What is “the Gospel”?

The Bad News

In the previous century and thus far into this one, it has become increasingly clear that something is wrong with this world and its inhabitants.  Scholars, celebrities, politicians and religious leaders all offer analysis of what’s wrong with the world, but the diagnoses’ are as plentiful as they are dissonant.  Some say the root of the problem is political while others say it’s economic, intellectual, religious, anti-religious, and others simply choose to pretend there’s no problem at all.  Through all the chaos and opinion, is there an actual answer to the ultimate questions?  Can anyone make sense of this world?  Does anyone actually know what’s wrong with the world and its inhabitants?

Well, if anyone can make sense of the problems in the universe, God can.  The reason for this is simple; God made everything that is (Genesis 1:1; Ephesians 3:9) and gives life to everything on the earth (Isaiah 42:5; Acts 17:25).  The creator of all knows exactly how all works; he designed and created everything that is.  Not only does he understand everything he created, but he also rules over all creation, as the rightful king, in complete sovereignty.  This means that he’s in charge of the universe and answers to nobody (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:34-35).  God directs the affairs of nations (Isaiah 10:5-15; Daniel 5:21) the hearts of both kings and commoners (Proverbs 21:1; Acts 4:27-28), and even inconsequential events like the roll of dice (Proverbs 16:33) or the death of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), and even infirmity and disease (Exodus 4:11; Deuteronomy 28:58-59; 2 Samuel 12:15).  God reigns the entire universe; both neutrons and nations alike obey him. God is the creator and sovereign over all and he has ownership and authority over everyone and everything (Psalm 24:1-2; Psalm 50:10-12).  All men owe allegiance to God, their rightful sovereign.

But how is this known, for who can possibly ascend the steps of the mount of God and peer into the window of his mind?  Well, nobody can know God’s mind, but God can make himself known.  God has revealed himself to mankind in two ways.  First, God has revealed himself in a general way in nature.  When people behold the complexity and design of nature, they innately realize God exists (Romans 1:18-20).  Secondly, God has revealed himself by speaking through his prophets (Hebrews 1:1; 2 Peter 1:20-21) and apostles (Ephesians 3:5; 2 Peter 3:2).  The Bible is the very word of God; divine self-revelation from God in divine words (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21); the Bible claims to actually reveal the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).  What has God made known about himself, mankind and the world?

In simple terms, God has given his moral law to mankind.  He has placed it on the hearts of all men (Romans 2:14-15) and written it in the Bible (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 5-7, etc.).  Though mankind knows about God’s existence and moral law, they reject what they know and turn away from what God has revealed in nature (Romans 1:20-23) and scripture (Psalm 50:16-17; Proverbs 1:29-33) in order to follow the wicked desires (Proverbs 11:6; Ephesians 2:3) of their wicked hearts (Jeremiah 17:9; Luke 6:45). ).  This rebellion is known as “sin” and mankind rebels because that’s what they want.

This isn’t to say that people always enjoy their rebellion or recognize it as such; mankind is enslaved by their wicked desires; enslaved to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:15-17).  They can change behavior that springs from their hearts (Luke 6:43-45; James 4:1-3) but they are powerless to change the nature of their hearts (Jeremiah 13:23; Romans 7:18-19).  This enslavement to sin is the condition of every person whether they are aware of it or not (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:10-18).  This is not to say that all people are totally wicked (i.e. never tell the truth), but instead that people are incapable of being actually righteous. This is also recognizes that horrid people can perform altruistic or selfless actions, but ‘righteous’ deeds performed for unrighteous motives are not really righteous deeds (Proverbs 16:2; 21:2; Isaiah 64:6; James 4:1-3).

This universal rebellion against God’s law is an offense against God himself.  Sin is essentially the challenging of God’s wisdom and power manifesting in acts of rebellion against God’s moral law (i.e. his wisdom and council as revealed in Scripture and conscience). God, because he is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Samuel 2:2), must rightly honor himself above his creation (Psalm 8:1).  God cannot entertain any challenges to the holiness of his wisdom, power, love, etc. because they’re simply not true.  God can neither lie about himself nor believe lies about himself (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). God must judge sin as what it is; an attack on his glory.  God will not elevate another person’s glory above his own (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11) for that would be lying.  God has clearly declared that he will judge sin (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Revelation 20:11-13) and in doing so, God will vindicate his justice (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

What is this judgment?  The ultimate judgment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), which includes punishment for sinful deeds (Matthew 12:34-37; Revelation 20:11-15), as well as eternal relational separation from God (Matthew 8:11-12; Revelation 21:27); a separation not only from God’s person but also God’s blessings (joy, rest, sanity, general restraining grace, health, etc.) served eternally in hell as men are unfettered from God’s restraining grace to embrace and suffer for their sin forever.  People are condemned to eternal punishment in Hell for their attack on God’s infinite glory, but they’ll remain in Hell eternally because in Hell, their rebellion will never stop.

So how can one escape their own heart?  Simply put, one cannot change their own essential nature, nor give themselves a divine ‘heart transplant’ and change their spiritual disposition towards God.  Mankind is caught in a snare from which he cannot free himself; this is the bad news.

The Good News

In response to all the problems faced by mankind, the Bible presents a single solution in the person and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Miraculously born to a mother who was a virgin (Luke 1:34) and conceived by the power of God (Luke 1:35), Jesus Christ was literally the son of God.  Calling Jesus “Son of God” doesn’t mean that Jesus was God’s offspring in the sense that he ‘came into being’; rather Jesus was God’s ‘son’ in that he was of the same nature as his ‘father’ (John 5:17-19) and knew God the Father in an intimate way that no other person did (Matthew 11:27; John 6:46).  How did Jesus ‘do what God did’ and know God in a way that nobody else did?

Jesus Christ was himself God; the second person of the triune person of God (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit); he shared characteristics with God the Father that would be claimed by no man.  The Bible speaks of Jesus as creator (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16), sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3), the one who forgives sins (Mark 2:5-12; Luke 7:48-49), the one who will judge sin (John 5:22; 27; Acts 17:31), the “fullness” and “exact representation” of God (Colossians 1:19; 2:9 Hebrews 1:3), glorified by God the Father (John 13:31-32; 17:1-5), the God of the Old Testament (John 8:56-58; 12:41), having power over life and death (John 5:21-25; 6:27; 35-40), commanding nature (Mark 11:12-21; Luke 8:25), being eternal (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6-11), being self existent (John 5:26), being able to read minds/discern hearts (Mark 2:8; Luke 6:8), knowing the future (Mathew 16:21; 20:17-19; 24:3-51; 26:31-35) and the Bible declares that what God desires of mankind is to believe his testimony about Christ (John 5:29; 1 John 5:9-12).

So Jesus Christ, the God of the Jews, became a man and lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22).  Christ willingly chose to die (John 10:17-18) as a sacrifice of atonement for sin (Romans 3:23-25; Hebrews 9:24-28) and sinners (Romans 5:6-8; 1 Peter 3:18) in order to provide his own righteousness (Romans 4:1-24; 2 Corinthians 5:21) to any who believe (Romans 3:22-26; 10:9-10) his own claims about himself (John 5:21-29, 6:25-58, 7:37-39).  The Bible teaches that sacrifice of Christ forgives past sins (Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:11-14; 1 John 1:7), removes the guilt of sin (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:22) spares sinners from God’s future judgment (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9) and restores rebellious sinners to right relationship with God (2 Corinthians 5:18; 1 Peter 3:18).

Christ was killed by crucifixion, buried and resurrected from the dead by God the Father (Acts 13:32-33; 1 Thessalonians 1:10) in order to show God’s verification of Christ’s declarations about his own person and work (Acts 17:31; Romans 1:4), so the resurrection is God’s ultimate testimony about Christ (1 John 5:9-12).  Christ’s resurrection is the ‘prototype’ of the physical resurrection of all believers (Romans 8:11; Colossians 1:18) that will occur when Christ returns to earth a second time (1 Corinthians 15:20-24; 2 Corinthians 4:14) to conquer and eliminate death once and for all (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). The early apostles and Christians were eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 2 Peter 1:16) and these facts are the basis of confession in the Christian faith (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 15:14-19).  The resurrection of the dead is the proximate hope of all Christians (1. Corinthians 15:12-19; Philippians 3:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

So how does one respond? First, one must count the cost of following Christ.  God does not promise believers financial prosperity, freedom from disease, etc. He does bless believers with increasing joy and righteous character (Galatians 5:22-23), but one of the hallmarks of Christianity is suffering (Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-13) and God’s main tool for the production of character in believers is discipline (Hebrews 12:4-11).  The Christian life is one of battle, intense spiritual warfare engaged amidst hardship (2 Timothy 2:3-4) against the dark, spiritual forces of this world (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-20).  The call to follow Christ is a call to become a slave of Christ; it’s a call to give up one’s own desires, values and self-rule (Matthew 10:34-39, 16:24-27; 1 Corinthians 7:22-23; Ephesians 6:5-9; Philippians 2:1-8, 3:7-9; 1 Peter 2:16; Revelation 1:1).

Secondly, one must respond in genuine faith; i.e. believing God’s testimony about himself, oneself and the person and work of his son.  One must place their faith in Christ alone to save them from their sins and the coming wrath of God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), as well as grant them the long-awaited resurrection from the dead; eternal life (John 3:3-18, 5:21-29, 6:25-58, 10:27-29; 11:23-27).  True faith is always accompanied by repentance (Acts 20:21; 26:20). Repentance is agreeing with God that you are sinful, confessing your sins to Him (1 John 1:9), and making a conscious choice to turn from sin (Acts 3:19; 20:21; 26:20), pursue Christ (Matthew 11:28-30; John 17:3), honor Christ as Lord (Rom. 6:17-18; 10:9-10) and obey him (John 14: 21-24; 1 John 2:3).

I hope this “theology week” has blessed you richly as I have shared some of the writing I’ve done on various subjects in the past, and you’ve maybe learned something new or have been challenged to search Scripture to refute something I’ve posted.  God bless to both my readers!

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair Theologian” Unger

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