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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 15

The Gospel: God’s Answer to Man’s Need

It is against the backdrop of this awful sin and rebellion that the amazing love and grace of God shine like a great beacon of hope. As Romans 5:8 says, “...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God has not made a way of salvation for sinful man because he deserves it but because of His own character and purpose. Think of all of the vile, unspeakable, wickedness of this present world! Only divine love could hold back its utter destruction in order to offer hope.

God’s answer to man’s need is not mere religion. The best that religion can do is to prescribe things for man to believe and do—in the vain hope that the practice of that religion will meet his need. NO religion can do that—including much that is called “Christianity” but has become mere religion.

God’s answer instead is a person, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The very name, Jesus, given by God to His Son, means “the LORD saves.” But who is he and how can he help? What difference could a man who died 2000 years ago on a Roman cross possibly make to anyone today?

Though He lived among us as a man, Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God. He did not begin His life in the womb of His earthly mother, Mary. Back in eternity, before there were angels, or men, or even creation itself, He was there with His Father. In fact, it was through His Son that the Father created all things. John 1:1-3. Hebrews 1:2. Colossians 1:16-17. So it is entirely proper to call Him our Creator.

What anguish of heart it must have caused as He saw His creatures turn away from Him in sin and rebellion. We cannot imagine. And yet, in His great love, He was willing in obedience to His Father’s plan, to leave all of the glory of heaven behind, to humble Himself to live among His fallen creatures. He tasted our sorrow and pain; He faced our temptations; He endured the opposition of wicked men. Yet through it all He remained untainted by sin. Where Adam failed, He did not.

It is amazing enough that He was willing to come down and live in such a world. But to endure the suffering of the cross—that defies understanding! Why would He do such a thing? Why would the Creator submit Himself into the hands of wicked men to torture and crucify Him?

Imagine, if you will, a courtroom. There you stand. The judge has read the law and has enumerated your crimes against that law. Your mouth has been shut. There is nothing that can be said in your defense. No excuses. No protestations. Nothing to do but to simply stand there in silence awaiting your just sentence. Your head is bowed. You see no way out. Hope is gone.

The Substitute

But just before the judge passes sentence, into the courtroom steps the judge’s son and says, “Father, may I approach the bench?” The judge says, “Yes,” and motions him to come. The son steps forward and says, “Father, I know that by our law this man is guilty as charged. He is worthy of death. But I offer myself as a substitute. Charge me with his crimes. Let me take his punishment. I love him. Please let him go free.”

Yet these simple words cannot begin to convey the enormity of what Jesus has done for us. Listen to the words of the prophet, Isaiah. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:3-6.

As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The death of God’s Son on the cross is His answer to the otherwise unsolvable problem of our guilt. He did not die for any crime He had committed. It was our sins—yours and mine—that nailed Him there, that caused Him to endure such indescribable suffering. And beyond the physical suffering was the awful weight of our sins on His holy soul. The sin of the world was heaped upon Him.

Yet He did it willingly, even joyfully, for He could see beyond the suffering of the cross, beyond the grave, beyond this world. He saw another world, peopled by an innumerable company of the redeemed of all ages, living forever in peace, love, joy, and fulfillment, free from every ill of this present evil world.

Sins Erased

The first danger we listed from which men need saving is the guilt of sin. God’s answer is the cross. The blood that flowed from the broken tortured body of Jesus represented the life that He willingly gave for us. You and I have no power to erase our sins. But the blood that He so willingly shed has the power, not merely to cover up our sins, but to blot them out as if they had never happened! Hallelujah! That is freedom!

Someone may read this who has not merely hated someone. You have actually committed murder—or some other terrible crime. When you allow yourself to think about what you have done there is a terrible weight on your soul. You wonder if there is any hope. For someone else, maybe, but surely not you. But I tell you on the authority of God’s word that the blood of Jesus Christ—and ONLY the blood of Jesus Christ—can make you as free and clean before God as if you had never even committed those crimes in the first place!

Let’s return for a moment to Romans 3. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” Romans 3:22-25. The gospel does not only show us our need; it also shows us God’s perfect remedy.

Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

No More Guilt

In Hebrews, chapter 9, we read of the old testament animal sacrifices, sacrifices that in themselves could not take away sin, but were meant to be temporary “stand-ins” for the one true sacrifice yet to come. At the proper time in God’s plan He provided His own Lamb as a sin offering, a sacrifice that forever ended the need for any other.

The writer continues the comparison between Christ’s death and the old testament sacrifices in Hebrews 9:14 by saying, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

You may feel as though God might forgive you yet you will always live under a cloud, weighed down by the guilt of what you have done. No! The blood of Christ not only erases the record of our sins; it frees the conscience so that even our sense of guilt is gone! That is salvation indeed!

But what of the second need, deliverance from the power of sin? What about our inability to live for God? Does God have a remedy for that?

Complete Salvation

Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 7:25 says, “...he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” What a wonderful scripture! Here we see salvation not just as an “event” like being “saved” or “born again” as so many think of it. Here salvation is more of a process. We also see that the ability is His. At no point in salvation are we asked or expected to rely upon our own strength or ability. It is truly salvation from start to finish.

Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” Once again, we see salvation described as a “good work” that lasts until Jesus comes. What most people call “salvation” is really only the beginning. To God, salvation describes the entire process of taking lost hell-bound sinners and making them fit to live in another world to come, entirely free from sin. That’s a big job! But it’s not too big for Jesus. He is able to do a complete job.

1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Two things are particularly worth noting. One is that Paul refers to “us who are being saved.” That is not an event but a continuing process.

God’s Power

The second thing is Paul’s reference to “the power of God.” The gospel is much more than a simple formula by which our sins can be forgiven and we can go to heaven when we die. Salvation requires God’s power. In fact the previous verse refers to Paul’s calling “to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Remember that in Romans 1:16 Paul says that the gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” If the power of God is not present and active in the proclamation of what is called the gospel, then it is not the gospel.

That is what I see missing in so many places in our day. The words are OK. The facts are in order. The people are correctly told that Jesus died for their sins and that they need to believe in Him and be saved. But how often is the power of God present in the message to actually change people’s lives at the heart level—or are they just converted to a doctrine about the new birth and to a religious way of life?

Sinners live their lives under the power of sin and Satan. It takes more than mere words to deliver them. It takes God’s power, present by the anointing, convicting, revealing, ministering faith, drawing, and ultimately bringing people to the miracle of the new birth. Satan will not give up his victims willingly. He will only yield to a power greater than himself.

And there must be a source of power available to us greater than that of sin—or else we will remain, in a practical sense, under its power. Romans 5:20-21 tells us that the grace of God is greater than our sin. Grace is divine help that we do not deserve. Verse 17 speaks of “God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness” that enables us to “reign in life through the one man, Christ Jesus.”

The scriptures describe the result of the new birth in a number of ways. All of them are basically conveying the same truth. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Ezekiel 36:26 refers to a “new heart” and a “new spirit.” Colossians 1:27 refers to “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “Christ lives in me.” Romans 8:9 refers to our having “the Spirit of God,” and “the Spirit of Christ.”

All of these expressions are referring to the same thing: a divine miracle that takes place in our hearts in which God’s Spirit comes in to live and give us what we need to live for God. Without that all you have is someone “trying” to be a Christian. It doesn’t work. And even when God comes in to live, the changes needed in our lives do not come automatically or instantly. But a saving work DOES begin, one that Christ not only begins but has promised to finish.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This scripture reminds us that salvation is God’s work. We assume our proper role as the “clay” and He takes His place as the “Potter,” fashioning us according to His plan. Any truly “good” works are, therefore, the result of His prior workmanship and are never self-effort.

Two Extremes

I have observed two extremes of teaching regarding the Christian life. One extreme actually teaches a place of sinless perfection attainable in this life, often as the result of an experience. If this were the case then Christ’s work in us would be over long before the day of Christ. After all, what can you add to sinless perfection? Surely any honest reading of the first chapter of 1 John should make it obvious that such a teaching is an unscriptural extreme. There are many scriptures that exhort believers to holy God-honoring living but none that place us beyond sin in this life.

The other extreme is often a reaction to the first extreme. You would almost get the impression that the only thing a Christian can realistically expect is to have his sins forgiven. He ought not to expect to gain any real measure of practical victory over sin. Great stress is laid on Paul’s profession in Romans 7 as though that was meant to describe the normal Christian life. Of course, Romans 7 is a pretty good description of what you can expect IF you are trying to produce godliness through self-effort.

I remember a couple of years ago hearing a famous preacher—now gone on to be with the Lord—make the following statement concerning the group of which he was a part: he said, “I wish to God we were as afraid of sin as we are of perfection!” It is easy to see what he was getting at. He had observed such a “knee-jerk” reaction against any suggestion regarding overcoming sin that many had gone into the other ditch. People were so warned against “perfection” that sin became almost expected.

Surely there is a middle ground! Christ didn’t come to save us IN our sins but FROM them. True, during this life we continue to inhabit bodies of sin but the progressive work of Christ from the inside out gives us the ability to grow up in Him and learn to more and more live for God anyway. What a sad “gospel” it would be if we had to tell a lost hell-bound drunk that, while he would always be a drunk, he could at least be a “forgiven” drunk! No! God has made provision for overcoming sin in a practical way. There is no place for complacency or feeling that we have “arrived” but we have every right by the grace of God to expect Him to help us and to deliver us as we rely upon Him.

The one extreme tends to produce delusion, hypocrisy, or frustration. The other tends to produce empty profession, worldliness, and complacency. The gospel of Jesus Christ, preached by the anointing of the Holy Spirit has the power to bring about a progressive work of salvation that takes a man all the way from the miry pit of sin to the purity of the halls of heaven. And the blood of Jesus Christ is available throughout that journey to cleanse us completely from all our failures and shortcomings along the way. 1 John 1:7-9.

The subject of victorious Christian living in spite of our flesh is quite a large one but for our present purposes let it suffice to say that God has made provision for us in the cross not only to be forgiven but also to live for him in this world. Of course, it is only by His strength; that is why it is called “salvation.”

Jesus Versus Satan

But what of Satan’s power? What about the fact that we continue to live in the midst of a world system ruled over by the devil and all his demons? What of the god of this world? We are surely no match for Satan’s power in ourselves. What has Christ done about this need?

The world into which Jesus was born was ruled by Satan, sin, and death. As Isaiah 60:2 says, “...darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples.” At best, a small remnant of Israelites remained faithful to God, awaiting the promised Messiah. Luke 2:25-38.

When Jesus was still a young child wise men came from the east seeking the one who had been born to be “king of the Jews.” When King Herod heard of this and learned where the child was he issued an order to kill every male infant under the age of two years in Bethlehem. But God warned Joseph and Mary through an angel in a dream and they escaped to Egypt before the slaughter.

We know from John’s vision in Revelation 12 that the devil was fully aware of who Jesus was and sought to kill him. No doubt he was the inspiration behind Herod’s attempt as well as the many other plots recorded in the gospels.

Immediately following the baptism and anointing of Jesus we see him led by the Spirit into the wilderness specifically to be tempted by the devil. Although just three particular temptations are recorded there is no doubt that in the wilderness—and throughout his ministry—the devil assaulted Jesus with every temptation he could devise—to no avail.

Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.” And so we see that, first of all, Jesus personally overcame every attempt of the devil to corrupt him through sin.

One of the notable characteristics of the ministry of Jesus was his authority over demons. Wherever he went he healed sick people and cast out devils. When some of the religious leaders accused him of being in league with the devil (Luke 11:15) Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” Luke 11:17-18.

Then in Luke 11:21-22, he said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.” Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God and clearly demonstrated its superiority in authority and power over Satan’s kingdom. His words on that occasion clearly prefigured God’s plan for the salvation of multitudes yet unborn. The devil is the “strong man,” and this world is “his own house.” For souls to be rescued from Satan’s house it was necessary that he first be overpowered and defeated. As Matthew 12:29 puts it, “he first ties up the strong man.”

Victory

Shortly before it was time for Jesus to go to the cross he said in John 12:31-32, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” In Revelation 12:7-9, John’s vision continued, “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

What a glorious picture of the battle of the ages fought at the cross! Jesus endured everything the devil and all his evil hosts could muster—and they were utterly defeated. And the devil couldn’t even kill him! He laid his own life down—willingly—for us! John 10:17-18.

Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

And so the proclamation was made in heaven: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” Revelation 12:10.

In Ephesians 1:18-23 Paul said, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

All the powers of hell could not keep Jesus in the tomb. He rose in triumph with a life forever beyond the power of sin and death. It is this life that He offers to all who put their trust in Him. His victory was “for the church, which is his body.”

In Colossians 1:13-14 Paul says, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

There is a very definite connection between Christ’s victory and authority over Satan and the proclamation of the gospel. Listen to the words of Jesus shortly before he returned to heaven: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20.

One of the privileges of salvation is that those who have put their trust in Christ are given power to overcome the devil’s strong holds in their lives. The devil may at times wield a strong influence in the life of a Christian through intimidation or deceit but he has no right to do so. He is a liar. One of the things those who are being saved learn is to recognize and resist the devil even as Jesus did. We learn to believe and confess God’s word instead of Satan’s lies. God’s word is a sword before which the devil cannot stand. Ephesians 6:17. James 4:7. 1 Peter 5:9. Luke 10:18-20.

An Eternal Kingdom

But the authority given to Christ by His Father is not just for the defeat of Satan: it is for the establishment of God’s kingdom. Listen to the wonderful prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

The foundation for this eternal kingdom was laid at the cross and confirmed by the empty tomb. On the day of Pentecost the church was born and from that day to this the work of calling out, sanctifying, and preparing a people to live in that great kingdom has continued despite all of Satan’s efforts. As Jesus had declared in Matthew 16:18, “...I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Before his crucifixion Jesus said many things to prepare his disciples for the traumatic events to come. In John 14:1-3 he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

What a wonderful, simple declaration. The word “rooms,” sometimes translated, “mansions,” is literally “dwelling places” or “abodes.” He was saying that where my Father lives there are plenty of places to live. Note that these are places to live, not merely visit. There is a sense of permanence and of rest conveyed by his words.

He then states four simple stages of God’s plan: I am going; (I will) prepare a place for you; I will come back; (I will) take you to be with me. The end result is that you will be where I am. Consider, if you will, when these words were uttered. This was before the cross! Jesus knew that despite the agony he faced, his death was not the end but was, rather, a means to an end—and a glorious end at that! What Jesus declared in this scripture is God’s answer to the “sinking ship” of this world—for those who are saved.

Shortly before the day of Pentecost the disciples witnessed the first stage when Jesus suddenly began ascending upward until a cloud hid him from view. Then two men dressed in white appeared beside them: “‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” Acts 1:11. The evidence that He arrived safely came a few days later with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost!

At Home With The Lord

Of course, many believers have died physically since that day. What of them? Paul shares his hope in these simple words: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.

Listen to his declaration in Philippians 1:21-24: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” There is a place right now where the redeemed who have gone on are “with Christ,” awaiting the glorious day to come.

Today, the promised return is drawing nearer and nearer. Why has it not happened? Why does God allow such evil things to happen in our world? 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” His work is not done.

Yet the day will soon come when it will be and opportunity will be gone. As it was in Noah’s day, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever.” Genesis 6:3. All heaven awaits the day when God says, “Enough! Go and bring my children home.” What a day that will be!

When He Comes

In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 Paul comforted the persecuted Christians of Thessalonica with these words: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” Judgment for the world; deliverance for the saints.

The wonderful words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are often quoted at the funerals of believers: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” What an awesome hope!

The words of 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 are also often used: “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Everything Under His Control

Philippians 3:20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” How wonderful it will be when we no longer have to put up with these bodies of sin and death, our whole beings transformed by the grace of God into citizens of a holy and eternal kingdom!

A New Earth

What is our final destination? 2 Peter 3:12-13 tells us, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” In Ephesians 2:7 we are told that the amazingly gracious things God has done for us through Jesus Christ have been done “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Coming “ages”—plural! “Incomparable riches”! What a great God we serve!

Truly, our Lord Jesus Christ “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:25. Our utter inability to help ourselves is no hindrance to his ability to save us. God’s provision is far greater than our need. No wonder Paul was excited!

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