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What would you think of a surgeon who just started "cutting away" at a patient without really knowing what he was doing? You would probably wonder how that doctor even came to practice surgery. If he were to make one mistake, his patient could be disabled for life—or even killed. Yet, when it comes to sharing "the gospel," many people are as inept as an incompetent surgeon even though people's eternal destinies hang in the balance.
What is the gospel? You might say, "I'll leave that to you preachers and theologians to figure out. All I know is that I'm already saved and going to Heaven!"
But wait—we all need to know the gospel for two very important reasons:
We cannot be disengaged or disinterested in this subject, for it has eternal ramifications.
The Apostle Paul recognized the importance of understanding and guarding your beliefs when he told Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16).
Paul also strongly urged his fellow believers to stay away from "false" or counterfeit gospels: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:6-8)
False gospels usually fall into one of two categories:
General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, wrote of the dangers he saw facing the message of the gospel in the 20th century. Among other things, he saw a "gospel" that would present:
Scripture reminds us to "rightly [divide] the Word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). We must be careful to accurately present the gospel. For that reason, we must be able to identify its key elements.
A technical definition of the word "gospel" is "good news." Yet, just as a jeweler displays a beautiful ring or necklace against a dark velvet background to accentuate its beauty, so God first tells us the "bad news" to show just how "good" the good news of the gospel really is. That "bad news" (as we have already established in our previous studies) is that we have all sinned—sometimes in ignorance, but often knowingly.
Seeing our complete weakness, and our inability to do anything to alleviate our wretched condition, God did the ultimate for us:
"For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).
Because there was no other way to satisfy the righteous demands of God . . .
Because of our inability to improve ourselves (much less save ourselves) . . .
Because we faced a future in hell because of our sin . . .
God, in His great love, sent His own Son to come down from heaven and to die on the cross in our very place.
Paul personalized this by saying, "[Christ] loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
We know that God is perfect. We know that man is imperfect and sinful. The only way God could resolve this serious sin issue was to send His Holy Son, Jesus, to take our place and to pay the price for our sins.
Why Jesus? Because Jesus, the "God-man" without sin or fault, was uniquely qualified to bridge the gap between sinful humanity and a Holy God:
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5: 18- 19).
The gospel is not about what you or I did to please or reach God; we did everything to displease Him. Rather, the gospel is about how God reconciled Himself to us through Jesus Christ.
If we, as Christians, were to say that God could be reached through any other means, we would be guilty of misrepresenting the gospel! For on that cross some 2000 years ago, all of the sin of the world was poured upon Jesus Christ as He became the sin sacrifice for us. Scripture says, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus' final words on the cross "It is finished!" can be translated several ways:
Our sins and the guilt that accompanied them.
The price of redemption.
The righteous requirements of the law!
The work that God had given Jesus to do.
Satan's stronghold on humanity (see Colossians 2:14-15).
Paul puts the gospel in a nutshell in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:
"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He . . . was buried, and He rose again the third day ...."
The gospel is the message that we are all separated from God because of our sin. The result of this sin is an emptiness, an ever-present guilt and a certain fear of death. Yet, because God loved us, in spite of our rebellion, He sent His own Son to die in our place and to bridge the gap between Him and ourselves.
The Apostle Paul was a brilliant orator and communicator. He was deeply schooled in biblical law, as well as in the wisdom of Greece. If anyone could have "leaned upon his intellect," it would have been Paul. Yet, as you read the accounts about Paul's encounters with powerful government leaders in the book of Acts, you'll find that he kept his presentation so simple.
Paul would typically begin with his personal testimony, then he would always zero in on what happened when Jesus died on the cross. He tells the Corinthians, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2; see also 1 Corinthians 1:17-18). In the book of Romans, Paul reminds us about the distinct power in the simple message of the life, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. . ." (Romans 1:16).
Don't underestimate the raw power the gospel has in reaching even the most hardened heart.
How Does One Enter into That Relationship with God? Jesus dearly lays out the way one must accept the message of salvation offered in the gospel in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Conversion is not some long, drawn out process. It is immediate and instantaneous. You don't need to "clean up" your life before you come to Christ. You simply come with all of your problems, sins and shortcomings and He will accept you as you are (see John 6:37).
When Jesus spoke these words, people readily understood, as animals (such as oxen) were often placed under yokes to work in the fields. In essence, Jesus is asking us to come under His direction for our lives. Many have their own plans for their lives, and they just ask the Lord to "come along for the ride." But Jesus has no interest in this kind of arrangement. You either come on His terms or you don't come at all.
Perhaps you already know everything we have covered in this lesson. If you do know it and you believe it, when is the last time you declared it? God wants to use you to spread the "gospel of peace" to those around you (see Romans 10:14-15).