Pandemic, crazy weather, racial injustice, and political turmoil—wherever we turn, bad news fills our world. There is one place the news is good—in the good news about Jesus. Many call this the gospel.
There are two reasons why it’s essential to explore the gospel now. First, for those of us familiar with the gospel, we do well to remember what great news that is, no matter what else is going on. And for those who aren’t familiar with it, this news has implications for you far beyond the hysterical headlines that currently fill your news feeds. The gospel is good news, the best news ever.
Why the gospel is GOOD NEWS
Good news. That is the dictionary definition of the term gospel. The question to answer next is, of course, “What is the good news?” or “Good news about what?”
The best answer to that question is in the Bible, where John 3:16 tells us that: “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
The good news is that God didn’t sit up in heaven, watching humanity make a mess of their lives and their world. He did something about it with extraordinarily important implications for people both now and eternity. To explore the good news in more detail, let’s look at our situation and what God did for us.
Without God, making a mess of our lives is pretty much what we do.
It doesn’t take unique insight to know our world is a mess right now. But now, let’s look away from the world.
Let’s look at ourselves.
We might look OK on the outside, but inside, in our quiet moments, we are aware of a big empty place. When we’re alone, we suspect we’re missing out on a wonderful destiny, or at least something better than now, that we were created for.
This world and all the chaos in it will someday cease, but we won’t.
Inside, in our heart of hearts, we know we were created to live forever. Also, I think we know there is a place where all dreams can come true, where we will find forever, perfect love, but somehow we also know we can’t ever get there on our own. So we try to build a heaven on this earth with money and stuff and toys—but the toys grow old, and the dreams sometimes turn to nightmares. We try to make ourselves look perfect thinking that will create a perfect relationship, but satisfying romantic relationships, let alone perfect ones, seems hard to find.
We also know at the end of this life, if we face death without God, eternity is frightening.
What do we do then?
We might try to reach up to God, but just being a good person and trying to do all the right things never feels like enough. Simply doing good sometimes and feeling good when we avoid big sins always feels like it falls short—because it does.
The problem is that we can’t ever do enough good because the problem isn’t with what we do. The problem is inside us—it’s our inner core that wants our way and not God’s. That is the core definition of sin, wanting our way instead of God’s way. From that wanting our way, we turn away from all that is intrinsically good in God. Every sin, from a selfish lie to save our reputation, to theft or murder to get what we want—it all results from going away from God.
No matter how hard we try to do better, the problem is we were born with this desire to go our way, and as we grow, we get constant messages of “do your own thing,” “be the master of your destiny,” and similar platitudes. They sound great, but following them has gotten us individuals and our world as a whole into all kinds of messes.
We often limit the idea of sin to things like lies, murder, cheating on your partner, and though those actions do qualify as sins, they come from the same heart in all of us that thinks we know better than our Creator what is best for us and we go for that.
Again, that going our way (blatant moral failure or not) is what defines sin, and we can’t make sin inside go away on our own. Most of us can barely avoid chocolate for 24 hours or exercise regularly, or any other resolution we make, let alone stop sinning.
It gets even worse because God takes sin, this attitude of preferring our way over God’s way and living without Him very personally. God does not force his presence or His will on people. If we want to go our way, God allows us to do that. What many people don’t realize or want to think about is that this going our way not only separates people from God in this life but if left unchecked, it will for all eternity.
The hard part
There is one part of the gospel story that is very hard to understand, and I can’t pretend to explain why, but God tells us that sin, that this deciding to go our way isn’t something He will ignore forever. When we’ve lived for ourselves, only doing what we want, paying no attention to him, when we die, and face Him, He can’t say, “Oh, it’s all right. . . I know you had a hard time on earth, or a dysfunctional family, or whatever other excuses we might use, let’s just forget it all the years you ignored me, and how I wanted you to live—welcome to heaven anyway.”
When you think about it, it only makes sense. If you have actively ignored someone who said they loved you, did things you knew they didn’t want you to do, turned your back on them, perhaps even mocked them, would you expect them to welcome you into their home if you had nowhere else to go?
Of course not.
It’s equally self-deceiving for people to think they can live however they want, with no recognition of God as God and expect when they die to be welcomed into heaven, which is His home.
Sometimes I wish God wasn’t like that, but He is. Our turning away from God, even if it didn’t include substantial moral failures, has consequences. When people say all during their earthly life, “My will be done.” God says, OK. “For all eternity, you don’t have to have anything to do with me.
The consequences are pretty grim: on earth, a life never genuinely fulfilling, though it may be filled with lots of stuff.
And then you die.
That isn’t a joke or a punch line, but a reality facing us all. The pandemic has brought it much closer to our consciousness than is comfortable. But comfortable or not, death is a certainty we all face, perhaps sooner if we catch the virus, unexpectedly in an accident or heart attack, or quietly years from now as we quietly close our eyes surrounded by loving families. But sooner or later, it will come. The Bible describes life after death without God as a place of never-ending regret and suffering. It’s not a party with the other guys who raised hell together in life. In the real hell, you are utterly alone with regrets that can never be resolved.
That’s what makes the gospel GOOD NEWS
Here is where the good news starts. In this situation, where we can’t do anything to save ourselves, where the future looks bleak without God, the good news in the Bible says that God loves us and didn’t abandon humanity when we turned our backs on Him.
Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and went their way from God, God first stated their punishment, and then immediately said that He would one day provide a Savior to bear that punishment.
It sometimes seems (from a human perspective) that God takes an awfully long time to work things out, and the good news of the gospel is one of those things. The story of that outworking is the story of the Christian Bible—the Old Testament looking forward to the day that Jesus would come, and the New Testament is about telling the story of his life, death, resurrection, and the start of the Christian church.
Because of the death of Jesus on the cross, where the Bible tells us that all the sin of humanity past, present, and future was poured out on Jesus and God the Father accepted that sacrifice, if we accept what Jesus did for us, for our sin, we can be forgiven. I don’t understand why Jesus’death is what it took for our salvation and why it is a free gift to us, but that’s what the Bible tells us.
C.S.Lewis talked about how this reality of the gospel and that it does not make human sense was one of the reasons he believed it was from God. The power of Jesus’death and resurrection doesn’t make human, rational sense to me either, though I can’t express my confusion, as well as Lewis, does, but I believe it is the heart of the good news of the gospel.
This good news is a gift
It’s rather amazing to consider all God did in history to prepare the world for his Son, all Jesus did in his life on earth, and all he suffered in death on the cross for us. The Bible says that Jesus, who personally never sinned, was willing to take on the horror of all the sins of humanity, past, present, and future and to endure them for us. Think for a moment about a horrible sin, something that makes you sick to even consider. Imagine what it would be like if you were forced to bear the guilt and penalty of that sin multiplied a million times over throughout the history of humanity.
How unfair! You’d respond, and that’s true. No one deserves to pay for the sins of someone else. But that is what Jesus did. He took our place on the cross and bore the plenty for our sin. It wasn’t fair, but He did it because He loves us.
The next move is up to us
After the pain and hurt our sins caused Jesus; it’s even more amazing that God doesn’t force anything on us. He’s given humanity free will, freedom to choose or reject this good news.
It is our choice. There several options for your response.
One, you can choose to reject it all. If so, that is your choice, but I would urge you to keep an open mind, to keep checking out the Christian faith. Keep exploring the Christian faith. God is never insulted by an honest seeker, so keep seeking. Talk to a pastor or Christian friend you can trust; they will love sharing with you. Go to the Faith Resources Page for the additional, helpful material.
Two, you feel you need more information. That is a great place to be in. To become a Christian is a solemn commitment. You need to understand what it means and what your obligations and responsibilities will be. Again, please go to the Faith Resources Page for links that will help you in your exploration and to a Christian who is willing to share their faith.
Third, if you feel that you understand this message and that you would like Jesus to become the Forgiver and Leader of your life, you can ask Him to do that. I’ll explain how to do that in more detail in a minute, but before you do that, you need to carefully consider what you are doing. Becoming a Christian is not merely a fire-insurance policy to escape the possibility of hell and then where you go on living your life any way you want. When you ask Jesus to forgive your sins, you are doing business with the Creator of the universe. It is not a step to be taken lightly. The Bible says that He gave His life for you, and if you want His salvation, you must give your life back to Him.
That means you are no longer in charge.
That is what it means to truly repent of your sins (remember sin is going your own way). God is now in control of your life, not you. You need to talk to your Savior daily in prayer. You need to read the Bible every day to find out how He wants you to live (the book of John is a great place to start). You need to find a good church where you can become involved with other members of the family of God and where you can grow in your faith. You will want to get baptized in a church as a sign that you are now a follower of Jesus. You will make mistakes, you’ll stumble and fall, but when that happens, you can ask forgiveness, get up and go on.
If you become a follower of Jesus, your life will not suddenly become easy, wealthy, and trouble-free. The TV preachers or religious authors who promise this are not telling the truth. The Bible (which is the only source of truth) tells us that Jesus promised, “In this world, you will have troubles,” but he also said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!” Life is seldom easy as a Christian, but as a Christian, you are now assured that your troubles have a purpose and that someday they will be over, and you are assured of heaven where there will be “no more pain, tears, or death.”
If you are ready to commit your life to Jesus, either out-loud or in your heart, you can pray something like this:
I confess that I am a sinner and that I have chosen to live my life apart from you. I believe that Jesus was God and that He came to earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to pay the penalty for my sin. I am now committing my life to you and asking you to be my Forgiver and Leader. Help me to learn to pray, to read your Bible, to find a good church, and to follow through on my commitment to you by publicly acknowledging my decision in baptism. Thank you for loving me and coming into my life. Amen.
If you have made that decision, Welcome to the family of God!
The Bible tells us that when someone becomes a Christian, they have passed from death to life and that the angels in heaven are rejoicing. Just think—right now angels are singing because of you!
To help you get started in your Christian life, please tell a Christian friend, start reading your Bible, and attending a church that will help you grow in your Christian life. As you do these things, and you learn to be more like Jesus, your life will become a “gospel”—a living message of eternal good news for everyone around you.