In the Beginning
What is the Gospel?
Have you ever wondered what this archaic-sounding word means? Perhaps you’ve seen it on church signs or heard your Christian friends throw it around in conversation. So, what is the Gospel?
The term “gospel” means “good news.” So, let’s rephrase the question. What is the good news? Before diving in to this exciting topic (and it is very exciting!), I want to start at the beginning…before time began.
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we learn that God existed before time, because God made time. Not only that, but He also made everything.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” ~ Genesis 1:1
He spoke objects of light into existence and filled the oceans with marvelous creatures, many of which humans haven’t yet discovered. He saturated vacant space with lush vegetation and unique animals on a beautiful earth. Yet, the pinnacle of His work was humanity.
God and Humans
Like a potter with his clay, God fashioned man and woman with joy and care. He masterfully molded each human being “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27).
God took great delight in what He had made. He cultivated a loving relationship with Adam and Eve, the first humans to exist. In fact, that is why He made people in the first place—to bring Himself (and us) joy through friendship. Adam and Eve were His friends.
“That does sound like good news!” you might think. And it is! Here’s the part we often don’t like, though. Because He made us, He has the right to tell us what to do.
Does that sound unfair? Think back to the example of a potter who spends multiple hours creating something beautiful out of muck. He forms it with his hands, glazes it, bakes it, paints it, and polishes it, all the while smiling as he imagines how he will use what he has designed. He, the creator, has the right to determine the use of his pottery, does he not?
What is the Gospel: The Bad News
Do We Need a Cure?
Imagine that one day a scientist discovers the cure for cancer and makes it into a pill. Now, suppose that same scientist were to hold out this pill to you for free. She tells you that you can’t give it to anyone else and you can’t hold onto it for future use. Would you take it?
It all depends on whether or not you have cancer. If you don’t, then the pill has no value to you. OK, let’s say you did have cancer, but you didn’t know it yet. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t see a need for the cure, because you weren’t aware that you had a problem. “That’s great for people with cancer,” you tell the scientist, “but I’m good. Thanks anyway.”
Four weeks later, you leave the doctor’s office in shock. You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. What do you do? Track down the scientist, of course! Suddenly, her pill isn’t just intrinsically valuable; it’s valuable to you.
The point here is that God’s good news is only good if you understand the bad news first. The cure becomes valuable when you realize you have a disease.
Going Our Own Way
Genesis 3 recounts a tragic story. Adam and Eve, instead of following God’s way, chose to go their own. And so they introduced into the world an ugly thing called sin, along with all its consequences. (Sin is just a Bible word for disobeying God).
All through history sin has taken its toll on humanity. God’s beautiful world now sags under the weight of decay, hatred, murder, abuse, selfishness, pain, and death. People often ask, “How can a good God let such bad things happen?” But the truth is that He didn’t cause all this ugliness—we did. We chose to live our lives without regard for Him, and this destruction is the result.
Sin has touched us all to the very core. In the heart of every man, woman, and child—including you—sits a deep-seated desire for self to rule our lives instead of God. This is our spiritual disease. It’s what the Bible calls our sin nature.
How do we explain, then, all the good deeds and sacrificial acts people do? If we’re all so sinful, why does so much good exist in the world, too?
Despite our sin nature each person still has the image of God in him or her. Every so often we get a glimpse of that beautiful image when we hear news stories about brave sacrifice and selfless love. These are but weak illustrations of God’s character (and who wouldn’t want a relationship with a God like that?).
The bad news gets worse before it gets better. Unfortunately, this sin—our spiritual disease—is terminal. You can’t restore your broken relationship with God, even if you attend 10,000 church services and feed 10,000 orphan children. Our sin has caused a great divide between us and God, and no amount of self-effort can get us across. We’re just not good enough.
Why is it so important to have this relationship restored? What makes separation from God such a big deal?
Not only is God our Creator, but He is also our life source. Without Him, our souls slowly die. No matter how much we obtain in this world, in the end we will still be lonely, lost, and hopeless. We will face God, the impartial judge, who will sentence us to our punishment, death and Hell.
I told you it was bad news. It’s not a very popular topic, is it?
What is the Gospel: The Good News
He Longs for You
Have courage, and understand God’s heart toward you! Because He is a fair judge, He must sentence us to the proper punishment. Yet, He longs for us and wants to repair what we broke. He is jealous for you, like a husband is jealous when he finds out about his wife’s affair. God looks at you and feels love, kindness, and compassion, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
You see, you are His treasure. He made you, and He wants you to come to Him.
How can you come to Him, though, when sin has caused such a great separation? You cannot cross over to Him, but He can come to you.
Bridging the Gap
And that’s exactly what He did.
Jesus wasn’t just a good man. He was God crossing the great divide to restore the relationship humanity had destroyed. Jesus said it Himself.
But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” ~ Matthew 9:12-13
Jesus Himself is the cure! His great love for people (for you!) motivated Him to live the perfect life that we can’t. Because He didn’t want us to suffer the consequences of our sins, He took the punishment that should’ve been ours when He died.
Have you ever wondered why Christians wear crosses around their necks? This instrument of torture that killed Jesus reminds us that He took all our sin and its punishment so that we don’t have to experience God’s judgment. It’s starting to sound really good, isn’t it?
It gets better. Because Jesus was God, death could not beat Him. He came back to life, declaring that He had broken the power of sin and that a brand-new bridge stretches across the great divide: a bridge named “Jesus.”
Running to God
You see, we don’t have the resources or the power to build a bridge to God, but we also don’t need them. God wanted us to know Him so much that He built the bridge for us. He stands on the other side calling for all to come! In fact, Jesus declares, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
How foolish would it be for us to stand on our side of the bridge and yell, “Let me come to you, God. I go to church every Sunday. I give money to the poor! I’m a good person!” No, we don’t have to do anything to deserve entry. The bridge is there for us to cross free of charge.
“That sounds too good to be true,” you may be thinking. “What’s the catch?”
Crossing the bridge means leaving your way behind and embracing God’s. It’s deciding that you want Him more than you want your sin (we call that repenting) and accepting the belief that Jesus did it all for you (we call that faith).
Look to Jesus
Other religions teach that you must earn your way into God’s favor by completing pilgrimages, doing a lot of good works, praying every day, going to church, and confessing your sin to a priest. But the truth is that no matter how much effort you put in, you can never reach God. These are fruitless efforts. You’ll always be wondering if you’re good enough to make it, and that sure is a miserable way to spend your life.
The Bible shows us a different way.…a better way in which you can know for certain that your greatest problem has been alleviated. All you have to do is look to Jesus.
God wants your heart before He wants your good works. You don’t need to impress Him with how good you are. You’ll only be fooling yourself.
And don’t worry. When God starts His work in your heart, you won’t have to muster up the willpower to run to Him. He’ll make you want Him so much that you can’t help yourself.
Then He’ll take you up in His arms and never let you go.
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And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. – Mark 16:15