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The Gospel of Jesus Christ

By William R. Cunningham
January 11, 2015

 

Scripture Texts

John 3:16 (HCSB) - 16“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT) - 8God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

Introduction

How does one become a Christian?  How does one become saved, i.e., born again?  Some would even ask this way, “How do I get eternal life or make it into heaven?”  The answers to these basic questions are critical today because of our relativistic society and the fact that humans tend to want to do things their way at any given time.  A phrase that I heard someone use many years ago is that people tend to want to pave the road as they go.  Fortunately for us God has revealed to us quite clearly how we can be saved from our sins and indeed make it to heaven as some would say.  God has revealed to us in his word how we can be born again.

The purpose of this study is to present the gospel about Jesus Christ so that we all have a very clear understanding of how we are saved.  Some of the things we will discuss are:

  • What is the gospel about Jesus Christ
  • How we obtain the salvation that God has provided
  • Misconceptions about how one is saved
  • The place of works, church, and clergy
  • Comparison to religion

The Gospel

What is the gospel about Jesus Christ (or the gospel of Jesus Christ)?  Some people would say that the gospel of Jesus Christ is “the good news.”  Though that is indeed true that is not what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. 

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT) - 3I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

See also Isaiah 53.  Paul defines the gospel of Jesus Christ as Jesus dying for our sins and being raised from the dead.  In that is the power of God (Romans 1:16).  This is good news for us!  This means that we do not have to die (pay the penalty) for our sins (See Romans 6:23).  God has dealt with our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus Christ died for your sins (you don’t have to) and that he rose from the dead (so that we can also live with him).

This gospel is very simple, but extremely powerful in that the difference between life and death exists in it.  We can live an entire life in fear of the future after we die not knowing if our sins were too great for us to make it to heaven (be saved).  According to the gospel we don’t have to be afraid because salvation is not on us, but rather Jesus Christ.  God has provided salvation for you through Jesus Christ and through Christ our sins have been dealt with if you receive it.

Salvation

John 3:16 (HCSB) - 16“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 5:1-2 (NLT) {1} Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. {2} Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

The gospel about Jesus Christ is basically the announcement that God has provided salvation for us.  The only thing we need to do is believe in Jesus Christ for that salvation.

Receiving Salvation

In order to be saved we must receive (accept) the gospel message.  We must believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.  We have to believe that Jesus Christ took care of our sin dilemma and that we no longer have to try to work to take care of it ourselves.  Consider the following passages of scripture.

Romans 10:8-10 (HCSB) - On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.

Romans 14:9 (HCSB) - Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living.

Jesus is Lord!  All authority has been given to him in heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28:18).  If you confess that Jesus is Lord, thus confessing that he died for your sins and rose from the dead then you will be saved.

Misconceptions About Salvation

I have encountered many misconceptions about salvation.  Just as Paul wrote to the Galatian church about the false gospel that they were embracing, we should be warned about the many gospels that we have come to accept as truth primarily because many people who attend church do not read the bible with the disposition that it is the word of God that is critical for their lives.  With that said let me list some misconceptions about salvation/Christianity that I have encountered over the years.

  • One must be a good person to go to heaven
  • One must tithe in order to go to heaven
  • Christians are required to attend church services
  • Growing up in church and remaining in your adult years somehow gives you a ticket to heaven/salvation
  • A person is saved when they are baptized.

Let me comment generally to all of the above.  They all have one fundamental thing in common.  All of these misconceptions about being saved relies on the ability of the person to perform.  It is about how often you go to church, how good you are, that you were baptized (and in some churches baptized a certain way), or how much you give to your church financially.  All of these are efforts to earn God’s love and thus salvation.  These are contrary to what God has revealed to us in the Bible.
We cannot perform to be saved.  Jesus already did what was necessary to secure our salvation.  We simply have to receive God’s gift by believing in Jesus Christ.  Sure a Christian will attend a fellowship of some kind.  Sure a person will give to support the ministry of their church.  Growing up in church will surely make a difference in your life for the better (and sometimes for the worse).  Of course a Christian will be baptized if possible.  However, those things do not make you a Christian.  Those things do not save you.

We have to realize that only God can decide what is necessary to be in fellowship with Him.  Only God can decide how we can come to Him.  We cannot make things up for that.  However, people throughout history have developed elaborate ways to be saved or otherwise earn God’s favor.  Many people’s relationship with God is based on works instead of faith.

The Place of Works

I would like to very briefly make a point about salvation and works.  We are not saved by works.  That is to say that the good deeds and good things we do add up to nothing as far as God is concerned.

Isaiah 64:6-7 (NLT) - 6We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. 7Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins.

Instead of going to God for mercy knowing we are sinners, we develop elaborate schemes to convince ourselves that we can save ourselves when in fact we are only wallowing in our own sins.  Being a good church attender, clergy, a good Baptist, a member of the UCC church, giving to the poor, etc. will not win you favors with God and will surely not save you.

Matthew 7:21-23 (NLT) - 21“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

So do not rely on your church membership, good deeds, being a good person, or any other religious practice that you may have subscribed to.  The only way to the Father is through Jesus Christ not your efforts.

John 14:6 (NLT) - 6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ not by religious acts or good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Thinking that you can earn your way to God, heaven, or salvation is basically implying that Jesus Christ was not enough to save people from their sins.  Relying on works means that to you Jesus really did not finish it even though he said he did (John 19:30).  You show that you have not put your total faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, but instead believe that Jesus needs help or something else to take up the slack so to speak.  No.  Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be saved!

Consider the following passage of Scripture.

James 2:14-17 (HCSB) {14} What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can his faith save him? {15} If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, {16} and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? {17} In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.

Faith without works is dead!  We are not justified or saved by works. However, works do have a place in the life of a Christian. Works are the results of being born again (saved, justified).  In other words, a person isn't a Christian because he or she has performed the necessary good deeds or followed a certain set of laws. Instead, because a person has been born again he or she does good works. Works therefore are by-products or result of the justification that a Christian received by faith in Jesus Christ.
The question is how genuine is your faith?  True faith that is founded on Jesus Christ would produce corresponding actions (works).  One of the things that we find in the Bible time and time again is God’s willingness to help those who are in need.  Therefore, true Christian faith would rise up to produce works that would help someone in need in whatever capacity is possible.

James 2:18-21 (HCSB) {18} But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. {19} You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder. {20} Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? {21} Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

Faith is seen by the lifestyle of the Christian.  That means the faith that we have in Christ is revealed by what we do and how we live our lives.  Faith alone is not enough because true faith produces fruit, i.e., works.  Verse 21 is especially interesting.  We previously learned in Romans 4:1 that Abraham was justified by faith and that God credited that faith as being righteous.  Now James seems to be saying the very opposite, i.e., that Abraham was saved by his works.

Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in a number of ways.  We saw in a previous lesson that this faith was demonstrated by him hoping against hope (remaining steadfast in his belief that God would do what he promised even though the circumstances were contrary).  Here Abraham’s faith was revealed by his offering Isaac as a sacrifice.  How?  Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead if that was needed in order to fulfill His promise to him (See Hebrews 11:19) since it was by Isaac that God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled (Genesis 21:12).  Evidence of Abraham’s belief that Isaac would be fine is seen when he told his servants while approaching the mountain that he and Isaac would return (Genesis 22:5).  Abraham’s faith in God was made evident by the things he did.  His faith in God produced the corresponding actions or works.

It is easy to say that you have faith and that you are a Christian. However, does your actions give evidence of your statements of faith?  Here is another example.  John the Baptist told the religious leaders that came to his baptism for repentance to show that they have truly repented (Matthew 3:7-8).  In other words he was challenging them to prove that they were repenting and that proof would be in what they did.  If they were truly repenting then their lifestyle should show it (Example: Luke 19:1-10). Faith is not founded on works; instead works are founded upon faith in that they are the results of faith. Today we would say, "Talk is cheap" or "put your money where your mouth is." These imply that some action is needed to confirm what you say.

Another example of this is revealed to us by Jesus’ teaching.


Matthew 5:16 (NLT) In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

The light that shines here is the good deeds that we do that originate from the spirit of faith that we have.  Our faith produces good works and people will see it and praise God.

Good Tree Bad Tree

Matthew 7:15-20 (HCSB) “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

The truth of a person is evident by what they produce.  A false prophet can be detected by what he or she produces.  Does he produce results that are consistent with the kingdom of God or the contrary?  Is love evident from what the person does?  A good tree can only produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit.  Therefore, those who are of the kingdom of God will produce fruit that is consistent with God’s kingdom and those not of the kingdom of God will produce results consistent with whatever kingdom they belong to.

Consider the following passages as well.

  • Luke 6:43-45 (HCSB) {43} “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. {44} For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. {45} A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.
  • Matthew 12:33-35 (HCSB) {33} “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. {34} Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. {35} A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil.

The point here is that the tree is what it is and it will produce fruit after its own kind.  Therefore, a person who is truly born again will produce fruit of the Spirit.  A person who has truly been renewed by the Spirit of God will produce godly fruit so to speak.  Therefore, we can’t become “good” trees by doing what a good tree would do so to speak.  We first must become a good tree by putting our faith in Jesus Christ and then we will produce what a good tree produces.

What this means for us is that we cannot become righteous by doing righteous things.  We first must become righteous and then we will do what the righteous do.  The works that we do come from who we are.  We don’t do works to become who we want to be.

Self-Righteousness

Righteousness based on works is just another form of self-righteousness.  Consider the following scripture passage.

Matthew 5:20 (HCSB) {20} For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The scribes and Pharisees were self-righteous.  They did “good” deeds to be seen of people and to appear pious before the people.

Matthew 23:25-28 (HCSB) {25} “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! {26} Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean. {27} “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. {28} In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Look at the following passages of scripture as well: Matthew 6:1-5, 16. There you will see that it is not enough to merely do good deeds.  The good deeds that God accepts are those that are genuine and come from the heart.  Merely doing something good is meaningless unless it is the result of the goodness that is in you, i.e., the Spirit of God.

The Place of Church

It is inevitable that a new Christian may seek out a local church to attend.  However, for many years church attendance in America has been declining. Still Christians want a place to fellowship and newer forms of fellowship are being created, e.g., home churches.  The local church provides a means of fellowship, edification, and learning for Christians.  It is also a place where Christians can pool their resources to be more effective at ministry.

Churches have to be more than social centers. Local churches have to be a beacon for Jesus Christ in its community.  A local church should first and foremost be about ministry.  People are hurting in our communities and they are looking for answers. They sometimes go to a church in hopes of finding that answer, but many times they only come face to face with religious dogma or robotic rituals.  They go away disappointed about the experience and sometimes tend towards other religions hoping for answers.

It is first the responsibility of the Christian to be a light of the world.  Christians come together as a unit forming local churches that become lighthouses for the world.  When people forsake this one principle the church becomes a mere social gathering on Sunday mornings becoming increasingly less relevant in society and the community.  The only way that the church can gain relevance in our society and communities is for people to truly seek and prioritize a relationship with the Lord and perpetuate that (See Matthew 6:33).  Jesus is the center of the Christian faith and that fact should guide the local churches to truly do the work of ministry.

The Place of Clergy

Many people who attend local churches yield their lives to men and woman clergy.  People believe that the pastor, bishop, deacon, evangelist, and other clergy are the key to their relationship with God.  Clergy have the potential of being a critical component for you in that they (as we learned in Ephesians 4:11-16) can contribute to your edification.  However, it is important for people to realize that ultimately it is up to you to ensure an intimate and personal relationship with God.  It is not the job of the pastor to create and maintain that relationship.  The pastor, elder, or other clergy should be equipped to help you, pray for you, counsel you, etc.

The place of clergy is not to rule your lives or tell you what to do, but rather to be servants (See Luke 22:24-27).  It is also very important for us to realize that there are many very mature Christians who are not clergy.  We have the illusion that only those who are in clergy are close to God or otherwise proficient in the Christian faith.  That is not true.  There are many non-clergy who are very mature in the faith and there are many clergy who are immature.  There are some clergy who may not be Christians at all!  So we need to do what Jesus taught us to do, namely to beware of false prophets

(Matthew 7:15-21) and to test the spirits of people (1 John 4:1-3).

Consider the following important concept from Scripture.

1 John 2:26-27 (HCSB) - I have written these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie; just as it has taught you, remain in Him.

Christianity Versus Religion

The main difference between Christianity and religion is that religion is centered on you whereas Christianity is centered on Jesus Christ.  Religion is basically how you can save yourself or otherwise earn from a god whereas Christianity is about how Jesus Christ has done the work of salvation for you and all you have to do is receive it (believe in Him for salvation).

Many people go to church Sunday after Sunday trying to earn God’s love, blessings, and even salvation.  Some even believe that they have to continue doing good works or being a good person so that they can remain in God’s graces so that when they die they will have done enough to go to heaven. That is not Christianity. God loves us and He demonstrated that love by sending Jesus Christ do die for us.  God could very well have established a system where we have to perform to receive His salvation.  Jesus Christ has performed all that is necessary to secure our salvation so we should stop trying to get saved and simply be saved.

Religion focuses on sins (how bad you are) whereas Christianity focuses on Jesus Christ and all that he did for us.  Religion can be in any form.  We are familiar with religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim, Catholicism, and many others.  However, there are also Baptist religions, Methodist religions, UCC religions, and other religions in various denominations.  The point here is that Christianity is not a religion, but rather a faith.  It is about what Jesus has done not on what we have to do.

Conclusion

A Christian is someone who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.  A person becomes a Christian by responding favorably to the gospel of Jesus Christ (the story about Jesus Christ).  The gospel declares that Jesus Christ died for our sins, but on the third day after being crucified he rose from the dead by the power of God.  Jesus Christ has satisfied the requirements of the law for our sins.  Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law for us.  We therefore, do not have to pay for our own sins since Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price – His life.

We are not saved because we go to church, were baptized, or because we are good people.  We are not saved because we have done a certain amount of good deeds or gave a certain amount of money to the church.  We are not saved because we are members in good standing of a particular local church.  We are saved because we have put our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation because Jesus Christ died for our sins.

Christianity is a faith centered on what Jesus Christ did for us.  In Christianity we mature in our relationship with the Father since we have been reconciled to Him by Jesus Christ.  Christianity is not a religion that binds us with rules, rituals, commandments, etc.  Christians are truly free though not all realize that because of the religious environment that they may find themselves.

It is up to the individual Christian to develop a personal and intimate relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ in the same way that it is the responsibility of the husband and wife to build their relationship with each other.  Too often people put that responsibility on the clergy.  The clergy can help us, but it is ultimately up to us to pursue the Lord.  We are the ones that have to take responsibility for what we have done.

Christianity is a faith not religion.  Christians are free in Christ to live a life in fellowship with the Father.  Amen.

 

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