The Gospel Message

In his Introductory Essay to John Owen's Death of Death, J. I. Packer warns that in recent years the Evangelical Church has bartered away the authentic gospel for a substitute. The substitute is similar to the original in many ways, but with the notable exception - "it fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. It is too exclusively concerned to be 'helpful' to man - to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction - and too little concerned to glorify God" (Packer, p. 2).

To avoid losing the gospel, the church must pay careful attention to how the Bible defines the Christian message. On several occasions the NT gives us a snapshot which summarizes the gospel message (see Mark 1:14-15; John 3:16; Romans 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:24-25, etc.). Like the multiple colors of light refracted through a diamond, these Scriptural snapshots present the gospel from different angles highlighting specific aspects of the message. But what do all these snapshots have in common? A careful observation reveals that the Christian gospel is a message about God who graciously provides salvation; it's a message about the sinful condition of human beings which makes salvation a necessity; it's a message about the Savior who alone secures salvation through His death and resurrection; and it's a message about the human response in receiving this good news. Let's take a few moments to explore this wonderful message.

1. The gospel is a message about God. The gospel begins by telling us who God is, what He is like, and what He demands of us, His creatures. When Paul preached the gospel in Athens, he began by pointing out that God is the Creator and human beings are His creatures who stand in absolute dependence upon Him for all things. "God made the world and everything in it. He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. He made every nation of men. God did this so that we would seek him and perhaps reach out for him." (Acts 17:24-27 NIV). The Creator - creature relationship is foundational to the Christian gospel. It is impossible to speak of Christ and His salvation without first grasping this basic truth that God is our just and holy Creator who has made all mankind for His glory.

2. The gospel is a message about sin. Man, the image-bearer and creature of God, has rebelled against his Creator and now stands guilty before God, severed from any relationship with God, and subject to His wrath. "We all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6). "There is not a righteous man on the earth who does what is right and never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). "Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin, for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God" (Romans 3:9, 23). "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Furthermore, sin not only renders all human beings guilty before God, sin also defiles, corrupts, and enslaves the human heart to the very practice of sin. "The Lord saw that every inclination of the thoughts of his [man] heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5). "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath" (Ephesians 2:1-3). It is only when we sense the depths of our sin and our inability to do anything about it, does the message of Jesus Christ come home to us in its life-changing power.

3. The gospel is a message about Jesus Christ. The good news is that God sent His Son into the world to save lost sinners. In His birth, the eternal Word assumed a human nature. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:1, 14). In His life He worked out a perfect righteousness under the law, living a sinless life - the very life all human beings should have lived. "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law." (Galatians 4:4). "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every, just as we are - yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). In His death He took the sinner's place suffering the wrath of God - the penalty due for the sinner's transgression of the law. "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). In His resurrection God vindicates His Son, accepts His work, and gives all authority unto Him.

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised for our justification. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living" (Romans 4:25; 14:9). "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me'" (Matthew 28:18). By virtue of His finished work, Jesus offers Himself to sinners both commanding and inviting them to come to Him, and thus to enter eternal life.

4. The gospel is a message about repentance and faith. All who hear the gospel are summoned by God to repentance and faith, and all who respond are promised the forgiveness of sin and life eternal. "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent" (John 7:29). "All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sin through his name" (Acts 10:43). "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life." (John 3:36). Saving faith is more than mere intellectual assent and true repentance is more than remorseful feelings. "Even the devils believe and shudder" (James 2:19). "...worldly sorrow brings death"

(2 Corinthians 7:10). True repentance involves a change of mind and heart, a turning away from the adequacy of self and all of self's sinful and self serving practices. "...You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Saving faith is casting one's self on the Lord Jesus, trusting in Him alone to forgive our sins and grant us the life with God which He has promised. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).