Although “gospel” means “good news”, it really is a mixed bag of good and bad news. I begin with the negative side of the story. The Bible claims that, since death ends our lives here on earth, judgment is inevitable for everyone. “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is but one opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness and it is in this lifetime. However, God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), so he has provided all that is necessary for salvation and forgiveness in the gospel message. And there is good news in the message that Jesus came to offer. Basically, there are four major points of the gospel. My hope and prayer is that anyone not already committed to Christianity would consider the viability of these four points against your own experience and understanding. If any or all of them are found inadequate for explaining your life experiences, then I would like to know (you may contact me here).
First, the gospel message says that God loves us and created us to have a personal relationship with him. We are not the accidental product of nature nor the eternal objectivization of some impersonal cosmic consciousness. God created us to have a personal, loving relationship with him. Eternal life rests in a relationship. Jesus said “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). This first proposition is the basis for the meaning of our lives, to know and be known by our Creator. I (nor you) do not exist for the purpose of attaining unity with a spirit nor for achieving unending Bliss or pleasure in this life or the afterlife. Our sole reason for living is to have a personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ.
Second, our own sin and moral rebellion have removed the possibility of having a relationship with God. Every human can testify to the fact that we are created with the ability to make choices. The gospel message maintains that we are held responsible for our choices. When God created us he knew that we would sin by choosing to reject him and go our own way. Although God could have made us like a puppet and just pulled the strings when he wanted our love, he also knows that genuine love can only be freely given. So, to have a meaningfully loving relationship with us, God thought it best to create us with the ability to love or reject him. Our choice to reject God results in at least three consequences.
First, we stand morally guilty before God. The Bible says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). You see, if God did not punish sin, then he would not be all-good for his justice would be flawed. Second, without God’s intervention the potential for having this personal relationship with God is not possible. In our sinful state we could never have a close and intimate relationship with a morally perfect being. Consequently, we are morally indebted to God and can never repay him. Isaiah 59:1-2 says “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” We try to get back to God on our own through different religions, philosophies, drugs or whatever, yet this separation from God –– brought about as a result of our own moral rebellion –– destroys the possibility of a personal relationship with him for which we were created. The third consequence for rejecting God is that we are spiritually dead. Our soul is unable to respond, because it is inoperative or dead from the sin within us. Ephesians 2:1-4 says “you were [spiritually] dead in your transgressions and sins . . . gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts . . . we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive.” God’s mercy and kindness provide the possibility of forgiveness for our sins once and for all! No other religion offers such a gift or such a hope!
The third major point of the gospel message is that through Jesus a personal relationship with God can be established. There is a sense in which God has put himself in a fix. His moral perfections and perfect justice demand that we are punished for our sin, yet God’s love and mercy demand restoration between humankind and himself. Justice demands punishment; love demands forgiveness. The solution to this fix is provided by God himself through the man Christ Jesus who lived a morally perfect life and died in our place paying the penalty for our sins. Because Jesus lived a perfect life he was not morally guilty before God and, therefore, could totally satisfy God’s demand for justice. On the cross Jesus took our place and our sins upon himself paying the penalty that our sins deserve. While on the cross the Father turned his back, so to speak, on his Son and he (Jesus) went through hell for us!
And so, at the cross we see the perfect display of God’s justice and the perfect expression of his love. His justice is satisfied in that the punishment for our sin has been paid by his Son.see note The good news of the gospel message is that the debt for our sin has been paid in full. His gracious love is demonstrated in that he does not punish us as we deserve. Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” On the basis of Jesus’ death God can now freely forgive us for the penalty has been paid by God himself.
Although Jesus died for our sins, he did not stay dead. His resurrection broke the power of sin, death, and hell over humankind. It is the bodily resurrection of Jesus which brings us hope that we too will someday be raised immortal. Rather than loosing all sense of identity, individuality, and personhood through absorption into or obliteration in some divine Self or nothingness, the resurrection of Jesus Christ assures the believer that he/she will be raised with an immortal body (see Phil. 2:21; 1 Jn. 3:3). These passages clearly teach the truth that we do not become disembodied souls but will someday share in a new supernatural body built for eternity and never to decay.
Incidentally, if we are simply fused together with God and lose our individuality, then there can be no basis for any kind of relationship with God inasmuch as the very nature of a relationship necessitates a subject and an object. Simply because we become immortal does not mean that all distinctions between Creator and creature are removed. To be like someone is not the same as being that someone. To participate in and become identical with the very essence of God would be to miss out on experiencing God’s love. Essentially, there would be no difference between the Lover and the loved. That kind of existence brings little hope, indeed. We all have the innate desire to love and be loved and this desire could never be fulfilled if our identity is merely merged into some other being.
Finally, the fourth major point of the gospel message is that we may come to know God personally by receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. John 1:12-13 says, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent. . .but born of God.” Believing, in the true biblical sense, goes far beyond mere cognition. What determines whether a person is a Christian is not simply a confession of faith in Jesus but the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives (Rom. 8:9-14). When we believe in Jesus for salvation, the Spirit of God enters into our lives resulting in three wonderful things. First, we are forgiven of all our sin (Eph. 1:7). Second, our personal relationship with God becomes a reality (Rom. 8:15-16). Third, we are born again into a new spiritual life (Jn. 3:3,5) that gives us everything we need to live a fulfilled life here on earth and into eternity. These results are immediate and the believer begins experiencing the blessings of this new relationship upon faith in Jesus.
Rather than go through endless incarnations or annihilation, the gospel message sets forth only two conditions for becoming a Christian. These are repentance and faith. Repentance means a genuine sorrow for our sinful acts and thoughts and a firm resolve to turn away from them and a turning to the living God of the Bible. Repentance is not like making a deal with God. There is nothing we can do to bargain for God’s forgiveness. Rather, repentance is an attitude of the heart, a disgust with our sin and a determination to leave it behind.
The second condition for becoming a Christian is faith in Jesus – the incarnate God-Man. However, this faith is not simply acknowledging as true certain facts. It is wholehearted trust. We can sincerely believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that he died on the cross for our sins, that he rose from the dead and still not be a Christian. The Bible teaches that faith is a commitment, a giving over or a trusting of one’s whole self to Jesus (see Mt. 19:16-22; Jm. 2:14-26 on saving faith in action). Repentance and faith are not things we do to earn salvation. They are our response to God’s gracious offer of eternal life through his Son Jesus Christ.
I urge every reader who has not taken this step in commitment to Jesus as Savior and Lord to ponder your life in light of this gospel message so that you can claim with full assurance
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Note: Some might assert there is no justice in God punishing his Son (an innocent man) for our sin (the guilty ones). However, Jesus assumed our guilt vicariously thus becoming guilty for us and, in doing so, took upon himself the punishment we deserved (see 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:24).