The Gospel

September 11, 2016
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

The gospel is important. The gospel is an announcement. The gospel has four ingredients:

  1. Creation – We were created to be in right relationship with others, earth and God.
  2. Fall – We sinned, so our relationship to others, earth, God is broken.
  3. Redemption – God sent his Son as the cure for this brokenness.
  4. Response – God calls us to believe.

The Gospel Is Important

The gospel is the most important part of the Christian faith, bar none. It is the punchline of the whole Bible – all those Bible Stories that our kids are learning. The gospel is the thing that determines whether a person – or a denomination – is actually Christian or not Christian. It’s the dividing line! All regular Christian denominations – from the Presbyterians to the Baptists to the Lutherans to the Catholics to the Eastern Orthodox Church to the Pentecostals – agree on this! All of them! There may be varying levels of clarity on the details, but we all agree that the gospel is the most important thing.

Notice the kinds of things that the New Testament says about the gospel. Mark, the writer of the second book of the New Testament, starts his book with these words:

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. – Mark 1:1

Later on in Mark, Jesus is teaching about the end times, when things are going to get really rough and he’s going to return, but he says this about his return.

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. – Mark 13:10

Before he comes back, the gospel has to be preached to all people groups!

Paul writes to the Romans, and he opens his letter in this way:

That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. – Romans 1:15-16

Later on in the New Testament, Paul writes to the Corinthians. They were very confused about the doctrine of the resurrection, so Paul gave them this corrective:

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. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

When Paul was writing to the Galatians, he makes this statement about the gospel. Listen to this. It’s one of the most sobering verses you will read in all of Scripture:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all…But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! – Galatians 1:6-9

These passages show you that the gospel is important! It’s so important that the word gospel is the title given to the story of Jesus. If you had to put Jesus’ story – and really even the story of the whole Bible in one word – that word would be gospel.

It is so important that it is the one message that we are supposed to preach to every nation all around the world. We are dead serious about this task here at Perry Creek. So serious that we are setting aside 25% of everything that has been given to us to specifically fund the spread of the gospel. The gospel is so important that we are commanded not to be ashamed of it. It’s the thing that Paul says is of very first importance.

There were all kinds of things that Paul said Christians could have different views on:

  • How they regard the Sabbath…
  • Whether they drink alcohol…
  • Whether they should eat meat offered to idols…

These things seemed huge to many first century Christians. But Paul says they weren’t of first importance. There are things that Christians differ on today – like baptism, or communion, or church government, or the way we regard miracles – but again, those aren’t of first importance.

Of first importance is the gospel. It’s important. It’s the power of God for Salvation. It’s so important that Paul says twice “if anyone departs from the gospel, let him be eternally accursed.” Those words are shocking to our ears, aren’t they? But the truth is, Paul didn’t even have to say those words, because the Bible says again and again that the gospel is God’s only way of Salvation. Those who had stepped away from it were already condemned whether Paul spoke those words or not!

The gospel is important! It’s kind of scary…isn’t it?

The Gospel Is An Announcement

It is a declaration.

The Greek word for gospel is  which just means “good news.” So in the New Testament Times, an  was a piece of good news. When someone ran back from a battle and announced victory, it was called an  – a gospel! When a new Emperor was announced – or when a King had a child – they proclaimed the  – the gospel. It was glad tidings – it was a piece of good news – it was the proclamation of beneficial information! It was an announcement.

Here’s why that’s really important: When we think about it, what that means is that the gospel is not simply a lifestyle – it’s not really just the way we live. This is an important distinction. There can be a lot of confusion here.

A lot of Christians who would say “I share the gospel through the way I live my life.” Maybe some would call it friendship evangelism. The idea is “I love people – that’s how I share the gospel!” A lot of people would say that.

Maybe you’ve heard the famous quote that is attributed to St. Francis of Asisi: “Preach the gospel at all times – use words if necessary.” I love the intent behind that quote, because what he’s saying is “make your lifestyle line up with the gospel. Show people what you really believe.”

I love the intent. But I would want us to know that technically you always have to use words when you preach the gospel.

The gospel is news. It’s an announcement about a historical event that took place. That means you always have to use words when you preach the gospel. Always.

It’s an announcement. It’s not our lifestyle. Our lifestyle is the result of the gospel. The gospel is not something we do. It’s something that’s been done for us that we tell people about.

That’s why in most of the above verses there’s one verb that accompanies the noun “gospel.” There’s one thing you do with the gospel, and what you do with it is “preach or proclaim it”.

The Greek word means to “speak aloud” – the gospel is a message.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t live godly, compassionate, compelling lives. Every Christian is called to do that. Every one! Peter says live such good lives among unbelievers that they will see you and glorify God.”

These days this is more important than ever. We live in a post-Christian society – not non-Christian – post-Christian. Our society has been exposed to Christianity. They have heard our claims. They have seen our lives and, in some instances, our hypocrisy. So it’s more important than ever that we live godly, winsome lives.

But our lifestyle is not the gospel. The gospel is a message. It’s a story about Jesus. It’s a truth claim about something that happened – and it has to be told.

Let me give you an illustration: Let’s say that you went to Africa. While you were in Africa, you found a village of people that were really sick. As you look at them, you realize that they were sick with scurvy. You all know what scurvy is. It’s that disease that pirates and old-time sailors used to get. It affects your collagen production. So, first it makes you lethargic, and then your teeth begin to get loose and fall out…and then eventually you can actually bleed to death.  Now a lot of you probably know that there’s a simple cure for scurvy. What is it? Don’t be a Pirate…just kidding. What is the cure for scurvy? Vitamin C.

Well let’s say that as you were trying to figure out how to help these people – you went for a walk. About a half mile from the village in the bush, you found a great big lime tree with fruit all over it (full of vitamin C).

The fruit is uneaten, because – at least in the part of Africa we were in – Africans don’t think limes are edible. We had a farmer friend with a giant lime tree in his yard. There were dozens and dozens of limes on the ground under the tree, because he didn’t think they were good for anything! They have never had key-lime pie!

Well, let’s say you really wanted to help these people. There are a lot of things you could do:

  • You could be really nice to them to assure them of your good intentions.
  • You could show them your healthy, scurvy-free lifestyle: run some laps, do some push-ups or bite into a piece of beef jerky without losing your teeth!

Maybe some of them would even begin to mimic you.

But here’s the thing: If you really want to help those people, you have to tell them about the tree. That’s what they really, really need, isn’t it? What they really need is not to know that you are a nice person or that healthy people do pushups. What they really need is the good news that there is a cure: The message that there’s a remedy for what’s making them sick – and that it’s absolutely free – and that there’s more than enough for everybody. What they really need is an announcement.

That’s how it is with the gospel. It’s an announcement. An announcement that there is a cure for what is making us sick. And that although it cost God that which is most dear to him – the life of his only son – it is absolutely free to us and there’s more than enough for everybody.

That’s the real cure – and so we have to speak the words. Just like with that lime tree, people might think we’re a little crazy at first. That it’s too good to be true – or that we don’t know what we’re talking about – or maybe that they’re not really sick. But we have to speak.

I’m not calling you to share the gospel with everybody you meet in the first five minutes. I’m not saying we have to go door to door next week. We may need to let them see our good intentions first. Or they may need to see our healthy lifestyle to add credibility to our message. But ultimately – for the gospel to be shared – someone has to speak the words. Because for them to put their hope in a lifestyle change – or in the way they feel about us – isn’t a real cure.
The gospel is the real cure – and it requires words. The gospel is an announcement.

The Gospel Has Four Ingredients

It’s hard to define the gospel, isn’t it? If we break it down to its simplest terms, there are four basic concepts or ingredients. You could even call them four steps to the gospel story, because they go in historical order. They are this:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Redemption
  4. Response

Technically, the “Good News” part of these four ingredients is step 3. Redemption. But you really have to have all four of these before you’re able to understand and believe the gospel. So let’s just go over them one at a time.

1. Creation

Creation means that we are the meaningful product of a holy – and powerful – and purposeful Creator. We are a meaningful creation. We are not some meaningless product of molecules that accidentally combined over time. We were made to be a particular way. There is a purpose to our existence – and to your existence.

We were made by a relational Creator – and he has made us in his image. God is relational. God has existed through all eternity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And he made us to live in right relationship:

To each other: where we aren’t deceiving – or mistreating- or exploiting – one another in any way. Where we live in commitment to our spouse – with fidelity to our friends – and with compassion on those who have less than we do. Being created in God’s image means we were made to live in right relationship with each other.

To this earth:

  • Part of being made in God’s image means that we were given authority over the earth.
  • Just as God has dominion, we were given dominion over the earth.
  • Not just to consume it – but to rule over it well – to be good stewards of it.
  • God put man in the garden to work it and to guard it – and we are supposed to live in right relationship to this earth.

To God: He made mankind to worship – to serve something greater than ourselves. And everybody does – everybody lives for something. Even if you don’t believe in God, you live for something. The vast majority of the world – well over 90% – worships a God of some kind.

We are not random – there is a specific purpose for which we were created. We were meant to live in right relationship with others – with creation – and with our Creator. We were created for a specific purpose – in God’s image – to be in right relationship with others, with creation, and with our Creator – so we have incredible potential.

2. The Fall

But something has gone wrong – and we are very, very sick. Just like the people in that African village in my illustration, we have wonderful potential. Because we are made in God’s image, we as humans can be brilliant at times- so self-sacrificing – so amazing. We have great potential.

But just like the people in the illustration, we have a disease:

  • We are fallen.
  • Each of us is infected with sin.
  • We have lost the ability to be all that God made us to be.

The Bible tells the story of Adam and Eve and how, once they disobeyed God, everything changed:

  • Their relationship to each other was damaged: They began to blame and mistreat each other.
  • Their relationship to creation changed: Creation became futile – it became rebellious – unable to achieve the ends for which it was made. The ground yielded thorns and thistles. And by the way if you want to see proof of the fall, just look at my lawn – 450 varieties of weeds – about 15 blades of grass. Pure rebellion! But their relationship to creation was changed.
  • Their relationship to God was broken: This is tragic. Their Creator, who had been a source of great joy and comfort and intimacy to them, now became a threat. They knew they had rebelled against everything he made them to be, so they stood under his deserved judgment.

This has carried through to every one of us here today.

Romans 3:23 puts it this way “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”

Not only has each of us done things that are wrong – mistreated others – exploited nature – disobeyed God – things that we could never undo…

But we also lack the glory that God made us to have. Every part of who we are is infected by this sickness of sin. It’s not that we are sinners because we sin, it’s that we sin because we are sinners.

All you have to do to see this is look around you: Look at the shape of our world. Look at the way we treat each other. There is no cure within us for this sickness. It carries on from generation to generation. It doesn’t matter how we raise our kids: whether we are strict with them, or lenient – whether we pound humility into them or build their self-esteem – the brokenness continues from one generation to the next. In the end, there is no education – no counseling – no drug – no form of government – that can fix our problem.

If you want to see our fallenness, just look at our attempts to govern ourselves:

  • If we have a king or a dictator, he exploits the people
  • If we have anarchy, everyone gets hurt
  • If we have socialism, corruption comes in at the top
  • We thought democracy would solve everyone’s problems: Well, it’s an election year – How’s that working out for you?

People say “power corrupts” – but it doesn’t. It just enables us to show in bigger and bigger ways the corruption that was already there.

We are fallen. We are sinful. We are disobedient.

Isaiah says “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way.”
And he says “All our righteousness – all our justifications and excuses – are as filthy rags.”
It’s not that there’s no good in us – but the sickness has spread to every part of our being. We aren’t sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

God has told us that the wages for that kind of sin is death – eternal separation from him – in a place of darkness and torment.

3. Redemption

The Good News is that there is a cure for our sickness. There is a way that we can be rescued not only from the penalty for our sinfulness – but eventually from the sickness itself – from the presence of sin. God has made a way to restore everything that we lost – and really give us more – because we will know his love in a way that we never could have known it before. Like the tree in that African village illustration, it cures us of our sickness. There’s more than enough – and it’s absolutely free to us.

It cost God the one thing that was most dear to him:

  • He sent his one and only Son Jesus to become one of us.
  • He put aside his rights as God and lived as one of us.
  • He lived a life of and perfect love for his fellow man – and of wise dominion over creation – and of perfect obedience to the Father.
  • He lived the life we should have lived.
  • He died the death that we should have died. In our place.
  • He willingly received the wrath of God and paid the penalty for our sin.

Because he was truly human, he could take my place. Because he was truly God, he could take everybody’s place. His death had infinite value.

So that when Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied. The penalty for our brokenness was paid. When he rose, he became the first fruits – the first part of a new Created Order:

  • An order where we will once again love our neighbor as ourself.
  • And where we will rule over creation wisely.
  • And live in joyful obedience and worship to God.

All of this is provided for us through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

So there’s Creation, Fall, and Redemption, but there’s one more ingredient that is really necessary for the gospel story and that is:

4. Response

We know what we were created to be. We know about the fall and our sickness. We know there is redemption – there is a cure. Now, the question really becomes “how do we take that cure?” What do we do to receive benefits of what Jesus has done?
The answer to that question – again and again in Scripture – over 150 times in the New Testament – is believe. Just believe. All we do to receive the cure is believe that the story of Jesus’ redemption with its backdrop of creation and fall is true. Just believe.

The gospel isn’t a lifestyle to be imitated. It’s not a path to be followed. It’s not a ceremony to be performed. It’s a story. It’s news. It’s an announcement to be believed. That’s how we respond to the gospel – just believe.

“Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24

That’s really what God asks of us – to believe. Now, is that belief going to bring about changes in my lifestyle? Absolutely! Is it going to lead me to repent – to turn away from – my sin? Of course!

The more clearly I see and believe the truth about what God created me to be, and how I’ve fallen short – and the more I understand what Christ did for me – the more I’m going to repent. It just works that way!

But a changed lifestyle is not the cure. It’s the result of the cure. Just like in the illustration: The cure is the tree – not the push-ups – not our good intentions.

All we have to do is believe in our hearts, that ingredients 1), 2) and 3) are really true, and we receive all that Christ has done for us. And it’s not “believe plus do this.” It’s NOT:

  • Believe plus go to church…
  • Believe plus give money…
  • Believe plus do this ceremony…

We do those things out of gratitude, but not to gain our salvation. What God really wants from us is our faith.

That’s the gospel: 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Redemption, 4. Response. It’s important. It’s an announcement. It’s not something we do for God. It’s something that he has done for us. This is the message that each one of us needs to receive for ourselves and share with this community. It’s God’s only way of salvation.

And there are people around us who need to know it.