Most people get the gospel dead wrong. An examination of today’s so-called preachers and churches reveals a staggering and blasphemous understanding of the gospel. There are many categories of this problem—TV preachers assuring you that God exists to grant your material whims, well-meaning (but dead-wrong) preachers who suggest your salvation is only in your hands, church organizations who believe salvation lies in liberation from social problems, and churches that believe they dispense the grace required for salvation through the sacraments. Rarely is sin talked about. Rarely are we told our already-damned standing before a holy God. And, almost never, are we told the Gospel is ultimately about God’s working to bring us into relationship with him, not our working to bring ourselves into relationship to God.
“Gospel” means “good news.” For some, the good news is purely subjective and quite manipulative. These misguided people seem to think the good news is that they can use God to get what they want—a new car, a good family life, an easy life. For some, Christianity is a take-it-and-leave-it-whenever-it-it-suits-your-purposes proposition in which it is OK to live like the world and still claim to be a Christians. For others, the Gospel is purely social—a works-based Gospel in which you receive points for helping others to overcome social injustices. Yet for others, the good news is the church is able to grant salvation through any means, usually through the sacraments—especially “communion.”
Why are there so many mutated permutations of the “Gospel?” Most people do not have the first clue what the Gospel actually is and the “good news” is missed because no one realizes how bad the “bad news” is.
The Bad News
Death. Spiritual death. We were dead in our sins. Ephesians 2:1-3 says:
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
This is a sad state indeed. It is as if we were the living dead—an existence in which we are alive physically and dead spiritually. Because of Adam’s sin, humanity is damned by God. Our spiritually dead nature shows Adam’s sin spiritually killed all of us so that we are already damned by God. As if that were not enough, our own sins we commit (because we are, by nature, sinners) serve to damn us all the more. Because of our nature all we have to look forward to is God’s wrath.
But wait, there’s more! We did not nor could not seek God. Romans 3:10-12 says:
None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
The situation is the most grim—we are damned with no hope in ourselves. We cannot do anything to please God. We cannot do anything, in ourselves, to escape the present and coming damnation.
There is more bad news—ready? God is not ambivalent about us. Since Ephesians 2 tells us we are objects of His wrath, we can see that God has already made His decision about us and that decision is not good for us. We are to bear His holy, righteous, and just wrath for our being sinners by nature and committing sins ourselves.
The Good News
Perhaps the best word in all the Bible is the conjunction “but.” Ephesians 2:4-10 shows us God’s work in doing what we were absolutely unable to do:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This truly is “good news.” What we could not do, God does.
WHY THIS IS OF LIFE AND DEATH IMPORTANCE
The Bible speaks of the consequences of sin. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is why Paul, in Ephesians, says we were “dead in our trespasses and sins.”
There is no middle-ground. Sin is not waiting to kill us and, thereby, make us unacceptable to God. No, sin (Adam’s sin) has already killed us and therefore we are already unacceptable to God.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see people separated from God because of sin–Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden (away from God’s presence) when they sinned. One of the worst punishments in Old Testament Israel was to be cutoff from the camp (cast away from God’s covenant community and where His presence rested–the tabernacle).
This is the curse of sin–to be separated from God. Jesus bore that very curse on the cross and experienced separation from God so that His people (Christians) would not have to.
The Gospel starts with God and His righteous and just opposition to us because we are, by nature, sinners.
The Gospel is not, ultimately, about us–what we can do to be saved. The Gospel is about what God does to save us–he takes on Himself His prescribed punishment (the curse of separation and death) so that we can be forgiven of our sins (based on Christ’s payment). In this way, God brings us into relationship with Himself. He is just in that He demands payment for sin and He is also the one who justifies in that He Himself pays the payment for us.
This is the “Good News” of the Gospel–those for whom Jesus died do not get what we deserve. Instead, we get God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense (G.R.A.C.E.).
No material items (cars, houses, hefty bank accounts, etc) can compare to what we have been given. Because of this, we do not seek our treasure on earth–God Himself is our treasure and our desire is to know Him more and we seek to live our lives in thankful devotion to Him.