Shortly before his martyrdom, the Apostle Peter wrote the following words: “for this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth” (II Pet.1:12). Although Peter was aware that his readers already knew the truths that he was passing on to them, he also understood that it is necessary from time to time to be reminded of those things that are basic to our lives as followers of Christ. When Peter speaks of “these things”, he refers to aspects of the Gospel. The Gospel is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ and a child of God. That is why it is something we need to regularly give thought to because it reminds us of who we are in Christ, and how we have been blessed through our union with Him. Therefore following the pattern of Peter we will use Easter as a time to remind ourselves about the precious truths that constitute the Gospel.
1. Literally it means "good news":
To the believers at Rome, Paul wrote “for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom.1:16-17). Paul states that the Gospel is precious because it has the power to save us, and that through it the very righteousness of God Himself is manifested in us more and more as our faith in the content of the Gospel deepens and expands.
2. Good news implies the existence of bad news:
All good news comes in the context of bad news. That bad news might relate to something that already exists, or that threatens to manifest itself. In terms of the Gospel it relates to the reality that we are in need of being saved, and why we need that salvation.
A. We are born under condemnation:
Paul reminded the believers at Rome that every person is born into this world alienated from their Creator; “therefore,
just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all
sinned”. When Adam and Eve sinned they died spiritually. Since they no longer possessed this life in themselves they
could not pass it on to their children either. In addition they became infected with a sinful nature that behaves like a
degenerative genetic disease that they passed down to all their descendants; the entire human population. Therefore the
first part of the bad news is that we are born into this world already sentenced to eternal judgment.
B. We willfully choose sin:
The next component of the bad news is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23). The idea
here is that each and every person, purposely and intentionally chooses to do what is evil in God’s sight and by doing so
we add to our guiltiness before God every single day. The reason why the measure is “the glory of God” is that to have
fellowship with God and dwell eternally in His presence we must be like Him in His glorious moral perfection. Any
amount of sin is too much, and therefore our choices to sin make us more and more unfit to be accepted into His
C. We are therefore objects of God’s wrath: (Rom.1:18; 2:5)
But what are the consequences of being alienated from our Creator and what results from our choice to sin? The
ultimate reality that forms the bad news is that the evil that characterizes us makes us objects of God’s wrath. Paul
informs us that God’s wrath is expressed in two ways. First, Paul says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom.1:18). Paul’s
point is that God’s anger at sin is expressed against sinners in the present by giving them over to the wicked desires of
their hearts which results in moral degeneration. Therefore an increase in wickedness and the consequences that this
brings to our lives in the here and now is itself a manifestation of judgment. Beyond this Paul adds that “in accordance
with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation
of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Rom.2:5-6). As we continue to
sin and refrain from repenting we add to our guiltiness before God. As our guilt increases so does God’s anger against
us. As our lives continue we amass ever greater degrees of God’s animosity toward us for our wickedness in anticipation
of the day when we will have to answer to Him for every single thing we have done.
But why does our sin enrage our Creator? Because evil and wickedness inflicts misery, pain, heartache, and loss. God
sees the damage and injury that we do to one another through our sins and is filled with moral outrage in response to it.
It is a manifestation of His loving nature. For anyone who truly loves is angered at witnessing the violation and injury of
those they love. Sin brings misery, and therefore God hates it, and those who engage in it.
3. Our efforts at personal reformation cannot save us:
The question is then, how do we solve the problem of our sin and the judgment that faces us? The answer that is given by all the religions of the world outside of the Bible is that we must become better people so that we can gain God’s acceptance and make up for the wrongs of the past. Paul explained that in truth this will never work because: “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” (Rom.3:19-20). God revealed in His Law what it means to be genuinely righteous in His sight. The problem however is that the Law was never intended as a means of salvation. Actually, the purpose of the Law was to expose and clarify how profoundly wicked we really are so that it leaves us with no excuse or answer before God that we can use to justify ourselves before Him. The more ethical absolutes that God reveals, the more guilty we become. The reason the Law does this is because our problem is not that we do not know the difference between good and bad; it is because we don’t have the capacity in ourselves to be genuinely good. In other words we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because by nature we are sinners. So moral instruction and efforts at moral improvement only serves to increase our guilt.
4. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ:
At this point we are meant to see the enormity of the challenge that faces us. If we are to escape damnation we must be ethically perfect. But we begin our lives under condemnation, increase our guilt daily before God through our sins, and we do not have the capacity to genuinely reform our lives in a way that is pleasing to God. So how can we be saved? This is where the good news comes into play. Paul wrote that the answer is “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph.2:8-9). What we can never achieve on our own, we can receive freely as a gift. God will save us not on the basis of what we deserve, but in spite of what we deserve. Rather than meriting salvation, we can only receive it as a gift by exercising our faith in the provision that God has made that will save us. In the end it is a salvation that is accomplished by God to His glory; not by us as an achievement about which we can congratulate ourselves.
5. Atonement: Christ takes our penalty & gives us His righteousness:
But if one is saved by faith, what is it that one must believe? Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor.5:21). This reveals that God the Father placed the sin of those who were to be redeemed upon Christ as our sacrificial substitute. The sinless one bore the sin and guilt of those who believe and paid the penalty of death which our sins required. At the same time God applied the perfect righteousness that Christ earned as a human being to the one who believes. Through this exchange the believer’s sin is forgiven (because the penalty for it has already been paid in full), and they stand perfectly righteous before God as their judge. The idea then is that to be saved, one must believe that the redemptive death of Christ and His defeat of death at the resurrection can and will save at the final judgment.
6. Salvation is only through the redemption found in Christ:
In the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). His point was that actual salvation from eternal judgment is not available in any other way, nor through any other religious tradition other than through faith in the redemption that He provides. The reason is that Christ is the only substitute that God has provided. Every other religious view is a variation on the theme of being morally excellent enough to earn God’s favor. As previous points have revealed, that is simply not possible. Since Christ is the only substitute that God has provided to both pay the penalty for our sins, and give us a righteous standing before God; every other option requires us to answer for our own sins (“the soul who sins shall die” – Ezek.18:20), and come before God with inadequate righteousness (“we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” – Isa.64:6a).
7. To believe in Christ results in eternal life:
The reality is that the New Testament reveals that the most significant issue that faces every person born into this world is how they will respond to the revelation of who Christ is, and the redemption He came to provide. In his Gospel, the Apostle John wrote about the consequences of the choice that lies before every person regarding Jesus Christ. According to John the first option is “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life” (Jn.3:36a). Once someone chooses to place faith in Jesus Christ, from that moment on they possess eternal life; their eternal fate is certain.
8. To reject Christ means that God’s wrath will abide on us:
However, for those who reject the offer of the Gospel, John explains that “he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn.3:36b). Therefore just as it is certain that receiving Christ results in life, it is equally certain that rejection of Christ results in never gaining real eternal life. Instead, the result is that the wrath of God will eternally dwell upon the soul that in the end chooses rebellion to God and chooses to spurn the gracious provision found in His Son.
9. This wrath will be expressed in eternal death:
But what will it mean to have God’s wrath dwell upon a soul forever? In the revelation of Christ; the risen glorified Lord appeared to John in a vision and explained to Him more fully the fate of those who come before the judgment of God to answer for their own sins: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev.21:6-8). The ultimate expression of God’s wrath is the second death. After physical death and the judgment, those who are outside of Christ are consigned to Hell. It is in essence receiving precisely what one has asked for. It is not the end of life in the sense of annihilation, it is a terrifyingly awful existence where everything that flows from God has been removed. All the goodness that flows from God will be missing, and all that will be left is what God is not; darkness, anguish, misery, loneliness, and meaninglessness.
10. Don’t repeat the past mistake of not believing in Divine judgment:
Throughout history human beings have denied that they will face judgment. One specific way this manifests itself is a denial that Christ Himself will return in judgment. Peter addresses such scoffers by noting they “will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (II Pet.3:3-7). Peter’s point is that God has demonstrated that God’s warnings are to be taken seriously because He has already destroyed humanity once before. Therefore just because He delays, does not mean that judgment is not coming. In regard to that coming we are told that it is out of compassion so that more may believe and be saved (II Pet.3:9). It is ironic that God’s gracious patience becomes for some the justification for mocking the warning of judgment. Each individual faces their own end. If the Lord does not come in our lifetime, then we face judgment when we die physically. Peter wrote to warn us that if we bet on the premise that God will not judge us, we will lose.
For those who have never embraced the Gospel, the meditation upon it should drive one to seek the salvation that is so graciously offered in Christ in order to escape the certainty of condemnation that faces those without Christ.
For the believer, reflection on the Gospel should frame our perspective. It informs us what life is really about, and that we are profoundly loved by our Creator. So much in fact, that He sacrificed His own beloved son so that He might secure our rescue from our own wickedness. It is the recognition of that love that enables us to go forward in the transformation process of sanctification. This is because we grow to love God in response to the love He has given us (I John 4:19); and we grow to love those He loves and what He loves until our hearts reflect the heart of our Heavenly Father (I John 4:12, 17).