious King, broken His laws, and delighted in sin—how can God, who never lies (Num 23:19), look at us on the day of our judgment, with our record of sins in plain view, and lie and say that we’re innocent and righteous, when we’re not? The answer is obvious, and it should shake us to the core. He can’t, and He won’t.
Because God is holy, righteous, and good, He abhors injustice. “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” (Prov 17:15). Imagine the public outcry if a courtroom judge released a murderer without penalty, either by declaring him to be innocent when he was not, or by finding him guilty but requiring no penalty! While sadly this does happen from time to time in human society because of the corruption of human judges, there is no corruption in God. God is righteous and just (Psa 89:14), and like any good judge in any legitimate courtroom, God must administer justice. Because God is good, He must judge and condemn the evil of sin.
THE THREE-FOLD DEATH PENALTY FOR SIN
In the Garden, Adam and Eve enjoyed every blessing imaginable, the best by far being their intimate fellowship with God Himself. Every meaningful relationship has rules (can you imagine a marriage relationship, or an employment relationship, where there were no standards, rules, or expectations of any kind?), and God had given them one simple command; one restriction, which by respecting they could demonstrate faithful, loyal love to God. He had instructed them not to eat from a particular tree, and warned that “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). And just as God had warned, Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden brought death to humanity in three forms: spiritual death, physical death, and eternal judgment (the “second death” (Rev 21:8))
Because we are made in God’s image, knowing God intimately and living in a faithful, loyal, and happy relationship with Him are central to our humanity and are the very essence of life (John 17:3), and therefore alienation from God and blindness to the light of His truth are, quite literally, a “living death.” After their rebellion, God disbarred Adam and Eve from the garden in Eden and blocked their access to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24), symbolizing our alienation from God, Who is the fountain of life. Spiritually, unless our relationship with God is restored through Jesus Christ, we are, and will always remain, “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), locked in a devastating lifestyle of sin and rebellion due to our hatred of God (Rom 1:30) and the light of His truth (1 Cor 2:14).
Physical death also became part of our reality after the fall, as death and disease invaded God’s good creation through the corruption and horror of human sin (Rom 5:12) and as God began to make His wrath against rebellious humanity known (Rom 1:18). In the final words of God’s curse under which humanity (and all of Creation) would now groan as a consequence of human sin, God declared to Adam in the Garden,
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Gen 3:19
After physical death comes eternal judgment, as “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Heb 9:27). Hell is a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28), “eternal fire” and “utter darkness” (Jude 7, 13), and endless “torment” (Rev 20:10). As was already said, because God is good, He must judge and condemn the evil of sin. In hell, God will pour out His holy wrath and righteous judgment on lost sinners forever.
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Mat 10:28
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne… And the dead were judged… according to what they had done… And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Rev 20:12-15
“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night…” Rev 14:11
SALVATION BELONGS TO THE LORD
While God is a just Judge, He is also rich in mercy, and while God cannot lie and say that we’re innocent when we stand before Him in our sin and guilt, He is free to forgive us and dismiss His case against us if someone else satisfies His justice for us, by paying the penalty for our sins in our place. That “someone else” is Jesus Christ. In incomprehensible love and unfathomable mercy, God sent His Son into the world to rescue guilty sinners from the eternal judgment we all deserve, and graciously bring them to Himself
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
JESUS CHRIST, THE PROMISED MESSIAH
In the Garden, God did more than find our original parents guilty of sin and bring the consequences of their rebellion into the reality of our experience through the curse (Gen 3:14-19). In the midst of that terrible scene, God also made a promise. One day, God declared, a particular descendent of Adam and Eve would deal the devil a fatal blow (Gen 3:15). And as the story unfolds through the pages of the Bible and through the pages of human history, the uniqueness of this descendant and the cosmic scope of His victory become increasingly clear.
The entirety of the Old Testament points forward to this coming Messiah. Sometime around 2,000 B.C., we learn He would be a descendant of Abraham, through whom God would bring blessing to “all the nations of the earth.” (Gen 12:3). A thousand years later, around 1,000 B.C., we learn that this “seed of Abraham” would also be a descendant of King David, who (in contrast to all other human kings who are sinful and fallen) would be faithful to God “as a son” and whose royal rule God would “establish forever” over an eternal kingdom. (2 Sam 7:13-14). Some 300 years later around 700 B.C., the prophet Isaiah wrote that a virgin would conceive and bear a son, and that this son would be known as “Immanuel”, which means “God with us.” (Isa 7:4, Mat 1:23). In fact, Isaiah wrote that this unique “son” would not be so much “born” as “given”, and that “his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6). He would be a king (Isa 9:7), yet shockingly, He would exercise His royal authority in the first place by taking the form of a servant (Isa 52:13) and suffering in the place of His people to remove their guilt before God (Isa 53;4-6). But in that very act of servant-kingship, he would rescue His people from the penalty of sin and open the way for them to become citizens of that eternal kingdom over which He would reign “with justice and with righteousness… forevermore.” (Isa 9:7)
Centuries later, “when the fullness of time had come”, in fulfillment of everything that had been said in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah, “God sent forth his son.” (Gal 4:4).
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Mat 1:18-25)
But why, exactly, did God do this? Why, exactly, did God “send forth his son”, and how, exactly, can Jesus Christ save us? The answer is straightforward, but absolutely breathtaking. In Jesus Christ, God Himself has provided everything He requires from His people in order for them to be in a right relationship with Him. God demands perfect righteousness, but through sin we have become utterly unrighteous. In Jesus Christ, God Himself has provided for His people the very righteousness He demands from His people. And God demands justice. “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23). God is just, and He must administer justice, judging and condemning the evil of sin wherever it is found. Because of our sin and guilt, unless a substitute is found we ourselves must bear God’s judgment and wrath forever in hell. In Jesus Christ, God Himself has provided for His people the very sacrifice and payment for sin that He demands from His people.
GOD IN HUMAN FLESH
Stunningly, He provided these things for us by becoming one of us. God the Son took to Himself a human nature so that as a man, in His human nature, He could live righteously, die sacrificially, and rise victoriously for the salvation of all who truly believe in Him.
God is a Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and in the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son (Mat 3:16-17, Mat 17:5), the second Person of the Trinity, joined Himself to our humanity. In doing so, He did not relinquish His divine nature in any way, but through His birth into this world, the eternal Son added a human nature to His divine nature. The child who was born is also the Son who was given (Isa 9:6). The Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, is one Person with two distinct and separate natures. He is both fully God, and fully man.
Jesus Christ is the unique descendant of Adam and Eve who came to defeat the devil and destroy His works (1 John 3:8). He is the unique descendant of Abraham who would bring blessing to all the nations (Gal 3:16). He is the unique royal descendant of David who would be faithful to God as a son, living before God in impeccable righteousness and exercising His royal authority by suffering in the place of His people (Mat 27:37) in order to remove their guilt before God, free them from sin, and lead them into a glorious eternal kingdom over which He would reign (John 1:49) in justice and righteousness forever (Rev 11:15). He alone could do this because He, and He alone, is God in human flesh. He is Immanuel—God With Us, as the prophet Isaiah foretold.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1, John 1:14
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Col 1:15-17
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Heb 1:3a
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS YOU NEED
As the God-man, Jesus lived the kind of perfectly sinless life that God demands from you, but which you have failed to live. He lived a life of absolute purity, unwavering faithfulness toward God and man, and unbroken obedience to God’s law in thought, word, deed, and motive. He loved God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, He loved His neighbor as Himself, and He faithfully represented the perfections of God’s glorious character in all that He did because He Himself was (and still is) fully God, as well as fully man. In every way imaginable, at every point in time, the life of Christ was utterly impeccable in the sight of God. Jesus Christ has what you so desperately need: the record of a perfectly righteous life before God.
“He committed no sin, neither was there deceit found in His mouth.” (1 Pet 2:22)
“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawless-ness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:4-5)
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
A SACRIFICE FOR SIN
On the cross, Jesus willingly lay down His life as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of His people. Stunningly, He Himself—God Himself in human form—willingly accepted responsibility before God to pay the penalty for the sins of His people, willingly assumed their debt, willingly bore their sins “in His own body” (1 Pet 2:24), and willingly suffered and died under God’s holy judgment in their place.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15
He is, as had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah nearly 700 years prior to His birth, the great king who exercised His royal authority by taking the form of a servant and suffering in the place of His people in order to remove their guilt before God.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isa 53:5-6
Because He was a man—because He was (and still is) one of us—He was able to represent us before God. And because He was (and still is) fully God, His sacrificial death on the cross was of infinite value—sufficient to pay for the sins of all who would truly trust in Him. On the cross, Jesus Christ offered to God what you so desperately need: a perfect sacrifice and payment for sin.
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Heb10:14
A VICTORIOUS RESURRECTION
As He had said He would do many times (Mark 8:31, Mark 9:30-31, Mark 10:33-34, John 2:19-21), Jesus conquered death and proved He is the Son of God by rising from the dead.
“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Mat 28:1-10
After His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for a short time, “presenting Himself alive to them… by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) Before being carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51), Jesus announced to His disciples “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:18-20)
Forty days following His resurrection from the dead, He was “carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51) to assume His rightful position as Lord and Christ over that glorious eternal Kingdom over which He was destined to rule. The resurrected Christ’s royal enthronement over God’s eternal Kingdom was foretold in the seventh chapter of the Old Testament book of Daniel:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s resurrected “king of glory” (Psalm 24:7-10). Having been given “all authority in heaven and on earth,” He now rules and reigns with God in glory from a position of absolute divine authority “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Eph 1:21). From that position, Christ now builds His church (Mat 16:18) as He gathers His people through the preaching of the Gospel (John 10:27-30), continues to intercede for His people before God (Heb 7:25), spiritually protects and defends them (Rev 1:12-16), and actively works in their lives to subdue the sin that remains (Phi 2:12-13). When the last of His people have been saved, Christ will return in power and glory to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31, Rev 19:11-16), remove the curse from the earth (Rev 22:3), and establish His Kingdom in its final form (Rev 21:3-4).
HOW MUST YOU RESPOND?
In our sin we stand guilty, helpless, and condemned before God, and utterly underserving of anything but judgment. God’s favor cannot be earned, His forgiveness cannot be bargained for, and He cannot be compelled, pressured, or bribed in any way. Simply “trying harder” to be good is useless. A murderer can make a sincere promise never to kill again, but that promise, regardless of how sincere it might be, does nothing to remove the guilt of their past crimes. Justice must be satisfied—the killer must go to prison. In the same way, simply promising God that we’ll “try harder” to do what we were supposed to be doing from the beginning (living a life of perfect righteousness before God) does nothing to remove the guilt of past sins. As in the case of the murderer, sin cannot simply be ignored; justice must be satisfied. God is righteous and just, and just like any good judge in any legitimate courtroom, God must administer justice. He must judge and condemn the evil of sin.
The Bible tells us there is one way of salvation, and one way alone. Salvation is “the free gift of God”, to be received through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 6:23
“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Mark 1:15
REPENT OF YOUR SINS! God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30). Repentance involves a complete change of heart and mind concerning your relationship with God and your relationship with sin, where we begin to love the God we once hated and being to hate the sin we once loved, and it involves a complete surrender of ourselves to the mercy of God. Rather than denying our guilt, we must HUMBLE ourselves, AGREE with God concerning our guilt, CONFESS our sins to God, and TURN AWAY from all sin!
“…my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” Psa 51:3-4
BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL! The Gospel is the wonderful news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for the salvation of sinners. (1 Cor. 15:3-5) “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15) He has done EVERYTHING that is required for the salvation of His people. To quote John 3:16 once more, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s command to you is not to work harder, kick a habit, or turn over a new leaf in order to earn your salvation. God’s command to you is this: BELIEVE the good news about Jesus! Don’t just agree with what the Bible says about Jesus; receive the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with your whole soul. TURN to Christ! CRY OUT to God for mercy, and TRUST in Jesus, who “delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:10)
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31
THE GREAT EXCHANGE
THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST, all that Jesus Christ did for sinners becomes yours.
Through faith in Christ, God extends to you forgiveness of sins based on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross…
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”(Col 2:13-14)
… and through faith in Christ, God counts the righteousness of Christ as your own.
Abraham “believed the LORD, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6)
“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Phil 3:8-9)
“He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that
we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor 5:21*
The forgiveness of sins that God extends to us when we truly trust Christ as savior is not fake, flimsy, or failing. It is a real forgiveness that Jesus Christ purchased with His blood when He willingly assumed responsibility to pay for all the sins of everyone whom God would save, bearing God’s wrath and suffering the penalty of death under God’s holy justice in their place. Because Jesus Christ, in His humanity, really did live a perfectly righteous life before God and really did satisfy God’s justice by paying the penalty for the sins of His people on the cross, God really can (and really does) forgive us of our sins and really can (and really does) count Christ’s righteousness as our own when we come to God in repentance and faith, entrusting ourselves to Jesus Christ for salvation.
JUSTIFICATION and PEACE WITH GOD
We looked earlier at how the Apostle Paul described our fallen condition in the book of Romans, chapter 3, verses 10b-20. Let’s pick up now in the very next verse—verse 21—and see the miraculous change in God’s disposition toward sinners who have been cleansed from sin and credited with the righteousness of Christ through faith:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:21-26)
As was said earlier, while God cannot lie and declare a sinner to be innocent when they’re not, He is free to forgive us and dismiss His case against us if someone else (Jesus) satisfies His justice on our behalf by paying the penalty for our sin in our place. This is exactly Paul’s point in the last phrase of the passage above. Because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, God can be “just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” In other words, because the saving work of Christ has been applied to “the one who has faith in Jesus”, God can dismiss His case against them without violating the standards of His justice or righteousness. God REALLY HAS accepted Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as payment IN FULL for their sins. God REALLY HAS accepted the righteousness of Christ as their own. And on that basis God, Who never lies, can nonetheless declare “the one who has faith in Jesus” to be righteous in His sight.
The Bible refers to this “declaration of righteousness” as justification. Justification is God’s legal verdict that a sinner is righteous in His sight because the saving work of Jesus Christ has been credited to them through faith. Fear of God’s judgment is forever removed. In its place, through Jesus Christ, we have perfect peace with God!
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Rom 5:1-2
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Rom 8:1-4
What a breathtaking truth! We, who were created to love, worship, serve, and delight in God but who have rebelled against our Creator, have become sinful and rebellious by nature, and are deserving only of God’s wrath and judgment, can be made right with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is God Himself in human flesh, Who lived a life of perfect righteousness as a man and then suffered and died under Gods holy judgment for His people, so that we, through faith in Him, could be forgiven of our sins, clothed in His righteousness, and declared by God to be righteous in His sight, with the incredible result that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”! (Rom 8:1). And as we’ll see shortly, this forgiveness of sins and newfound “peace with God” through Jesus Christ is for our joy as much as it is for God’s glory, since in restoring our relationship with God, Christ also restores us to the purpose of our humanity, which is to live in a happy relationship with our Creator. Truly, this “gospel” is the most wonderfully “good news” that sinful human ears could ever hear.
A NEW FAMILY AND CITIZENSHIP
The household of God (Eph 2:19) is the community of faith referred to in the Bible as the church. Metaphorically, the church is Christ’s body which He (as Head of the body) sustains and directs (Eph 5:23), Christ’s bride (Eph 5:25) whom He (as the Bridegroom) loves and died (and rose again) to save, and the true temple of the living God where God’s Spirit dwells (Eph 2:21) and where true worship takes place (1 Pet 2:5).
From the viewpoint of heaven, there is only one church: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession who are called to “proclaim the excellencies” of this glorious God who called His people “out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” (1 Pet 2:9) The church is composed of believers from every tribe and language and people and nation for whom Christ died (Rev 5:9-10) and who have been united to Christ through faith (John 10:27-30). Here on earth, the church (singular) is made visible in the world through the gathering of local churches (Acts 15:41), where believers come together for worship, instruction from the Bible, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42).
As members of the household of God, true believers are counted as God’s children, having received from Him spiritual life, forgiveness of sins, and adoption into His “household” as beloved children (Rom 8:15-17; Gal 4:1-7). True believers know God’s Fatherly love (1 John 3:1), mercy (1 Pet 1:3), comfort (2 Cor 1:3), care (Psa 103:13), attention in prayer (Mat 6:6-12), instruction (in the Bible, (Mat 4:4)), and loving discipline (Heb 12:5b-8).
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13
A NEW DIRECTION
In salvation, God restores us to the purpose of our creation. Like was said earlier, knowing God intimately and living in a right and happy relationship with Him are at the core of our humanity. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are “made right” with God. But what about our attitudes toward Him? In our sin and rebellion, we reject God, care nothing about offending Him when we break His laws, and build our lives on the pursuit of pleasure instead of the glory of God.
In salvation, all of that changes. The new birth is, quite literally, a new birth. It is the implantation of the life of God in the soul. God, by His Spirit, takes up residence within every true believer from the moment of salvation, and from that moment onward, the Spirit of God works to effect real change in our attitudes and actions.
Instead of hating God, true believers love God and seek to live for His glory and honor, and instead of hiding from the light of God’s truth found in His Word (John 3:20), God’s children “walk in the light” (1 John 1:5-7), meaning we want to live lifestyles of obedience to God’s Word (1 John 2:3-4) and we want God’s Word to illuminate our sin so that we can confess it (1 John 1:8-10) and with God’s help, repent of it (Rom 8:12-14). True believers are radically committed to the Word of God, and desire to apply it to every area of life. How could we not? God has spoken! He has spoken to us in His Word!
More than anything, true believers desire to be like Jesus Christ in His moral purity. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Mat 5:6) The Spirit of God who lives within every true believer creates within us a genuine desire for holiness—a “hunger” for Christlikeness, which God satisfies over the course of our lives by “working all things together for (our) good”, which “good” is defined as being “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Rom 8:28-29). This process, called “sanctification”, will continue until the day of our death, at which point “we shall be like Him (in moral purity), because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Upon death, all remaining sin will be removed, and we will finally, mercifully, gloriously, “be like Him”. Our “hunger and thirst for righteousness” will finally be satisfied, and the moral image of God will have been restored.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20
A GLORIOUS DESTINY
The Lord Jesus Christ will return to “judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). All who die without Christ will bear God’s wrath forever in hell, but true believers will ultimately live in a perfected creation (Rom 8:20-21) in sinless, painless, joyous, eternal fellowship with God and one another. Finally, we will be fully restored to the purpose of our creation, able forevermore by God’s grace to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Rev 21:3-4
WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?
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Scripture quotes from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Quotes marked * from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Lockman Foundation, 1995)