I have mentioned before that the ideas Christianity holds make intuitive sense to me. This is true, in a backward way, of the central message of the Christian faith: what most call “the gospel,” or the good news.
The gospel is intuitive in that, once I was made aware of it; I knew “in my gut” that it explained much of my experience. It is not intuitive in that I would never have thought this up without someone telling me.
The gospel is the fact that God offers eternal life as a free gift. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As a gift, eternal life is not earned or deserved. I will return to this idea latter.
The law requires perfection. Jesus Himself said, “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” I cannot avoid the knowledge that I have fallen short of this obviously true ideal.
This leaves us all under condemnation. No one obeys the law perfectly or obeys the law with perfect motives: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The old prayer of confession in the Anglican Church reads, “We have sinned against [God] in thought, word and deed. By the things we have done and the things we have left undone.”
This leaves us inadequately prepared for the judgment in and of ourselves. We cannot rely on our own righteousness or morality because we are not perfect. We do not meet the standard in question.
The gospel comes into sharper focus when we understand what the Bible says about God. God is holy, or separate from sin. God is also just, that is, He is the perfect judge who must punish the sins of His creatures. The Old Testament reads, “... yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” God also loves: “God is love.” And since He loves us, He does not want to punish us.
In human terms, this leaves God with a problem. On the one hand, He loves us and does not want to punish us. One the other hand, He is just and must punish sin. God solved this “problem” for us in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is, in a manner of speaking, God who came to earth as a man. As a man, Christ was able to follow meet the requirements of perfect morality. He was able to live a perfect life, always doing what is moral from a perfect love of morality.
He also was able to take our sins upon Himself. He took credit for the things we have done wrong. He suffered a death He did not deserve as a substitute for us. He suffered the wrath of God for our sins. As Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, but God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all … it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and he has put him to grief.” As Paul wrote, “For [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God through him.”
God has made it possible for us to take credit for the perfect life morality requires. God has made it possible for Christ to take credit for our sins and suffer infinitely in His soul for them. We take credit for all of this by faith.
Faith does not just understand the facts of the law (what you might call morality), the law’s requirements, and the gospel. It does not just believe that these facts are true. It is a confident trust that what Christ did He did for us. It is a resting on Him as the foundation of our morality. It trusts what He said about how to live our lives and what He said about having eternal life.
This is what the Bible means when it says, “Believe on [not just in, but on] the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” It is what Christians mean when they say that they accept the free gift of eternal life from Christ.
Why then do we do good works? If eternal life is a free gift, why should we strive to be moral? One answer for this is that we are grateful for the gift we have received. The old Heidelberg Catechism has three main parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. That is the general pattern of a Christian’s life.
(There are other pure motives such as doing good because it is good in and of itself, doing good out of love for God, and even doing good out of what is in it for us. More on those latter.)
The gospel frees us from having to search our motives, which are often impure, and live for the God who made us. We do not have to agonize over them because Christ died for impure motives as well as impure thoughts, words, and deeds.
We do not always perform good works out of desire to avoid punishment. We know we cannot do well enough to avoid just wrath from a holy God on our own.
Christ offers an abundant life to all who would turn to Him in faith. There is nothing outside you that keeps you from accepting His free gift of eternal life today. I pray that all who read this can find the certain hope of heaven that God has revealed to us in Christ.
You can find a summary of these ideas here.
A podcast / broadcast that emphasizes these ideas can be found here.
Some books that have sharpened my understanding of the gospel are here, here, here, here, and here.
Some materials from a World Harvest Mission’s Sonship Course can be found here and here. This course covers the content and implications of the gospel very thoroughly.
Ideas on how to emphasize this message in our churches can be found here, here, here, and here. We all need to hear the gospel every day, especially every Sunday.
I pray that the faith of Christians will be strengthened by the message of the gospel. The gospel truly is for all of life.