In the first topic in this lesson, we said that there are four deeply interconnected aspects to the one message of the gospel, the Good News, God’s story. Grasping each one is crucial to a full and correct understanding of the Good News.
The first aspect is the fact that God created us, that He cares for us, and that we are indeed accountable to Him for our lives and how we live. The second aspect is the fact that although we were created in His image and for relationship with Him, we have rebelled against Him. We’ve turned our backs on Him and stand guilty before Him. We are, therefore, alienated from Him and His life, helpless in our sin and exposed to His just judgment. The first two aspects lead us straightway to the third aspect of the gospel. The third aspect or reality connected with a biblical understanding of the gospel concerns a word about Jesus. The gospel centers on Jesus, telling us who He was and is, and what He accomplished before God on our behalf, that is, in connection with our guilt, alienation, and helpless plight.
Jesus & His Cross – The Heart of God’s Story
Jesus is the God-man in scripture. He’s God incarnate in human flesh. He came to die on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins. You remember that the penalty for sin is death, as God has made painfully clear to us (Genesis 2:16-17). So, Jesus came to take on the just judgment against sin and sinners, by giving HIs life for us, thus opening the way for reconciliation and life with God.
I think one of the best explanations of Jesus’ death comes from one of Jesus’ own followers, the apostle Peter. Peter wrote two letters to his Christian friends. In the first letter, chapter 3 and verse 18, he says that “Christ also suffered for sins.” He suffered for what? For sins! Not His; He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). He suffered for our sins! As Peter says, Jesus suffered as “the just for the unjust.” That is, He suffered for us, in our place, in order to pay the penalty of our sins. Through His death Jesus has cancelled the just sentence of death set against us and has therefore dealt fully with our guilt before God.
Having dealt with our guilt, Peter affirms that the cross has also reversed our alienation by “bringing us to God” (1 Peter 3;18). Jesus is the only way back to the Father for it is through Him alone that the way back to the Father has been opened to all those who trust Him alone (cf. John 14:6).
In the gospel of John, John 3:16 to be specific, a verse that’s well-known to many people, John says, “This is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” The term “whoever” refers to “anyone” – no matter where we are, where we’ve been or what we’ve done. Any person qualifies as the “whoever” if they will only turn from their autonomy and trust Christ Himself, knowing that through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, He has paid the penalty for their sin and will bring them to God. As 1 Peter 3:18 affirms, Christ’s death is sufficient to bring anyone to God when they trust in Him.
So the real question is, Who or what are we trusting in?” What are you trusting in? Do you trust in the fact that you go to church every Sunday, if you do? Do you trust in the fact that you’re not a bad person? Do you trust in the fact that you’ll try harder in the future? All those realities focused on the things we trust swirl around in our hearts – in different ways and various configurations – but whenever we reason in this manner, we are simultaneously telling God that Christ’s death was not necessary, at least not for me. We are at once making the case before God that Christ’s death was a mistake, that God has overreacted to our sin problem. His estimate of us is wrong, too pessimistic, or unloving. In the end, we believe we are both better and better off than He has portrayed us.
But, the bible and the biblical writers think differently. They think the answer doesn’t come from within us (as so many people believe today). though we need to experience its liberation within. The answer comes from outside us, that is, God gave the answer to us when He (1) publicly put forth Christ and His cross as the only means by which we can be forgiven and the estrangement with God ended, and (2) made us personally and existentially aware of our rebellion, lostness, and helplessness and our dire need to repent and trust Christ and Him alone.
So the question is, “Who or what are we trusting in today? We’re not going to be liberated by our good works because the bible teaches us that while it’s certainly better to do good than evil, none of our good works will acquit us. That is, none of our best intentions – no matter how well-conceived and executed – will deal with our guilt before God. Only by trusting in Christ and His cross will our guilt before God be once and for all dealt with.
So ask yourself today, “ Do you know that you’re created in God’s image? Do you know that He cares for you? Do you also know that you’re accountable to Him? Do you realize that, like each of us, you’ve rebelled against Him? We are all guilty, alienated from Him, and helpless to reverse our status on our own. But, if we will only look to Christ today, we know that on the basis of His shed blood on the cross, He will extend eternal forgiveness to us. All our sins – not just some of them – will be pardoned by God Himself.
So great in the mind of God is the sacrifice of His Son, that He will graciously pardon us, deal with that guilt, deal with the alienation from God, and bring us back into a relationship with God.
This is the third aspect of the gospel. The gospel solves the issue of our guilt before, and alienation from, God, and our bondage (helplessness) to sin. By His death, resurrection, and exaltation to reign, Jesus is most assuredly Lord of all, so ask Him today, “Lord, what do I need to learn from you today in order that I might turn my life over to you? What does it mean, Lord, to trust you fully and to trust you alone for pardon and renewal? As John said, “whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”