The Gospel is Both Good News & Bad News.
Which do you want to hear first? The good news or the bad news? National Geographic released an article on a new study posing that very question. The author Cathy Newman interviews Angela Legg, a Ph.D. student in psychology at the University of California and spearhead of the study. According to Legg, the experiments proved that most people on the receiving end would rather hear the bad news first. “If people know they are going to get bad news, they would rather get it over with,’ she says. Then, if there is good news to follow, ‘you end on a high note.’”
The Gospel Defined
You might be asking yourself, “What’s this got to do with the gospel?” But actually the word “gospel” derives from the Greek word “euaggelion,” which literally means “good news.” The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ came into the world and died so that we may have eternal life. It is the central message of the Bible and the core of Christianity. However, many people pass the gospel off as mere “religion” or take offense to it because they haven’t been told the bad news. But if the bad news – that those who do not receive forgiveness for their sin will be condemned to hell- is understood in the light of the good news then the gospel becomes “good news” to the hearer, rather than offense or nonsense. So in this study of the gospel, we will take a “good news or bad news” approach, beginning with the latter.
God is Holy, and you’re not.
Wondering if God really exists? Well, just take a look around! The same way footprints indicate the presence of a person; creation indicates the presence of a Creator. The Bible teaches that this Creator, God, has always existed. He made the world and everything in it (Gen 1:1). Since He is God, the boss of Heaven and earth, He doesn’t live in temples made by man. He isn’t served by human hands, as though he needed anything, but it’s He who gives life to all mankind. (Acts: 17:24-25) Because God is a creative being, it pleased Him to make humanity and to allow us to be living, breathing masterpieces that display His glory (Isa 43:7; Rom 11:36). God didn’t create man because He was lonely. He’s always been totally satisfied and sufficient within Himself (John 5:26; Isa 40:28; Acts 17:24-25). However, God is personal and He delights in expressing Himself in relationship with other beings, so God created man in order that we may know Him and enjoy Him (Acts 16:26-27).
One way that God chose to reveal His character to humanity was through His law. His first commandment to Adam —the first man— was to eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden but one, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:16-17). But later his wife Eve —the first woman— was persuaded by a serpent to eat that fruit, and then she turned and persuaded Adam to disobey God’s command as well (Gen 3). This act of disobedience is what brought “sin” into the world. Sin is anything that falls below the standard of God’s law. Since God’s law is an expression of who God is, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God it was like they were saying, “We reject you, God.” God is “Holy.” The Bible defines holiness as being “set apart” or “different from the world.” God is set apart by His perfect goodness and justice. Because of His own nature, God could not allow Adam and Eve to remain in His presence. So because of sin, man’s relationship with God was broken and death entered into the world (Rom 5:12).
Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, every human is born with a sin nature- or a natural tendency to break God’s law and even hate God (1 John 3:4). The most common example of God’s law is the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments summarize all 613 commandments of the Old Testament. As you read them all below, consider God’s standard of perfection. Place a check by all of God’s commandments that you’ve broken.
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21)
- “You shall have no other gods before me.” Have you ever worshiped something or someone else as God? This includes devoting all of your time, money, energy, and affections to something else, without acknowledging or thanking God for giving you life.
- “You shall not make for yourself [an idol]” Have you ever treated something manmade as an object of worship? Money or statues or idols made by men, for example. Idols are not limited to what you can see and touch. An idol can be a way of thinking. Living a self-centered lifestyle would demonstrate that you idolize yourself.
- “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word? Do you often say “Jesus Christ” or “Oh my God” when something bad happens?
- “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Do you take at least one day of the week to do nothing but rest? (No objections to this rule, huh?)
- “Honor your father and your mother” Have you done anything dishonest or disrespectful to your parents? Told a lie? Stolen something? Tarnished your parent’s reputation with dishonest living?
- “You shall not murder” This could be literal murder, as well as hatred. Have you ever hated someone? (Matt 5:21-22)
- “You shall not commit adultery” This could be having an affair outside of marriage, having sex before marriage, or simply lusting after someone. (Matt 5:27-28)
- “You shall not steal” Have you ever stolen anything, regardless of its value? Big or small?
- “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” Have you ever told a lie?
- “You shall not covet” Have you ever envied someone or wanted that they had?
I think it’s pretty clear that God’s standard of holiness is unachievable for humans in general. No one can call his or her self a “good person.” Romans 6:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So forget trying to compare yourself with others, God’s law is the standard. Sin is something that we do on a daily basis, and it would literally take an act of God to change that reality in each of our lives. But here is where the real bad news comes in: the punishment for sin is death.
There’s a place for not-holy people: Hell.
The Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23a) In other words, everyone who sins will die. This is because all sin is an offense toward God. (Psalm 51:4) After death, you will give an account before God for all that you have done, good or bad. God is a loving judge, but He’s also a good judge. He cannot pervert justice or go against His own nature by sweeping sin under the rug. Sinners must be punished. God’s nature demands it. Hell is a place where the wicked are “tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev 20:10) Hell is called the “everlasting fire,” a place of “everlasting destruction,” and the “lake of burning sulfur.” (Matt 25:41; 2 Thes 1:9; Rev 20:10)
Holiness is a requirement to be in God’s presence. (Heb 12:14) Every man, woman, and youth has sinned, so how can anyone see God? How can anyone enter Heaven after they die?
God sent Jesus Christ so that we may be saved from the wrath our sins deserve.
Though humanity did not deserve a second chance, God in His mercy and love decided to provide a means to forgive us for our sin. Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Since the punishment for sin is death, in order for God to remain just and offer forgiveness for sin, a sacrifice had to be made on our behalf. Humanity needed a representative that was fully human, so that the sacrifice would count on our behalf. (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Tim 2:16) That representative also had to be fully divine, without any sin or flaw. This is where Christ entered the scene. Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, died on the cross, was buried in a tomb, and resurrected three days later. Jesus’ resurrection was proof that He was God and that His sacrifice for sin for acceptable to God, “because only God could take the wrath of God and survive.” (“The Hypostatic Union” Shai Linne, The Attributes of God)
[Understanding Why Jesus Had Die]
Even though Adam and Eve ruined man’s relationship with God with sin, in His grace and mercy, God whipped up a plan to bail us out of our desperate situation. Remember how I told you that God is Holy and that the punishment for sin is death? Sin can’t be forgiven without death (Heb 9:22). That’s the only way to settle the score. In the Old Testament of the Bible, you’ll read about how God made a promise with a group of people called the Israelites (Ex 19:1-9). God promised to be their God and protect them, if they would worship and obey Him. Of course, God couldn’t lump Himself with sinners, so He instructed the Israelites to each sacrifice an animal when they had sin that needed to be forgiven (Lv 4:35, 5:10). Their only option was to sacrifice an animal in order to receive forgiveness for their sin, or to personally suffer the consequences of their sin by death. (Sorry, Fluffy, but it’s you or me, right?)
“But the animal didn’t do anything. Why does the poor animal have to die?” That’s the point. Because the animals were sinless, their deaths temporarily covered the sin of the person sacrificing it. So the Israelites had to constantly offer animal sacrifices in order to have their sin forgiven, but this system was only temporary. God’s plan was to replace that sacrificial system with the ultimate sacrifice: Jesus Christ (Is 53:3-7). Christ’s sacrifice covered man’s sin because he was a man, and as God the Son He was able to fulfill His own law (Mt 5:17-18; 2 Co 1:20; Ro 10:4). So Christ had to die so that our sin could be permanently pardoned. He took on the death and all of the wrath our sins deserved, and guess what?! Now you don’t have to sacrifice Fluffy to get your sins forgiven!
Repent, and put your trust in Christ alone to be saved.
You are saved from the penalty of your sin when you acknowledge your sins to God, ask His forgiveness, and put your trust in Jesus Christ’s work on the cross (Rom 10:9-10; Pro 28:13). It is not by your own good works that you are able to receive eternal life after you die. In other words, doing more good than bad does not save you. There are plenty of people, who by the world’s standards are good, but God will condemn them to hell. His judgment is not merely based on our outward actions, but the innermost thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Our sinful nature prevents us from ever being able to satisfy the Lord’s requirements. It is by grace —the unmerited favor of God— alone through faith alone in Jesus’s wrath-covering sacrifice made on the cross (Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Pet 2:24). God resists the proud, but shows grace to the humble. (Pro 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5) When you accept the bad news, that God is Holy and you are sinful, you can appreciate how amazing the good news of the gospel really is!
Becoming a Christ follower is not just about being able to go to Heaven when you die. Salvation is the beginning point of a new relationship with Christ. When become a Christian, God places His Spirit within in you, and causes you to love Him and obey Him (Ezk 36:26; Eph 1:13). Little by little He changes and restores your life to the original purpose He created you for! As you grow in your knowledge of Christ and His profound love for you, you will no longer love your sin. You’ll desire to please God with your life.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you will have a pain-free life. Christ makes this clear in John 16:33. He says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world (NIV).” Through any painful circumstance or persecution, Christians have hope because of their relationship with God. God has already conquered death. He is with us, and is always in control.
If you have just decided to follow Christ or if you have not yet developed these habits as a disciple, begin reading God’s Word and praying to the Lord everyday (2 Tim 3:16; Phil 4:6; 1 Thes 5:17). Find yourself a Christ-centered Church, and begin meeting regularly with other Christians so that you may grow in your faith and receive encouragement and sound teaching from other mature believers, as well as serve (He 10:25-25). We’ll discuss how to do these things in detail later on.
Just In Case You Haven’t Received Salvation Yet…
Have you already made Jesus the Lord of your life? Still not convinced that God is real? Hebrews 11:6 says that “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (ESV). You can pray and ask God to reveal Himself to you. Ask God to show you that He is real, and to help you trust in Him. If you are ready to become a disciple of Christ, In your own words pray, or start a conversation with God. Acknowledge that you are a sinner. Ask God to forgive you for your sins and to give you His Spirit so that your desire will be to please Him. Ask God to apply Jesus’s work on the cross to your own life. Then thank Him for His salvation. (Ac 2:21) End your prayers with “In Jesus name I pray.”