The Nature Of The Gospel

Whenever I attend a Scholastic Bowl match at the school two feelings come over me. First, there is a tremendous sense of pride as I watch our students answer questions that I don’t even understand. The second emotion is one of regret. I regret that I didn’t pay more attention in my grade school and high school years. During those years I learned what I needed to learn to pass . . . but that was it. I felt that I was enduring a necessary evil. Only later did I come to see that the information that seemed so useless was really foundational for much of what was to come. I’ve been scrambling to “catch up” ever since.

Sometimes we approach the Word of God like we did the early years of school. We know the information is necessary but we don’t see that it is particularly necessary to us. There is possibly no place where we are more prone to this kind of laziness than in our reading of the beginning verses of a book of the Bible. We go through the motions of reading the material but often we aren’t paying any attention.

If nothing else, I hope you have seen that the opening verses of a book of the Bible can be very interesting. This is the third week we’ve spent on the first eight verses of the letter of Paul to the Colossians. The first week we looked at verses 1-2 and noticed that these saints made their home in Colosse but were “living in Christ.” The second week we looked at verses 3 through 6. In these verses we noticed that the true disciple was characterized by faith in God, and a love for the brothers that is anchored in the hope of what is to come. Today we look at verses 6 through 8. In these verses we see six statements that reveal the nature of the gospel.

But, before we move into our discussion, it is important that we pause to ask, “What do we mean when we use the word ‘gospel’?” We are familiar with the term because we know that the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are called Gospels. However, that really doesn’t help much does it? In the Greek, the word for gospel means “good news.” And so, the Gospel is the good news about salvation, eternal life and peace with God. So let’s look at these six descriptions of the nature of this good news.

The Good News Is For Everyone

Paul writes, “all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit” Paul was a Jew writing to Gentiles, and Paul had heard about the gospel moving to all regions of the earth. We forget, that while Paul was ministering in the area of present day Asia Minor or Turkey, others were ministering in additional areas of the world. It is quite likely that some had journeyed south from Jerusalem and were ministering in Egypt and other parts of Africa. It is also likely that some had moved east and were ministering in the area we call the Middle East. Certainly, there were some who had been on journeys and shared in present day Europe. Everywhere the Gospel went, people responded and were changed. This message was not bound by geography, race, gender, nationality, economics, political affiliation, psychological makeup or background. The good news is good news to anyone who will receive it.

Allow me to state the obvious (because we often miss the most obvious). This good news is for you! We have a tendency to listen to the gospel message and think of all the people we wish were hearing this truth. But the message is not just for others . . . it is also for you. You may be here this morning for the sake of the kids (they need a moral upbringing). You may be here for a spouse (it’s important to them). You may believe that the message of Christ can be a stabilizing effect on a community. But don’t miss that this is also a message for you.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that a sinful person (like you and me) can be made right with God. Through the death and glorious resurrection of our blessed Savior our sin is paid for  . . .  the score is settled. We are declared “Not Guilty.” But the gospel message goes even further. This good news says that we not only have our sin erased, but we also have his goodness applied to our account. We can now stand before a holy God and be seen clothed in the merits of the Savior! God is willing to reside in us and begin to change us and use us. This is the Good News! This is the Great News! How have you responded to this invitation to life? Have you come to grips with the claims of Jesus?

But there is another dimension this universal appeal of the gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only for you.  It is also for others. I know it is hard to believe that I make my living by sharing such obvious truth! But listen to what we are constantly proclaiming: the gospel is offered to ANYONE who will believe. This is a gospel that can change any heart.

  • For the Apostle Paul who called himself “the worst of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
  • For those living in sinful self indulgence like St. Augustine before his conversion.
  • For those who consider themselves to be atheists like C.S. Lewis did
  • For those who are drunkards like Billy Sunday had been
  • For those who made their living transporting slaves like John Newton (of “Amazing Grace” fame).
  • For those who are skilled in “white collar crime” like Chuck Colson had been.

Philip Yancey tells of a powerful experience he had when visiting the Soviet Union in 1991. He, along with a number of other Christian leaders had been summoned to Russia for help in “restoring morality” to their country. General Nikolai Stolyarov, Vice-President of the KGB spoke to the group

“Meeting with you here tonight is a plot twist that could not have been conceived by the wildest fiction writer. We here in the USSR realize that all too often we’ve been negligent in accepting those of the Christian faith. But political questions cannot be decided until there is sincere repentance, a return to faith by the people. That is the cross I must bear. In the study of scientific atheism, there was the idea that religion divides people. Now we see the opposite: love for God can only unite.”

Yancey reports that the group was suspicious. They were caught off guard. But as questions began the men came to believe that there was a genuine attitude of repentance for the past and a sincere desire to discover the God of grace. It appears that the Gospel is even for the KGB.

The list could go on and on. The good news of the gospel is for sinners. This means that it is for those people who have hurt you. It’s for those you have called “beyond hope.” It is for the one who once was considered “hardened” It is for a stubborn family member or a rebellious child. It is for a person who has failed over and over again. The good news of the gospel can set anyone free . . . even the person who has been very content in their own religious observances.

The Good News Is Dynamic

Paul tells us, “all over the world the gospel is BEARING FRUIT.” The Good News of the Gospel is not like a bumper sticker . . . it’s not about catchy slogans, it’s about a change of heart, an inner transformation that alters the whole direction of our living. The good news is not static.  It is active and dynamic.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 15:4,5 Jesus said,

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Notice that Jesus wants us to understand that we are cannot make ourselves good enough for salvation . . . apart from Him we can do NOTHING. However, the person who comes and hides their life in Christ is changed. The Gospel has a transforming effect on the lives of all who receive it. A professing believer who is not being changed is a false believer.

Twenty years ago the Brazilian government turned a prison over to two Christians. The institution was renamed Humaita, and the plan was to run it on Christian principles. With the exception of two full time staff, all the work is done by inmates. Chuck Colson visited the prison and made this report:

When I visited Humata, I found the inmates smiling – particularly the murderer who held the keys, opened the gates and let me in. Wherever I walked, I saw men at peace. I saw clean-living areas, people working industriously. The walls were decorated with Biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs. My guide escorted me to the notorious prison cell once used for torture. Today, he told me, that block houses only a single inmate. As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key in the lock, he paused and asked, “Are you sure you want to go in?”

“Of course,” I replied impatiently, “I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.” Slowly he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humata inmates-the prisoner Jesus, hanging on a cross.

“He’s doing time for the rest of us,” my guide said softly. [Christianity Today 8 November 1993, p. 33]

The Gospel had changed those inmates. They understood why Christ came and it changed them. The Gospel always makes a change in those who receive it. Do you see God’s transformation taking place in your life?

The Good News Makes Sense

Paul testifies that the Colossians were seeing the good news bear fruit “just as it has been doing among you since the day you HEARD and UNDERSTOOD God’s grace in all it’s truth.” They heard and understood.

The world says the gospel is something.  You can never understand . . . you simply have to “take it by faith.” By that statement they mean that we must suspend our thinking process and grab the idea of salvation and hold onto it with all our might . . . even though we know it is ridiculous.

But that is not the Biblical notion of faith. The Bible calls us to believe the evidence. Faith is being willing to entrust ourselves to the one we have come to trust. We are told of a historical person, named Jesus. We are reminded of God’s work in some particular people called the Jews. We are pointed to the historical events of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is not some made up fantasy.  It is rational and reasonable. The Bible does not tell us to suspend our reasoning capacities in fact it does the opposite. In Romans, Paul tells us to “renew our minds.” Jesus told us that we are to ““‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ Christianity involves the mind. Christianity is not about brainwashing.  It is about truth. It is not made up fables but historical fact.

There are certainly things about the gospel that are difficult and beyond our feeble minds . . . but they are not irrational (contrary to reason) they are Supra-rational (beyond our ability to grasp). For me, the most perplexing issue of the good news is the simple question: “why?” It’s a good question: why would God reach out to the likes of you and me? Why not just create people that loved.  Him. Why go to all this trouble to establish a relationship with people living on this speck of a planet in the giant universe? And who knows but that this galaxy is not but one speck in the scope of all God has made. Why would He do it? I’ll be honest – I don’t understand it, but I believe it is true. I believe because the man who returned from the dead told me so.

So tell me, are you waiting for some great revelation to strike before you consider yourself a follower? Are you seeking some “feeling” that will overwhelm you? If so, you are setting yourself up to be “sucked in” by any slick sounding group. If you want to know the truth – ask questions. Look at the facts. Study the promises. Ask God for understanding. The gospel is staggering in its message . . . but it makes sense.

The Good News is a Gift

Let’s be clear: we cannot reason our way to Heaven. We can only receive what God has freely and graciously provided. Paul tells us that this good news is by “God’s grace.” The good news is the story of an undeserved gift. Philip Yancey attempts this startling definition of grace,

Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more – no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less – no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possible love. [What’s So Amazing About Grace p. 62 italics are the author’s]

The unrestricted offer of restoration and life, the power to transform any life, the truthfulness of the message . . . is all a gift. We cannot earn them. There is no need to wait until you feel “worthy” of God’s grace. You can’t deserve it . . . that’s the point. He reaches out to us in our sinful state and offers us what we could never gain by our own efforts. This is grace. That is the good news.

The Good News is Truth Unchanging

Now we all realize that the whole idea of truth is taking on ridiculous dimensions today. We hear people all the time saying, “Hey, whatever is true for you is true.” Or, “Truth is relative . . . different people have different truth.” Both those statements are complete nonsense. Truth cannot be truth for one person at one time and not truth for someone else. If the earth makes one revolution on its axis every day . . . can the person who says “the earth makes one revolution on its axis every day” and the person who says, “the earth makes one rotation every third day” both be right? Of course not! One or both of the people are lying. If I say I was born in Mexico one day and on another day say: “I was born in Chicago!” Can both statements be true? Of course not.

Now, if Jesus says, “He is the only way to Heaven” and other religions say “Jesus is one of many ways to Heaven” can they both be true? Nope. If we are told, “there is no other name under heaven that can save us” can it also be true that there are many roads to Heaven? Nope. Do you understand? If Islam is right . . . Christianity is wrong. If the Buddhists are right, Christianity is wrong. If the New Agers are right, Christianity is wrong. Paul says the gospel declares the truth from the God who does not change. You can’t have it both ways. Examine the claims of the good news . . . then you decide. Who is telling the truth and who is merely telling you what you want to hear?

The Good News is Passed On By Believers

Paul points to the fact that Epaphras was the one who taught these believers the good news. Epaphras faithfully shared the good news with the Colossians. He also faithfully told Paul what was going on in the lives of the Colossians.

Certainly God could have found a more effective way to tell others about him than entrusting that job to humans. However, that’s what He did. He “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” We can’t save anyone. We can’t even lead anyone to Christ. But we can tell them the good news. We can introduce them to the Gospel. God will do the rest.

It’s a sobering responsibility, if you think about it. Someone said at one time: “We are only one generation away from extinction.” Now, I don’t believe God would ever let this happen, but the point is still made  . . . the good news is passed on by people. If the people stop passing it on, people won’t hear and believe. So, we are the ones who are responsible to tell others. We have forgotten this simple truth, God has not called us to entertain, to hype, or even to help people have a good time in church. He has not called us to “make the gospel relevant. . . . it already IS relevant. Our job is simple: tell others the good news of God’s grace.

With this in mind, let me ask a question that dogs me . . . why is it that bad news is shared with great eagerness? And we seem to be so reluctant to share the words that point to eternal life? We love to report the latest “scoop.” We like feeling we “know the true story” about something that happened. We create opportunities to share what we know. We seek people out so we can share our “news.” Yet, when it comes to the Good News of eternal life, we are strangely silent. We don’t want to intrude. We don’t want to “rock the boat.” We wouldn’t dream of “imposing.”

Yet, from our text we have learned that the gospel

  • is a message everyone needs to hear
  • is a message that can change the life of the most miserable creature
  • is a message that makes sense
  • is a message that is offered freely as a gift. No one has to pay anything to derive benefit from this gracious offer.
  • is the truth. The good news leads us to the truth about ourselves, our God, and eternity.

In light of the nature of the good news there are some questions we must ask ourselves:

  • Why is it that we are not sharing this news?
  • Why is it that we are reluctant to commit ourselves unreservedly to this Savior?
  • Why do we question His love by our churning and fretting?
  • Why is it that we resist doing what He has told us to do?

It may have seemed like a discussion of the nature of the Gospel was purely academic. But I hope you have come to see this morning that understanding the nature of the Gospel is really the foundation on which everything else is built.

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