No doubt you’ve heard the word “gospel” used before. You might know loosely that it has something to do with the life of Jesus, but aren’t sure you’d be able to explain it to a friend or coworker. The word “gospel” actually means, good news. But news isn’t good or bad unless you first know the situation. “Gary is not going to make it,” is news. That could be terrible news if Gary is in the hospital after a car accident. But, “Gary won’t make it,” might be great news if he’s a terrible cook and you’re talking about the food at Thanksgiving dinner!
So to say the gospel is good news means we have to know the story. So here’s the story:
The Story of The Bible
THE GARDEN TEMPLE
The story begins in a garden. The first pages of the Bible tell us that God created the universe and it was very good. That includes the humans he made to represent him, animals and plants, stars and oceans, and things like work and marriage, gravity and photosynthesis. God designed a garden to be the place where heaven met earth — a “temple” of worship to the living God. It was the place where he would meet with his most prized creation, the man and woman he made to rule and work creation as his representatives, bringing vitality and life and creativity to bear, the way He himself would, resulting in the flourishing of creation. Among thousands of trees they could eat from, there were two special ones. One was the Tree of Life; they were free to eat fruit from it. The other was the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil; God said, “Not that one.”
ENEMY INSIDE THE WIRE
But a few short moments later, our first parents, Adam and Eve, gave in to the temptation to believe that, by not letting them eat from every tree, God was holding out on them and couldn’t be trusted. So, they chose their own way of ruling instead of God’s, disobeying his law. Unsurprisingly, in the same way traitors of a nation today are expelled or destroyed, the result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion (called sin) was separation from God, each other, and creation, and God graciously made them leave the Garden so they wouldn’t eat the Tree of Life and live forever in this traitorous state.
The problem with sin is that it’s not like a bruise that eventually goes away. It’s a stage four cancer deep in our hearts that we can’t shake and its end is death to the relationship with God, relationships with each other, and our relationship to creation. While God could have crushed them right then and there and started over, this was Plan A. He knew it would happen, and in the middle of explaining the consequences of their actions, God tipped his hat to the plan of redemption.
IT’S A FAMILY PLAN
In time, God chose a man named Abraham to be his new representative and promised that his entire family would be the carriers of a blessing that would affect the whole human race, if they would keep his covenant law. Abraham trusted God through extremely difficult circumstances, and God kept his promise. Abraham’s family would become known as the nation of Israel, God’s uniquely chosen people through whom he would bring about rescue from sin and death. Throughout the pages of the Old Testament, God protected and led this family-nation with the promise that one day the curse would be reversed by one of their descendants. God gave this family a specific Law to follow and a new Temple where he would meet them by means of priests and sacrifices, and continuing to honor his word as they waited for the promise to be fulfilled.
Its a kingdom thing
But generation after generation felt God was holding out; that He was taking too long; that he had abandoned them; and they failed to keep the law, to worship God only, and rule creation as he had instructed. The family-nation of Israel began building and worshiping their own gods, and took wickedness to new levels, rebelling against God’s leadership, killing the prophets who spoke for God, and asked for a new leader — a human king they could control.
But no matter how unfaithful Israel would become, God continued to hold out his hand, not as an angry dictator, but as a loving Father. God repeated his promise, that one day a new King would come from this line of human kings that would be perfectly faithful to God’s word and would rule a kingdom of peace that would have no boundaries and no end.
Meanwhile the cancer of sin brought more and more death. King after king came and went, and with each one the nation plunged further and further into sinfulness. Finally, in an act of discipline toward the people He loved, God allowed their precious Temple (the tangible sign of His presence among the people) to be destroyed and the Israelites to be hauled off into exile. God’s presence was gone, and God was silent.
The Story of Jesus
But God never gave up his love for his chosen family-nation-kingdom. Out of his unfailing love for his people and his commitment to stay true to the promise he’d made them, at just the right time God sent the best representative of himself, his own Son, to leave the riches of heaven and become human. Where Adam and Eve had failed, Jesus would succeed. Where every prophet, priest, or king had failed, Jesus would succeed. He would endure every temptation to sin and never once let his humanity overwhelm his divinity. He fulfilled all the demands of God’s law and remained perfectly true to his Father’s plan. He would be the King who would save us from the enemy of sin and death.
But this was not the savior humanity was looking for. They wanted force, not meekness. They wanted power, not humility; Glory, not suffering. And even the “religious” folks of the day thought they would doing God a favor by weeding out this imposter who claimed to be God, and they sentenced him to die. Unbeknownst to them, they were doing exactly what God planned they would do. With the weight of all the sins of the world on his shoulders, as our representative to God and God’s representative to us, Jesus gave himself to a wooden cross to die a horrific death that would be a once and for all sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His last words were, “It is finished.” He had completed the work he came to do. He had defeated the enemy of sin, but the enemy of death still remained. It doesn’t do us any good to have our sins forgiven if death still wins in the end.
The debt of our sins stood against us. Jesus offered himself as the payment. Would it be enough?
Only a few short days after Jesus’ death and burial, the world found the answer to be YES! God gave Jesus life again, and he walked straight out of the tomb they put him in just as alive as you are sitting there reading this. A new Creation was ushered in and death was defeated! The Bible goes on to tell us that, after rising from death and appearing to many people, Jesus returned to heaven as the first of God’s redeemed family. When he arrived, God gave him all rule and authority as the King of all kings; the Lord over all lords; the perfect completion of God’s intentions for humanity and the fulfillment of his promise. As king, Jesus commissioned those who trust him by faith, called “The Church”, to be his ambassadors to the rest of creation until he returns.
THE RETURN OF THE KING
The story ends in a city. According to scripture, Jesus is currently preparing a city for those God loves from which he will rule and reign until he returns to earth as conquering King and all of his enemies are made his footstool. Those who continue to refuse his lordship and deny him as king will be cut off and thrown into a place of eternal torment, exiled and expelled from the presence and grace and goodness of God forever. Then, in keeping with the whole story of scripture, God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants will finally come to pass in full when Jesus restores creation to its sinless perfection, and ushers in an eternal kingdom where he will hand authority back to God the Father, who will rule forever as our all in all.
The Good News
The good news is that Jesus has accomplished for us what we never could accomplish on our own. He would be expelled from God’s presence so we would never have to be. He would be exiled from his home in heaven so we wouldn’t have to be. He would be forsaken by the Father so we would never be. He would make a way for us to be adopted into God’s family so that we always have a place where we belong. He defeated sin, so that we are not powerless! He defeated death, so we don’t need to fear it! Through his living and dying and rising, he gives every moment of life meaning — including the painful moments of tears and sorrow and injustice. Not a single tear is wasted or lost, and one day he will gather it all up and make it all right. And he sends his Spirit to all who believe, to comfort, strengthen, instruct, and help us every moment of the day.
News Alone Won’t Save You
If the above story of the Bible is true, then it’s our story to own and we face a choice. Just because the story is true doesn’t mean we’re automatically saved from our sin. We either accept by faith ( believing what we can’t see ) what Jesus has done on our behalf, or we continue to reject it by trusting our own efforts, our own “good-ness”, our own version of truth. The presence of God is what’s at stake. In his presence is fullness of joy, endless saving grace, and abundant life. We either remain in our rebellion, eternally exiled from his presence, or we are welcomed home to it… starting immediately the moment we trust in the finished work of Jesus.
It’s important to know that the decision to follow Jesus isn’t one to make quickly or flippantly. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” It will be difficult and you will face opposition. But God promises us that the trials we face are part of the purifying he’s working in us, to make us more like Christ. If our Lord suffered for us, then we are going to suffer for him. But we have a hope that anchors us through every struggle: Jesus has entered our struggle with and for us, conquering death in his resurrection, and we are never abandoned or alone — even in our worst pain because Jesus is alive!
If you haven’t received this marvelous gift of God, we plead with you today: Be reconciled to God! Repent ( turn away from ) of your sin and believe ( turn toward ) the good news of Jesus! God’s promise is that, “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
If God has worked in you by his Spirit, calling you to life just now, you may not be sure what to do next. Hopefully the following four steps are helpful in taking your next step in the faith journey, wherever you are on it. If you’ve read the above and put your faith in Christ, please email us and let us know. If you need help with the next steps, please let us know. We want to walk with you as best we can.
Like the oxygen mask in an airplane — secure your own before you help others — the first step is to find out who Jesus is for yourself.
A crucial habit to form at this stage is daily Bible reading and prayer.
Pick up a free Bible at the River City welcome table, or purchase one here, and start reading in the book of Luke to learn who Jesus is and what he did. Secondly, once you’ve made the commitment to follow Jesus, the second step here is Baptism — identifying yourself publicly as a follower of Christ, counting the cost and forsaking the world.
The next step, then, is to lead your family. If you have children, they are your first and most important people to teach about following Jesus. If you don’t have children, your spouse needs to hear what God is teaching you. Share what you know! If you’re single, skip straight to the next step.
A challenging yet vital next step is family worship — leading your children in studying God’s word, praying together, even singing together on a regular basis, learning together what it means to follow Jesus.
Pick up a copy of one of these recommended books to help you walk through gospel-centered parenting and family worship.
The gospel says God didn’t send Jesus just to forgive our sin and punch our ticket to heaven. God has also adopted us, through Jesus, into His family! You don’t just believe… you belong! We’re told in scripture that it’s not good for us to be alone, that we’ve been created for community. It’s never going to be perfect, but it is important to make the effort.
Despite the weekly temptation to work on the to-do list, another crucial habit is regular church attendance and community group involvement.
Look into joining an active community group, where you can study the Bible and grow in your walk with Jesus together with others from your church.
Begin giving/tithing — faithfully contributing money on a regular basis to the ongoing work of the church locally and around the world.
Finally, our faith is personal, but it is not meant to stay private. In Matthew 28, Jesus tells his followers to go into all the world, starting with those closest to you, and be his representatives by sharing the good news of salvation.
Whether it’s a meeting someone in a coffee shop, leading a Bible Study, taking Short Term Missions Trips, or even starting new churches, we desire to help you walk where God has gifted you.
An important practice here is called discipleship — finding one or two people around you (co-worker, neighbor, etc) who you can help in their walk with Christ. You don’t have to have all the answers, just be willing to learn as you depend on the Holy Spirit!
Begin praying for a co-worker, neighbor, relative who needs to know the story of God, and pray for opportunities to share with them. Have them over for a meal. Invite them to church or community group.