The gospel is the solution to God’s biggest problem. Yes, God has a problem!
In the beginning, God created the universe, including the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them. He created two genetically perfect people, Adam and Eve, in His own image. He breathed His Spirit into them, making them different from all the animals. He blessed them and gave them dominion over the earth and over every living thing. He made a garden for them to live in and walked with them there and taught them. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good! Even Satan was good. He had been created as a beautiful angel, but he became proud and decided that he should be worshiped like God.
Filled with envy, Satan deceived Eve by getting her to question the truth of God’s Word, contradicting God’s Word, and replacing God’s truth with his lies. Moses wrote the following:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1–5, emphasis added)
Enticed by the false promises of the devil, Eve sinned by disobeying God, and Adam followed suit. Just as God had warned, they suffered spiritual death and their bodies became mortal. Since God had given them dominion, His perfect creation was also corrupted. Sin brought death to the human race and a curse upon all creation. Since then, every human being has been born as a member of a fallen race that inhabits a fallen world, full of death, sickness, corruption, and evil—all because of sin.
All people have sinned and continue to fall short of the glory of God. The proof that all have sinned is that all die a physical death (Romans 5:12–14). Even while physically alive, we are spiritually dead because of our sins. Therefore, we cannot make ourselves right with God.
God has a problem! He loves us and wants to be in fellowship with us. That is why He created Adam and Eve in the first place, but His love cannot override His other attributes. God is at all times perfectly loving, completely holy, absolutely just, and blessedly merciful. God is holy, so He cannot tolerate sin. God is just, so sin must be punished. God loves us and wants to be merciful. He does not want anyone to go to hell, but desires that all come to repentance and live eternally in heaven with Him.
Ignoring our sins would violate His holiness. If He were to give us a free pass, then it would compromise His justice. What is God to do?
Thank God for Jesus! God loves us so much that He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place, taking the punishment for our sins and satisfying God’s justice. With payment made, God is free to pour out His mercy, forgiving our sins and blotting out the record of the debt we owed. Solely on the basis of faith in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, God cleanses us of all unrighteousness and allows us into His holy presence.
When we meet Jesus Christ at the cross in faith and repentance, He takes our sins upon Himself and covers us with His righteousness. This is the essence of the gospel, and it is the only possible solution to God’s problem—and ours.
The first words of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded in the gospel of Mark are as follows:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. …
Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men. (Mark 1:15, 17)
From the beginning of the church age on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this has been the pattern: hear the gospel, believe the gospel, experience Holy Spirit conviction and repentance, call on the Lord, be forgiven and transformed, go out and preach the gospel.
The word gospel is used so loosely today that it can mean almost anything. There are few professing believers who can even define it. And yet it is the gospel that “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
It is the gospel that Jesus commanded humankind to believe. It is faith in the gospel that brings us to our knees as we recognize our sinfulness and that then raises us up in newness of life, cleansed and forgiven. Working through our gospel faith, the Holy Spirit regenerates us, seals us, and guarantees that what God has begun in us, God will finish (Ephesians 1:13–14).
God exercises His power through the gospel to save and transform ordinary human beings who are dead in trespasses and sins into new creatures who are spiritually alive and righteous in Christ. All other miracles pale in comparison!
Salvation has always been by God’s grace through faith. There has never been another way. Four thousand years ago, Abram (renamed Abraham in Genesis 17:5), the father of the Jewish people, “believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Abram did not merely believe in the Lord. Only the fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). James wrote the following:
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)
Abram did not merely believe in God. He believed what God said. Abram heard the audible voice of God. We can hear the voice of God just as surely through God’s written word. The Bible separates false gods from the one true living God. We can learn general things about God by observing His creation, but it is through words that He reveals the specifics, just as He did with Abram. Most people will tell you they believe in something: a higher power, God, fate, luck, or some mysterious force. However, if you ask them whether they believe the Word of God, you will find that few do.
Abram believed God’s words, and God, looking forward to the cross, counted Abram’s faith to him as righteousness. Now, looking back to the cross, God counts our faith to us as righteousness. Without the events surrounding the cross—the gospel—no one in any age could be saved. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the central event around which God designed and built the universe.
What the unconverted—including the ones inside our church buildings—cannot understand is that faith in the gospel is not simply the affirmation of an idea. Agreeing with an idea intellectually has no permanent value and effects no lasting change. Such an idea only endures until we change our minds or die. Despite what we have all heard, one does not “make a decision for Christ,” like deciding what to have for lunch. Rather, one hears the Word of God, one believes God, and God makes one into a Christian. He causes us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3). It is a supernatural, permanent change that cannot be undone.
In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4), Jesus explained the difference between intellectual affirmation and saving faith. There are four different hearers of the gospel in the parable.
Only the fourth who heard and believed the gospel was brought to life and bore fruit. Of the others, the first did not even understand it.
Using the language of the church, the second hearer “made a decision for Christ” and gave it a try. He or she may have “gone to church” a few times and may have acquired a taste for the trappings of religion, but at the first sign of persecution, he or she fell away. This person was never changed.
The third thought the gospel sounded interesting but valued material things more highly than reconciliation with God.
There are many people attending church services who fall into one or more of these categories. They populate our church buildings but are not in the real church, the spiritual church, the body of Christ. They never took the gospel to heart or surrendered to it, or maybe the word they heard was not the real gospel. Whatever the reason, they did not understand the gospel and become fruitful. The gospel did not penetrate their hearts and Jesus did not make them fishers of men. They were never changed. They were never reborn. They never received the Holy Spirit, and they do not belong to Christ.
The gospel is so crucial to salvation and so specific that anyone, even an angel, who preaches a different gospel is to be accursed (Galatians 1:8, 9).
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3, the gospel is “of first importance.” That is first as in primary. Therefore, preaching the gospel is the mission of the church in the world. And because of this, preparing the saved to preach the gospel to the lost is the mission inside the church.
Sadly, most churches have made everything but preaching the gospel and equipping people to do so their mission. They give out money and food and clothing. They have marriage seminars and financial seminars. They provide day care and youth programs, build gymnasiums, and have coffee shops. You can go to their campuses and attend classes for just about anything except how to preach the gospel and endure the persecution that will accompany it. Could it be that many people in such fellowships have never been converted themselves? They do good things, but are they fishers of men? Are they bringing the lost to Christ? Or are they simply providing professing believers with opportunities to feel good?
To be supernaturally changed, one must hear and understand the gospel and then surrender to God in faith and repentance. Only then can one become a fisher of men, proclaiming the gospel to others.
So what is the gospel? What is it specifically that we must believe and take to heart in order to be saved and then preach so that others may be saved? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive. (1 Corinthians 15:1–6)
Christ died for our sins. He was buried and was raised on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures, and He appeared to many witnesses.
An examination of each element of the foregoing sentence reveals exactly what we need to believe, understand, and receive in order to be justified (counted righteous) by God.