I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Consequences of Preaching a Different Gospel
There is the story I heard recently of a minister, well known in England, who was called once late at night to visit a dying woman in one of the poorest sections of the city. After climbing the stairs up to her wretched apartment, he sat down beside the woman and tried to comfort her by speaking of courage, and patience, and hope, and that sort of thing—the themes that had been the tenor of his preaching in the church. But the woman interrupted him saying, "All that's true, but it's not for the likes of me. Just tell me how a poor sinner can get in (to heaven)" Then the minister remembered what he had never forgotten, although he had ceased to preach it, and told her the Bible's simple story of repentance and salvation through the death of Jesus Christ. ... "I got her in," he said, afterward, "and what's more, I got myself in, too."
Sadly, like the minister in this story, too many Christian preachers and teachers are talking about everything except the one thing that will bring about lasting change in the lives of those who hear and believe it. But, more importantly, everlasting life, salvation, peace and joy beyond this present existence in which we now live. It is one of the non-negotiables of the Christian faith if we are to truly call ourselves a Christian. And that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word 'gospel' literally means 'good news.' It is the Greek word euaggelion, from which we get our English words evangelist, evangelization, evangel, and evangelical. The gospel is the good news concerning Christ as the only way of salvation.
The fact that the gospel is a non-negotiable is not hard to prove. The apostle Paul wrote a whole epistle about some people who were trying to change the good news of salvation to that of a gospel of good works. In the book of Galatians there were a lot of people, who have since become known as the Judaizers, who were trying to do just that. The main question between Paul and these false teachers in Galatia was this:
"Does obedience to the requirements of Judaism earn a man God’s acceptance?"
The clear answer from Paul was No, “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). The believer who tries to earn salvation by the “works of the law” loses the grace of Christ (Gal. 2:21; 5:4).
Some of the apostle's harshest written words are found in this epistle because to tamper with the gospel message is to jeopardize the eternal welfare of all who hear it. In Galatians 1:6-9 he says this to those perverters of the good news:
"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed."
This word accursed is the Greek word 'anathema' and is also used by Paul in I Corinthians 16:22 to describe anyone who does not love the Lord Jesus. Anathema carries a weighty meaning of being consigned to damnation. In other words, Paul tells the Galatians that someone who preaches anything, but the true Gospel will be judged by God and consigned to hell.
Obviously, the severity of the consequences for preaching a false gospel tells us that it is imperative for a person to believe the real good news in order to be truly a Christian and to have a genuine relationship with the eternal God of heaven and earth.
Let us take a look at what the Bible calls the gospel and make sure that we understand why Paul believed that it was so important. However, in order to understand the good news, we first have to realize what the bad news is for all who reject what is offered freely by God.
I. The Bad News for All Mankind: Universal Sin
The bad news that the Bible teaches is that all mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Sin is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18).
God created a perfect world that brought Him both honor and glory. And the crown of that creation was man, created as both male and female (Genesis 1 and 2). They were created in the image of God Himself (Genesis 1:26-28).
To test man's loyalty, God gave to Adam and Eve, who were the first couple, one law. In Genesis 2:16,17 it tells us:
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.”
After being tempted by the Serpent, who was Satan himself, Eve was deceived into eating the fruit. However, Adam, fully realizing what he was doing, took it and so brought death into the world and upon the human race. Man became a sinner by nature and by choice. Romans 5:12 clearly tells us that:
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned."
Romans 3:23 explains to us that:
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Paul goes on in the book of Romans to inform us that sin brings a wage. A wage is something that we earn because of our sinfulness and rebellion. Romans 6:23 explains:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Because of sin all die. Physical death is a separation of body and soul. But man is also spiritually dead. Paul says that we are "dead in trespasses and sins." (Ephesians 2:1).
Spiritual death has to do with the fact that a holy God cannot stand sin. And so, to be spiritually dead is to have your sinful soul separated from God. Paul describes spiritual death as being 'alienated from the life of God' in Ephesians 4:18. To be separated from life is the same as being dead.
And, if one continues until death, or until the Lord's return in that state of spiritual separation, it becomes permanent, and one experiences eternal death or eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
Sadly, there is nothing that any person can do on their own to escape this final judgment of God for sin. It is totally by God's grace and mercy that anyone will ever hope to escape and enter into heaven, which is His eternal home for all those who accept the gospel.
Scripture tells us:
“For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Grace is unmerited favor. It is giving us something we don't deserve. In other words, it is the Lord giving to us eternal life and a place in heaven with God.
Also, in Titus 3:5 it states that it isn't by works of righteousness that we are saved. It is totally by God's mercy. Mercy is compassion or forgiveness to someone whom it is in one's power to punish or harm. It is not giving us what we do deserve. That is, we deserve eternal separation from God in hell and the Lake of Fire.
We are totally helpless to save ourselves because God's standard is perfection. The law which was given to Moses was good, but no one could keep it completely. We see this clearly in James 2:10 which lets us know this. It says:
"For whoever keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all."
Paul tells us the true purpose of the law in Romans 3:19,20 when he says:
"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin."
So, before the gospel, mankind was completely without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12).
Now that we know the bad news, let's turn our attention to the contents of the good news message given to us by God's amazing grace.
The essentials of this message can be found in the letter of I Corinthians.
II. The Essentials of the Gospel Message
The gospel, in a nutshell, can be seen in verses 1-4 of I Corinthians 15. Paul says to us here:
"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word, I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
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..."
By the Scriptures, Paul is most likely speaking of the Old Testament writings. This is not to be confused with the mystery teachings of Paul about such things as Jews and Gentiles being fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body of Christ. He said that this is something that was hidden in God since the foundation of the world (Ephesians 3:1-15).
However, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is prophesied in such Old Testament Scriptures as Isaiah 53, Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 22.
There are 3 essential parts of the gospel mentioned here. First His substitutionary death for our sin. Paul, in II Corinthians 5:21, later tells us:
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
God the Son became man so that He could live a perfect sinless life, in order that He could take our sins upon Himself. He, in turn, gave to us His righteousness so that when God the Father sees us, He doesn't see our sin. He sees us as just as righteous as His Son.
And because He was actually dead, Jesus was buried. This is the second core element of the gospel. It is interesting that some of the major details were foretold 700 years before Christ was born regarding His burial. Isaiah 53:9 is an example of this. This verse states:
"He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth."
Of course, we know from the gospel records, that Jesus' body was placed in the borrowed tomb of the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. This account can be found in each of the four gospels (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53 and John 19:38-42).
Finally, the third and final major element of the gospel message is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This proves that Jesus was who He said that He was, and that God the Father accepted His sacrifice for the sins of the world. This also was prophesied about in the Old Testament. In Psalm 16:10, David is ultimately speaking of Christ when he says:
"For You will not leave my soul in Sheol. Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption."
We find later in I Corinthians that the resurrection is so extremely important to the gospel that if Jesus hadn't been raised from the dead, then Paul and all of the other apostles' preaching would be futile. Further, our belief in Christ would be in vain, and we would still be in our sins. But thank God that He did indeed rise from the dead!
Paul calls Jesus the First Fruits of those that sleep. This means all that have died, having their faith in Christ, will be raised one day as well, just like Jesus. Thus, Jesus' resurrection guarantees that the full harvest of the future resurrection will take place when the Lord returns (I Corinthians 15:12-29).
As we wrap this up, I like the story that Bob Woods tells of a couple who took their son, 11, and daughter, 7, to Carlsbad Caverns. As always, when the tour reached the deepest point in the cavern, the guide turned off all the lights to dramatize how completely dark and silent it is below the earth's surface. The little girl, suddenly enveloped in utter darkness, was frightened and began to cry. Immediately was heard the voice of her brother: "Don't cry. Somebody here knows how to turn on the lights." In a real sense, that is the message of the gospel. Light is available, even when darkness seems overwhelming.
Mankind is stuck in the darkness of sin and death. And all of us were on our way to a Christless eternity. But God gave us a path out of the darkness into the sunlight of His love. He demonstrated that love to us by sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins, to be buried and finally to be raised to life again, that we who trust in Him will have hope for the future. And we, as well as all of our loved ones whose faith is in Christ, will also one day be raised from the dead to live forever with Him in heaven.
For those who haven't accepted this gospel, do it today. You will never regret it. For those who have already heard and responded to the good news, then let us thank God every day by telling just one more person what Christ has done for us. The gospel is the power of God to salvation to all who believe. May we, through our lives and our words, be God's ambassadors to let the world know what God has done for them in order to save them, and to give each person a chance, by faith in Jesus Christ, to have a place with Him for all of eternity!
© 2022 Jeff Shirley