The gospel is the glorious truth about Christ, and it enfolds us in the global purpose of God by renewing hearts, empowering lives, and transforming the world. AGospel Coalitionbooklet.
About the Author
Bryan Chapellis the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Peoria, Illinois. Heis also the host of a daily half-hour radio Bible teaching program,Unlimited Grace, and the founder and chairman of Unlimited Grace Media (unlimitedgrace.com). Bryanpreviously served as the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the author of a number of books, includingHoliness by Grace.
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.
Timothy J. Kelleris the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Read an Excerpt
The events that led to his arrest had been years in the making. When he was growing up, the polite phrase our family used to describe my brother's mental capability was, "He has a harder time learning than most." Though his mind stayed undeveloped, David became increasingly strong in body and will as my parents aged. Stresses of dealing with him, as well as with their own issues, led to their separation and to greater difficulties with my brother. As an adult, David's desire for independence and his developmental disabilities were constant concerns. For friendship and thrills, he developed relationships that spelled trouble. The obvious resulted.
His arrest and confinement were more than his mind could process. He knew only the overwhelming fear that someone with a young child's mental ability would experience in a jail cell. He huddled in a corner and trembled.
My brother's obvious fear rekindled something in the heart of another man in that cell. And despite his own difficulties, he shared with David the message of God's mercy: "Jesus can help you. Trust him."
The truths of Sunday school lessons in special-needs classes that David had attended as a child rushed back to him. He prayed for God to forgive him and trusted in Jesus as his Savior.
David will be in jail for a long time. He will also be with Jesus forever — forgiven, restored, treasured, and transformed. This is the gospel for my brother and for all who trust in Jesus.
Gospel simply means "good news." The Bible uses the term to refer to the message that God has fulfilled his promise to send a Savior to rescue broken people, restore creation's glory, and rule over all with compassion and justice. That's why a good summary of the gospel is "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15).
God's rescue, restoration, and rule apply to our spiritual condition but are not limited to spiritual realities. Through Jesus Christ, our God delivers his people from the eternal consequences of human sin that have touched everything. Our salvation includes us, but it's also bigger than we are.
Before we further explore these amazing truths, we need to recognize that the Bible does not trumpet them just to dazzle us. God reveals these truths so that sinners such as David and you and me can forever be free of the guilt and power of sin by trusting the good news that Jesus is the Lord who comes to save us. Following are key aspects of that good news.
What God Requires, He Provides
We may not like the idea of someone identifying us as "sinners," especially if we use that term to refer only to ax murderers and child molesters. But the Bible says that God is absolutely holy and that all who do not match his perfection are "sinners," a term that simply means missing God's standard. If we sin to any degree, we become something other than what God intended (Rom. 3:23; James 2:10). He made us to reflect his holy nature (1 Pet. 1:16). So our faults not only hurt us but also mar our relationship with God (Eph. 4:30).
Our relational problems with God began when our human nature was corrupted by our first parents' sin (Rom. 5:12). Since Adam and Eve, every human knows what it means to fail loved ones, hurt others, and abandon one's own ideals. All of us know shame and remorse. These actually reflect a spiritual reality we may not have recognized: we feel guilt because we were made to be like God, but we fail to live so (Rom. 3:10).
We were made in God's image (Gen. 1:26–27). He designed us to be like him so that we could love him and others made in his image. When we sin, we are going against our original nature, and something deep inside of us winces. The guilt we feel is an echo of the pain our heart registers any time sin distances us from the relationship we were designed to have with our God.
God requires holiness for us to have a close relationship with God, but both our nature and our actions distance us from him. How can we fix this? We can't. We are imperfect creatures and can't make ourselves holy any more than a muddy hand can wipe a white shirt clean.
God is the only one who can fix our relationship with him, and he does so by providing the holiness he requires. God takes the initiative (1 John 4:19). Through Jesus, our God rescues us from the consequences of our sin. He provides what we cannot, and that's why we sometimes refer to his provision as "the gospel of grace." Grace means "gift" — something given to those who cannot provide what they need — like a clean shirt given to those who have muddied their own.
Jesus Christ's name communicates much about how he makes us holy. The name Jesus means "deliverer"; his mission was to deliver (or save) us from the consequences of our sin. The added word, Christ, is more a description of Jesus' purpose than an actual name. It is a title that means "anointed one." God the Father anointed Jesus to be his special envoy to provide his holiness for humanity. For many centuries God promised through his prophets that he would send his anointed one to rescue his people (Acts 3:18–20). Still, most people were surprised when the anointed one turned out to be God's own Son.
Jesus came as the perfect bearer of God's image. Though he was divine, Jesus took on human qualities (Gal. 4:4–5; Phil. 2:6–11). He became God incarnate (the word incarnate means "in the flesh"). Jesus was like us in every way except one: he was without sin (Heb. 4:15). Not only did Jesus do no wrong, but because he was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, he also had no natural corruption, which other humans share (Matt. 2:20–23).
Christ's holiness does two things for us. First, it shows us how to live for God. If a life were full of love and empty of selfishness, then it would look like Jesus' life (1 John 3:16). Through him we learn how to live to the fullest, to be as God made us to be — fully human and yet in full fellowship with God. But what if such conduct and fellowship elude us? What then? Then we need the second provision of Jesus' holiness. That provision moves beyond showing us how to live for God and actually enables us to live with God by satisfying his standards.
Jesus' holiness made him the perfect sacrifice for our sin. This sounds strange to modern ears, but it's the message the Bible presents from beginning to end. Our sin is not just an annoyance to God. The sin of humanity has resulted in inestimable suffering. God does not overlook the anger we unleash, the abuse we inflict, the suffering we disregard, the injustice we ignore. A holy God cannot simply hide his eyes or cover his ears to such sin. Its victims scream for justice, and God's compassion provides what his righteousness requires through Jesus' sacrifice.
Since the Son of God had no sin, his willingness to suffer on a cross and accept the penalty we deserve is far beyond any recompense that humanity could provide. Christ's righteousness so overbalances our unrighteousness that his sacrifice is sufficient to compensate for the sin of the entire world and of all ages (Rom. 5:15–19; Heb. 9:26–28; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:2). God accepted Jesus' sacrifice as a substitute for our punishment (1 Pet. 2:24). He paid the debt to justice we could not pay (Ps. 47:7–9; Titus 2:11–14). His suffering atones for (covers) our wrongs (1 John 4:10). His death rescues us from the hell we deserve (Gal. 3:13–14).
For those of us who wrestle with guilt, Christ's provision is amazingly good news. In prison my brother David cannot pay the debt for crimes he has committed any more than we who are guilty of sin can clear the debt we owe a holy God for our breaking his law. Yet because Jesus came to pay our spiritual debt despite our spiritual destitution, David and you and I can live with hearts free of shame.
Christ's sacrifice satisfies divine justice (Rom. 5:20–26). My spiritual status becomes just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned (Isa. 1:18). Theologians refer to God's declaration of this new holy status as "justification." Justification results from an amazing exchange that took place on the cross of Christ. He took our sin on himself and consequently provided us with his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18). He became like us (sinful), so that we could become like him (holy).
Christ's great provision for sin allows me to confess the magnitude of my brother's sin — and mine and yours. All people — regardless of the monstrosity of evil in their lives — can also have their sin atoned for by the sacrifice of Jesus.
One of the proofs of this good news is the rest of the verse that was quoted at the beginning of this article. The apostle Paul writes, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst" (1 Tim. 1:15). Earlier in life Paul had blasphemed Jesus and murdered his followers. But now the apostle can exult that Christ's atonement fully compensates for these wrongs — not because of the insignificance of Paul's sin, but because of the enormity of the cross. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was sufficient to atone for the greatest of sins and the greatest of sinners.
But how do we make sure that the provisions of Christ apply to us? Even Jesus talks about some people going to hell (Matt. 23:33; John 3:18), so we know that Christ's atonement — though it is sufficient for everyone — does not apply to everyone. What assurance do we have that it applies to us? The answer lies in the reminder that God provides what he requires.
God does not require us to earn his pardon. He does not tell us to do some great spiritual task or to feel especially deep remorse to compensate for our sin. Instead, the good news is that God provides his pardon by grace alone (Rom. 3:23–24). He gives his love to us rather than requiring us to gain it.
If we had to earn God's love, then it would be very hard for us to obey his greatest command: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37). Whenever people make their love conditional upon our service, we may serve them but we cannot love them. If a parent says to a child, "I will love you only if you get an A in math, mow the lawn, and feed the cat," then the child may obey but ultimately will not love the one whose love is so manipulative.
So also the Lord, who requires that we love him, provides for us to do so by making his love an unconditional gift. The Bible says, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). God takes the initiative to demonstrate his unconditional love.
The Bible teaches us more about God's taking-the-initiative love by recording the covenants he makes with his people. By such covenants God promises to love his people unconditionally. These covenants are not contracts. A contract can be broken when its stipulations are not met, but lack of performance does not annul God's covenant. That's why God's people can say, "If we are faithless, he will remain faithful" (2 Tim. 2:13).
Israel's exodus from slavery is one of the best examples of this covenant love. Centuries earlier, God had promised to love Abraham and his descendants. Yet time and again these people failed God. They became slaves in Egypt until God sent Moses to deliver them. Only after their deliverance did God give the commandments that would enable the Israelites to live holy lives.
The order of these events is crucial for our understanding of God's covenant love. God delivered the people before he gave the law to them. He did not wait for them to obey him before he saved them (see Deut. 5:6). He did not say, "Obey me, and then I will love you." In covenant faithfulness he said, "I have already loved you and rescued you, and that is why you should follow these laws that will bless your lives."
God's grace toward us — loving us even before we loved or obeyed him — is an essential part of the gospel's good news (Rom. 5:8). If God were waiting for us to straighten out our lives before he loved us, then there would be no hope for someone like my brother in that jail cell. David's life was a mess. There was no way that he could correct the wrong he had done. He had neither the physical freedom nor the mental capacity to reverse the damage he had done to others. But when he acknowledged the truth that Jesus loves him and would help him, then Christ's grace applied to David despite years of sin and a lifetime of inability.
All his adult life David had spoken to his family in simple sentences and grunts. But when he trusted Jesus' love for him, David began to send letters to us. We did not even know he could write. The spelling and grammar were childlike, but they improved over time — as did David's ability to describe his faith. He wrote from prison, "God can do miracle things for everyone that believes in him. I believe in God. He sent his son Jesus to die for our sins. God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life."
By making the words of John 3:16 his own, David told everyone he knew about the gospel of Jesus Christ: It's big enough for all the world; it's big enough for all our sins; and it's available to all who believe in him.
Faith in Christ
The gospel applies to all who believe in Jesus. God does not say that he will save those who climb mountains or clean up their addictions or relieve poverty or reach some designated level of goodness. He saves those who simply believe in Jesus as their Savior (John 3:16).
David's situation helps us understand the nature of such faith. We should not be swayed by misconceptions that faith in Jesus identifies something good in us that makes him love us. According to this thinking, faith just makes us a little bit better than other people. But such definitions of faith make no sense at all. How could doing a little thing like acknowledging that Jesus died for sin possibly compensate for the apostle Paul's blasphemy and murder? How could my brother's simple belief in Christ's sacrifice make up for past crimes? If God were balancing the scales of justice with our faith, then he would not be just. We must understand that Christ's sacrifice, not our faith, is the work that balances the scales of divine justice.
If our faith earned God's grace, then we are responsible for our salvation. We could take the credit. But the Bible is clear: Jesus saves. Our faith does not earn God's love or merit his grace. Think how strange it would be for a man who had been rescued from drowning to strut down the beach boasting, "I'm alive because I was good enough to call for the lifeguard to save me." Everyone would recognize that the saved swimmer had no cause for boasting. His rescue was entirely a result of depending on the good will and ability of the lifeguard.
Depending entirely on another is the antithesis of a second common misconception about saving faith: it's made sufficient by its strength. People think that by a sufficient degree of psychological effort or theological study they will pump enough faith into their hearts to warrant God's love. But thinking that salvation depends on our having superior faith is just another way of making faith a work we need to do better than others. This is like the swimmer boasting on the beach, "I am saved because I held on to the lifeguard with greater strength than others have."
To understand biblical faith, we must think of ourselves as entirely exhausted from trying to survive spiritually and relying entirely on the strength of the lifeguard (Jesus) to save us. Our hope cannot be based on the strength of our faith — the waves of weakness and doubt are far too strong for that — but rather on Jesus' provision alone.
Picturing my brother cowering in a jail cell with limited mental capacity, exhausted emotions, and great guilt, I do not want the basis of his hope to be the strength of his faith. I want his hope to be based on the strength of Jesus' love. David has no strength of mind or heart for anything else. His hope must be the same as that of the apostle Paul, who knew what it meant to come to the end of his wisdom, zeal, and strength as the basis for God's approval. Paul wrote, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8–9).
Faith is not a work or a mental exercise or an emotional experience. We cannot boast that we have sufficient faith to merit God's love. Saving faith expresses human yieldedness and confesses that there is nothing about us that should make God love us. We rely on Jesus alone to save us from our sin. We do not trust that anything we do is sufficient to make God love us — not our good works, not our wise thoughts, not even the strength of our faith. We simply trust that Jesus saves.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What Is the Gospel?"
Copyright © 2011 The Gospel Coalition.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents
What God Requires, He Provides, 8,
What God Provides, He Perfects, 15,
Whom God Perfects, He Uses, 24,
The Gospel Coalition, 29,