Saturday, December 04, 2004

what is the Gospel?

This is the Gospel in a nutshell, the crux of the Bible's message: that Jesus Christ made a way for us wretched sinners to be right before His Father, the holy God, our Creator. I couldn't think of a better way of stringing it in words than John Piper, my favorite pastor and author, did in the second chapter of his best selling book, Desiring God. So most of what's below is a paraphrase of what he wrote, but I still added a handful of my own thoughts:

1. There is a God. He exists. And He is the absolute Creator of all things apart from Him. The sheer enormity of the Universe, and the intricacies of life bear testimony to His wisdom. Our moral and ethical sensibilities, that horrible hurt and angry feeling you get someone cheats on you, and the pity you feel for the poor and starving children of Sudan, these reflect His justice. He is a holy God, pure and undefiled by not even a single evil thought.

2. Because He is our perfect Creator, we have a duty to live for His glory, to acknowledge the beauty of His manifold excellencies. "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31) Therefore it is our duty to value Him and treasure Him above all things. It is our duty to trust Him completely, to love Him with all our hearts and all our souls, because He deserves it.

3. Tragically, we have fallen short of this duty. We have held the supreme value on His glory in contempt. This rebellion, this brash dissatisfaction in Him, this is the essence of sin. None of us has trusted Him as we should have. We have taken credit for His gifts. None of us has obeyed Him completely. Again, the Apostle Paul writes, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23) When all humanity faces Him in His awesome glory to be judged, no one will be able to face Him with a perfect heart.

4. And so we are subject to His eternal condemnation. Wait a minute, you protest. Isn't that unjust, suffering for eternity just for a little sin? No, the Bible most emphatically disagrees. There is no "little" sin in His eyes. Because God is infinitely glorious, the gravity of any sin is as infinite as the worth of the Object whom it insults. His awesome holiness calls for complete justice. For every unrevealed glory of God that He will lovingly bestow to His saints, a just recompense is demanded to His enemies. And that just recompense is Hell. "For the wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23)

The Hebrew word for Hell, Gehenna, actually came from the mouth of Jesus 33 times in the New Testament. It refers to Jerusalem's garbage dump, where all the blood and waste from the animal sacrifices were thrown away. It was a continually burning place, writhing with maggots (Mark 9:48). What's more, Jesus says that it was far better to lose a sin-causing hand than suffering the whole body to be cast into Hell, the unquenchable fire. (Mark 9:43, Matt. 5:30). A verse in John the Beloved's Apocalypse paints a terrifying picture of the fates of those who reject God and His Son:

He will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of His anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. (Rev 14:9-11)
The Bible makes it crystal clear, that it is utter foolishness to take our eternal destinies for granted. One life we've got, one short but precious life to decide for ourselves.

5. This is the good news: that God Himself has decreed a way to satisfy His justice without condemning all of humanity. What did God do to save us from condemnation? Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was Himself God, was put to death for our trespasses. He took upon himself the very punishment – God's just wrath – that was meant for us. As he lay hanging on his cross, He bore all of it. Romans 3:25-26 says,
God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to prove at the present time that He himself is just and that He justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
Yes, that's right. Jesus bore the punishment for your sins, not His. Your sins:

For each and every time you lustfully stared at the billboards along SLEX and your roommate's FHM, for every impatient word you've uttered to your hapless brother or sister, for every rebellious thought you've harbored against your parents.

Yes, He suffered even for much worse things you did that you wouldn't even dream of telling anyone: for stabbing 36 times that poor old lady who hit you with her handbag when you stepped on her toe, for sleeping with your sisters when your parents were away, for pocketing the millions of pesos (or dollars) the company you're working for has entrusted you with, for blaspheming His name when you screamed, "F*ck you, God, you don't exist!" after a street urchin snatched your brand new camera phone.

The entire punishment for all those sins -- whether seemingly insignificant or totally life-changing -- Jesus bore on His head as He bowed down, pained and bloody, on the cross.

6. What must we do now? We should repent of our sins and trust Him for our salvation. We must acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves. Not through praying novenas to gain plenary indulgences, not through meriting favor in His eyes by helping the poor, not by confessing mortal and venial sins to a priest and praying the right amount of prayers of penance he prescribes, not by whipping ourselves and living a severely ascetic life. There is nothing in man that will make himself worthy before the pure and holy eyes of God. (Isaiah 64:6)

Salvation is a purely a gift from God. All we have to do is to accept it. Repent. Recognize the gravity of our sins, and look up to Him, and trust Him that all our evil deeds -- all past, present and future sins -- are forgiven through Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out (Acts 3:19) Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

Now, would you bow your head with me, dear reader, and pray this short prayer after me. And mean it, really mean it with all your heart and soul.
O Holy God, you are God. I admit that I have sinned against you, and I deserve nothing but condemnation. I can never make myself right before your Holy eyes. I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Savior, and I trust in His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. I believe that He died for all my sins, and that through Him You have redeemed me. I dedicate my whole life to you, O God, and please help me live my life in a way that is pleasing to you. This I pray, in Jesus' mighty name, Amen.
And now, if you really meant that, you are now a Christian! He has wiped all of your sins and transgressions like a thick mist, (Isaiah 44:22), and washed you with His precious blood (Rev 7:14). Once you were scarlet with sin, filthy and abominable, but now you are now spotless, as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). You were once dead in trespasses, and now you are alive forevermore (Eph. 2:4). You were once His enemy, but now you are His beloved child (Eph. 2:2). Through Christ, you are at peace with Him and His Father (Rom. 8:1). You are now a citizen of heaven, a kingdom from which you will never be cast out (Phil. 1:6, 3:20). Rejoice, dear reader! You have been born again! (John 3)

The Christian life will be difficult, no doubt. As time goes by, you will be more painfully aware of your imperfections, and you will realize that you still sin against Him. I do too, for I have committed my own share of shameful acts that are unbecoming for one of His children. But we should not fear and lose heart! The Holy Spirit has sealed us with Himself, and will change us, slowly but surely, into the Christ-like persons God plans us to be.

I know that you still have a multitude of unanswered questions clogging your head -- of that I'm sure -- but you may email me at or -- I'm more than willing to try answering them for you.

No comments: