When I was at the seminary training to become a pastor, I had a mentor who had a big impact in my life. His name was Pastor Homer Larsen. As I was preparing to go to my first church, he said to me, “Always work hard on your message. Make sure you preach the gospel! Nothing else really matters in comparison to the message you give your people.”
Through the years I have followed his advice, and it has been a blessing to me. I have even said to my congregation, “This hour that you spend with me in church today could make a significant change in your life. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t stand up here in front of you like this and preach. I wouldn’t give my life to be a pastor or a personal witness.”
The apostle Paul would concur with the advice Homer gave me – The message matters; Work hard on it. As he is preparing to go to Rome, Paul writes a letter to believers there. In that letter, found in the New Testament, he shares a bit about himself. After he tells them all the good things he’s heard about them, he says, I am so eager to be with you who are in Rome in order that I may proclaim the gospel to you!
Paul is eager! He can’t wait to share! He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” He was not embarrassed by it. People may have questioned the “odd” message he had. They may have looked at the cross as foolishness. They may have even thought the whole idea of grace was absurd, but he was not ashamed of the gospel.
Why? Because “. . . it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”
The word power is the Greek word dynamis from which we get the word dynamite. The gospel is God’s dynamite! We all know the power of dynamite to change things all around it when it goes off. The gospel is God’s dynamite. It is a power that can and does change a person’s life. It’s not simply another philosophy of life. It changed the trajectory of Paul’s life.
Speaking from his own personal experience, Paul calls it the power to bring salvation. The word salvation means wholeness. The gospel makes us whole again! It restores us into a saving relationship with the God who made us.
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith,” Paul says, “for faith.”
Through faith (meaning Paul’s faith, the one who is bringing the gospel) for faith so we might believe.
“In it the righteousness of God is revealed” – God’s righteous plan, His plan to make us right with Him through His Son Jesus. It is good news.
So we ask, What is the gospel specifically?
Let me first tell you what it’s not. It’s not the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s not a form of music that makes us tap our toes. It’s not simply information we find in the Bible about the life of Jesus, and it’s not a tradition of good news we hear at certain times of the year like Christmas or Easter or when grandma and grandpa die.
Here is what it is: The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us calling us to a response. It is not simply good advice to men and women, but good news about Jesus Christ. It’s not an invitation to do anything, but a declaration of what God has done. It’s not a demand, but an offer.
The gospel is a story, which goes like this: I am a person who was created by God in His image for a relationship with Him. I am precious in His sight and the crown of His creation.
But I am also a sinner who has broken that relationship with my sinfulness. Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, a great gap between God and humankind has existed and needs to be taken care of. No matter how hard we try to save ourselves and look good in God’s sight, we always fall short. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I can try to build my spiritual resume to get myself into a relationship with God and go to His heaven, but it’ll never be good enough.
Someone once explained it this way: suppose you have friends over for breakfast and you are to prepare an omelette for them. You have five good eggs and one rotten egg, which gets mixed in with the five. You surely cannot serve it up to your guests; it would be unacceptable.
In the same way, we might have all of these good eggs in our lives (according to what human beings calls good things, even though we know from Scripture that all of it is filthy rags in God’s sight.) But just one thing, one bit of rottenness in us, means we cannot serve it up to God and expect to be acceptable.
We have a problem. God is merciful – He loves us – but He’s also just. There are consequences for our sinfulness. It is death! Not just an earthly death when we take our last breath in this world, but also a spiritual death – life apart from God, the source of real life. This death reaches all the way into eternity. God loves us, but He is just.
So here is what our God did for us . . . Out of love for sinners like you and me, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross and pay the debt, which I could not pay, for my sin. On the cross, He suffered the wrath and punishment for sin that I was supposed to receive. In some mysterious and wonderful way, it was like He became a sponge on that cross. He became sin who knew no sin, and God poured out His wrath on Him.
As we hear Jesus cry out – “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” – He was experiencing the judgment day I am supposed to experience. As He says His last words on the cross – “It is finished” – He is announcing God’s plan to save us has been accomplished. The debt is paid in full.
Then God raised Him from the grave! Yes! He said “yes” to Jesus’ sacrifice. He opened the way to a restored relationship with Himself, which lasts for eternity all the way to heaven! That is the good news Paul is talking about today, which he is so eager to bring to those people in Rome.
John Stott, a wonderful Christian scholar and preacher, said one time, “Christianity is in its very essence, a rescue religion. The gospel is all about a rescue that has taken place through Jesus Christ.”
Tim Keller, a favorite author of mine these days, says, “Christianity’s basic message differs at root with the assumptions of traditional religion. The founders of every other major religion essentially came as teachers, not as saviors. They came to say: ‘Do this and you will find the divine.’ But Jesus came essentially as a savior rather than a teacher (though he was that as well). Jesus says, ‘I am the divine come to you, to do what you could not do for yourselves.’ The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ’s record.” We’ve been rescued by Jesus Christ – that is the gospel.
The gospel calls for a response. It’s not enough to simply know we have been rescued by Jesus Christ. It calls for a personal response from the individual, the response of believing in Jesus Christ and holding out an empty hand like a beggar to receive the gift God wants to give. To believe in Him is so much more than intellectual assent, like mouthing a creed of some sort. It’s trust. It is trust. It is betting your life on what Jesus has done for you and receiving the gift. It is entrusting your self to follow Him and trust Him all the way into eternity.
Have you received it in your life? I would be neglecting you today if I didn’t ask you this. Have you received the gift God wants to give you? Have you accepted the good news and put Jesus Christ at the center of your life? When you do, you will discover the gospel gives you assurance, forgiveness for your sins. You don’t have to carry around your past any longer. You don’t have to worry about what God thinks of you, for when He looks at you, He sees the righteousness of Jesus.
The gospel gives us assurance that even though I will die in this world someday, I know where I’m going. I’m going to be with Him in eternity in heaven because I am His child.
I also know He is going to walk with me throughout the rest of my days in this world. He is available to me in prayer. I can call out, Father. I can open His Word, and He is longing to speak to me. I have the assurance that I’m not alone! I’m His forever.
The gospel gives a new life with a new set of values to the person who receives Christ. It gives God’s values because Jesus shows me what God’s priorities really are and what God’s will is for my life as I live with Him in those Gospels.
God does not move us beyond the gospel ever. We don’t graduate from the gospel by saying yes to Jesus and then find some graduate-level work to do in my life. No, we stay with the gospel. It’s where life is for us. We never get beyond the gospel. Instead, Jesus moves us more deeply into the gospel because all the power we need in order to change and mature comes through the gospel.
We can’t change ourselves. Only the gospel can change us. The gospel ignites the Christian life, but it is also the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing every day. Real change in us cannot happen apart from the gospel.
I not only receive assurance and a new set of values, a new life, I also get a new purpose. I have a new motivation in my life. I’ve been loved by the God who created me through His Son Jesus Christ. I am rescued. I am saved. Therefore, I want to spend the rest of my days living for Him and serving Him, not because I need Him to love me but because He already has loved me through His Son, Jesus Christ.
There you have it! This message has blessed my ministry in my congregation, and it has blessed Christian Crusaders over the years and made us effective in our mission for Christ.
It’s so easy for the church to get caught up in the latest news stories, politics, or favorite social issues or get into doing how-to messages, which sound more like psychological jargon than anything else in order to attract people to the doors of the church. BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE BEEN CALLED TO DO. It is not what the Church of Jesus is to be about. We are in the business of calling people to a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. Eager to share the gospel. Point them to Jesus who is saying, “Follow me!” Tell people that Christ holds the key to life for now and into eternity.
We are about the gospel! What’s been done for us through Jesus Christ. It is good news! This world needs good news, and we’ve got it! As we consider the future of Christian Crusaders, there are some things about us that must never change – the emphasis on the gospel. The message matters! It’s life for the individual.
We work hard to be creative and get attention so people will hear the gospel, but the bottom line is, Has the gospel of what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ been proclaimed? I hope our listeners will always hold my feet to the fire on that one, because it is really all we have to offer this world. It is what differentiates us from every other organization. Christian Crusaders (or the church) – we’re different. We have the gospel.
Over the years, I have learned that God blesses the faithfulness of His Church to proclaim the gospel. He uses it, and people get rescued. He blessed Paul’s ministry, didn’t He? What an impact Paul had on the world of his day and even into this day now as we read his letters and are changed by his message! God blessed Martin Luther’s ministry. Thus, the Reformation.
We know from experience God has blessed our ministry along the way. Many lives have been touched and changed by the gospel. In my own congregation, we recently had a couple stand up and share their testimony. The wife said something remarkable afterward. “When we came to this church, it was the first time we really heard the gospel, and it changed us! We committed our lives to following Christ. It changed us so much that Christianity for us is not a ‘hope so,’ but a ‘know so.’ I know where I’m going when I die.” They also talked about a new mission to bring the gospel to others around them. It was a very, very inspiring story they shared with us that day.
The rescue message of what God in Christ has done for us is the only life-giving thing we really have to offer this world. So let us commit ourselves not to be ashamed, but to be faithful and bold for the gospel – not only insisting it be preached, but also shared one-on-one by all of us who know Jesus with those whom God has put into our lives to reach so they might be rescued as well.
May this good news about a good story of Jesus Christ and what He has done continue to be proclaimed. Amen!
Pastor Steve Kramer