You’ve probably heard the word ‘gospel’ before. It means ‘good news’. The Christian message is precisely that ... a message of good news that God wants everyone to hear.
Note: In what follows there will often be references to the Bible, which we believe to be God’s Word ... God’s communication to humanity. The source of direct quotes will be indicated by a reference in brackets. So if you look at the next paragraph, you’ll see John 10.10 in brackets. The Bible is made up of 66 books (39 in what we call the Old Testament, which records events before Jesus lived, and 27 in what we call the New Testament). If you have a Bible, just look in the table of contents to see which book is being referred to: in this case, the Gospel of John in the New Testament. The individual books are divided into chapters, and the chapters are divided into verses. So 10.10 means chapter 10, verse 10. By the way, the Bible, originally written in Hebrew and Greek, has been translated many times into English. In our church we have been using one of the more popular current translations ... the New International Version (NIV). Unless otherwise indicated, that’s the version used on this website. If you don’t have a Bible, we would encourage you to get one. We recommend the NIV ... but most versions are just fine.
Jesus once described what He was offering to those who follow Him in the following words:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10.10).”
Life to the full ... abundant life, as some other Bible translations put it. Life in all its fulness. Life as it was meant to be. I think of words like peace, joy, harmony, grace, love.
Who wouldn’t want that? Another question might be, “Who wouldn’t want you to have that?” And Jesus gives the answer to that: The thief doesn’t want you to have abundant life. The thief offers something else ... misery and destruction. And let’s just say that the thief represents whatever and whoever draws us away from God. Perhaps more to the point is the fact that when we turn away from Jesus, we become the thief’s accomplices ... we are our own worst enemies. Whatever we may think we will find or achieve without God, emptiness is what we’ll get.
God made the same point through Jeremiah, an Israelite prophet who lived some 2600 years ago (no, he wasn’t a bullfrog):
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2.13).”
Here the image of water represents the abundant life Jesus spoke of. To understand the contrast fully we need to know that living water meant clean, flowing water ... as you get from a mountain spring or a fast-flowing stream. Cisterns, on the other hand, were essentially pits dug into the ground to store water ... and the water in them was liable to be muddy and stagnant. Which water would you want to drink, if given the choice? Well, you do have the choice.
God was saying, “Look people, when you turn away from Me, you’re turning away from the refreshing, clear water that you yourselves are looking for. And instead, you’re trying to find what you’re looking for everywhere but where you’ll find it. Your broken cisterns are leaking misery all over your lives. Why don’t you come back to me?”
The Gospel is God’s offer of a way to come back to Him. The Gospel tells us that God has acted through Jesus Christ to give us abundant life, to satisfy our thirst with living water. The Gospel tells us that God, out of His love for us, offers true life through Jesus:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16).”
I don’t know which words jump out at you from this famous verse. Several of them deserve careful thought. But let me start with the nasty word ... perish. There’s no way to get around the fact that when you read the Bible, time and time again, in different ways, you are confronted with talk of an impending disaster. Something awful, so to speak, is out there over the horizon. But the Good News is that it is God’s desire to mount a rescue mission in order to save people from the disaster. It stands to reason, of course, that if God is the only source of true life, then turning away from Him will ultimately bring us to the opposite of true life. Which is why those who say that they’d rather party in hell with their friends than be bored to death in heaven with losers ... well, they don’t have a clue what they’re joking about. If we can be certain of one thing it is this: there is no true and lasting joy apart from God. If there is banqueting in hell, it will be like eating cardboard pictures of something good to eat ... all of the promise, none of the pleasure. In any case, if anyone perishes, it isn’t because God wanted that, but because they chose it.
Let’s move on to a better word: loved. Now that’s good news, isn’t it? Some people wonder whether anyone loves them? Here’s the truth: Even if no one else loves you, God surely does. What do you picture God as being like? Many words come to mind. Holy. All-powerful. Eternal. Those are all good words. Some people, of course, come up with words like cruel, capricious, and the like. Would you be surprised to know that the core essence of what God is like is described by the word love? Well, it’s true:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4.7-8).”
No wonder God is the source of true and abundant life. Because if there’s one thing we are all looking for ... because it the one thing we most need ... it’s love.
The third word to note is gave. God expressed His love by giving His one and only Son. That phrase needs two points of clarification. The ‘one and only Son’ is a reference to Jesus. Don’t think too literally about this. It’s painting a picture of the kind of relationship they enjoy (that of a loving father and son) ... and it’s pointing to the fact that they share the same divine nature (human fathers and sons share the same human nature ... God and Jesus share the same nature too: divine). But the more pressing question is this: What does the giving refer to? It’s a reference to the death of Jesus on the cross. In fact, the quote from 1 John 4 carries on to make precisely that point:
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4.9-10).”
What is an atoning sacrifice for our sins? It is a sacrifice that restores relationship. Sin separates us from God, but the forgiveness that is made possible by Christ’s death on the cross bridges the gap and undoes the consequences of sin.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6.23).”
According to the Bible, sins have to paid for. People often rebel against this thought. I’m not sure why. After all, when we think of sports, it’s obvious to all that when infractions against the rules are committed, then those who have made the infractions should be punished. Imagine what happens in a hockey arena, for instance, when a player from the opposing team spears your goalie or your best scorer and none of the officials have seen it. The entire crowd howls its rage ... a rule was broken, and no one is held accountable! And don’t we feel the same way when, for instance, a child has been molested or killed and no one is caught? No one should be able to get away with something like that!
The truth is, every one of our sins have to be paid for ... not just the horrific ones that we imagine that only other people commit - no, also the little ones that we don’t even consider worthy of being called sin. The entire Universe stands up and howls ... Did you see that? Look what he or she did! They’ve insulted God’s glory, they’ve broken His laws and simply ignored Him!
Here’s a verse that shows that the littlest sin may have dire consequences:
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2.10).”
And it isn’t only what we do, but also what we don’t do, that is in view:
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (James 4.17).”
And what about this quote from Jesus Himself, that shows that God’s standards may just be a little higher than our own?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5.27-28).”
Yes, we all sin, and sins have to be paid for ... and since sins are committed against God, the source of true life, holy and eternal, doesn’t it make sense that the punishment isn’t two minutes in the penalty box but something more like a lifetime ban from the sport itself? Which is why we read, “For the wages of sin is death ... (Romans 6.23a)”. And that’s where the gift comes in ... “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6.23b).”
When Jesus was crucified, He took upon Himself the punishment due our sins. He Himself was sinless. He deserved no death. But He took our place. And because He shares in God’s divinity, His sacrifice can cover all of us (if He were only human, He could at best have only died for one other sinner).
“There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Romans 3.22-25).”
The fourth word from John 3.16 that captures our attention is the word believe.
“... whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The bad news is the perishing. The good news is that God loves us and gave His Son, Jesus, to die on the Cross for us. And this fourth word shows how it is that we accept God’s offer ... by believing in Jesus.
Now this certainly involves believing things about Jesus. In reading the Bible we learn what such things are. Here’s a summary statement of some core truths:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15.3-4).”
But even more important is that belief involves trust ... we have to believe Him. With our minds we acknowledge that He died on the Cross for the sins of humanity. But in our hearts we trust that He died for us, individually. We trust Him! It’s one thing to believe that the firefighters are holding a net in order to catch your fall ... it’s something more to jump from your burning fourth story balcony into that net. Believing in Jesus is jumping into His arms.
Now, believing in Jesus has implications. It leads to following Him. Trusting Him to be our Savior (the one who frees us from our sin and its consequences) leads to following Him as our Lord (I know that we don’t use that word much anymore, and that it may have some negative connotations ... but it’s a biblical word, and I think it has more dignity than a word like ‘leader’ ... which, after all, ultimately means the same thing). As Lord, He expects things of us. He wants us to obey what He commands. He wants us to be holy (being and doing good).
But it’s important to keep this in mind: We don’t become holy in order to be saved by Jesus. We become holy in grateful response to our having already been saved by Him. And, indeed, we cannot become holy anyway apart from His presence in our lives.
It should also be made clear that the core of obedience and following ... surprise, surprise ... is that we learn to love God and others:
“... I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love (2 John 5-6).”
The emphasis, in Christianity, is rightly placed on faith and trust, and not on obedience and performance. First things first.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5.6).”
The Holy Spirit
I mentioned above that we cannot become holy apart from Jesus’ presence in our lives. That brings up a fairly large topic. How can Jesus be present in our lives? What the Bible tells us is that such language isn’t meant to be merely symbolic. It is possible for Jesus to be actually present with us ... through the Holy Spirit.
God had promised, through several Old Testament prophets, that He would one day give a great gift ... He would give His Holy Spirit. For instance:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36.26-27).”
Notice how one of the results would be that people would be enabled to obey God.
The Book of Acts, in the New Testament, begins with a recap of what happened after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (when He rose to life again):
“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.3-5).’”
Obviously, Jesus was very eager to make sure that His followers would receive the Holy Spirit. You might say that giving us the Holy Spirit was the whole point of Jesus’ life and death. He showed us what being filled by the Holy Spirit looked like by how He lived. And then by His death, He made it possible for us to receive the Holy Spirit ... because we need to be forgiven in order for His holiness to be able to fill us.
In any case, Jesus did pour out His Spirit on His followers. You can read about that in Acts 2. And ever since, receiving the Spirit is, in fact, what defines being a Christian:
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8.9).”
The Holy Spirit, you might say, connects us to God. What God promises and desires, and what Jesus made possible, the Holy Spirit makes real. For instance, He enables us to become godly:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23).”
The gift of the Holy Spirit is part of the Good News. It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus is present in our lives. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are drawn into the abundant life that Jesus offers.
So that’s the Gospel. Though we are separated by our sin from God, He loves us dearly, and offers life to those who believe in Jesus, who gives us the Holy Spirit. And the result is abundant life. Full life. Indeed, eternal life.
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5.12) .”
If you haven’t already received God’s offer, but are ready to do so, please go to the Becoming a Christian submenu.