The Truth of the Gospel
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and rose victoriously from the dead. We receive this truth of the gospel by faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” God saves us by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is the good news about the bad news!
Several years ago at a Men’s Retreat, I addressed a large audience of men sitting in an outdoor amphitheatre. Behind the stage where I was speaking was a rustic wooden cross. In my message, I explained to the men the bad news and the good news of salvation in Christ. I then took a long rope and stretched it across the front of the gathering. I challenged the men to call on Christ for salvation; to surrender their whole lives to Him and to get up from where they were seated and to symbolically “cross the line.” From all over the amphitheatre, men arose from their seats and crossed the line into salvation.
When we cross the line, all the truths and blessings of salvation become ours in Christ. God makes us new people and gives us a new spiritual identity. It is the truth of our gospel-identity that sets us free. The truest thing about you is what God says is true. Because of the work of Jesus Christ, as God’s child, you have justification, redemption, propitiation and reconciliation. More than theological words, these terms describe your gospel blessings by virtue of the work of Christ. This is the truest thing about you, because God says it’s true!
Justification is God’s judgment declaring us not guilty and positively righteous in Jesus Christ. Romans 3:21-31 asserts,
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Paul explains the gospel by answering a question, “How can a holy and just God have fellowship with sinful man?” Paul’s answer is that God must remove the barrier of sin and pronounce us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. Since we are dead in sin, no one can become righteous in and of themselves. We must receive an alien righteousness. God declares us righteous and gives us His righteousness when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. This is the truth of justification. The metaphor is a courtroom where we are the accused and God is the judge. The truth is that we are guilty. But Jesus Christ died as a righteous substitute for our sin. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, then God the righteous judge, pronounces us not guilty. He declares us righteous and imparts to us His righteousness. This is true because God says it’s true.
The metaphor behind the idea of redemption is the purchase of a slave from the slave market. In the ancient world, slaves were bought and sold based upon an agreement on the purchase price. When the price was paid, the slave could be set free. Every person is born into slavery to sin. Our only hope is for the purchase price to be paid. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He shed his blood and purchased us from sin’s slavery. If you were to go to Home Depot, which every man knows is the adult version of Toys R Us; you would find all kinds of tools and home improvement items. Every item has a sticker with a bar code on it. The bar code records the price of that item and when scanned, the price appears on the computer screen. If you want to legally take an item from Home Depot, you must pay the purchase price. When you pay the price, the item becomes yours. Jesus paid the price for our sins and we now belong to Him. His blood set us free from sin and now we have a new master–Jesus Christ. Our redemption is true because God says it’s true.
Romans 3:21-30 describes how we are justified and redeemed in Jesus Christ. This passage also describes that the work of Christ has secured propitiation for us. The New International Version of the Bible translates the term propitiation as “sacrifice of atonement.” The Greek word is hilasterion, and means a covering, especially the covering of atonement provided by the sprinkled blood in the Holy of Holies over the Ark of the Covenant. Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark? Well the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies and upon it sat the Mercy Seat. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat; it was the place where the transaction of atonement took place. In is justice, God demanded a punishment for sin but because of His mercy, He accepted the blood of a substitute. This is propitiation. God accepts the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a punishment for our sins. His justice and wrath toward sin are satisfied and His mercy is expressed toward those who come to Him through the work of Christ. We will never receive God’s wrath because there is no condemnation in Christ. It is the true because God says it’s true.
The work of Jesus Christ gives us justification, redemption and propitiation. The work of Christ also gives us reconciliation. Romans 5:8-11 reveals,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
We have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. The backdrop to the idea of reconciliation is a broken relationship. Reconciliation is the removal of the barrier that alienates two parties, so that enemies can become friends. Because of the barrier of sin, men are enemies of God. Picture God being on one side of the Grand Canyon and humanity on the other side; the chasm is so great that no human action can bridge the distance. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is the bridge that connects us to God. Christ has removed the barrier of sin and we, who by nature and choice have been God’s enemies, can become His friends. Reconciliation is the truest thing about us because God says it’s true.
The gospel blessings of justification, redemption, propitiation and reconciliation are true for every believer. Our deepest identity is our new life in Jesus Christ because the truest thing about us is what God says is true!
Portions of this article were adapted from Facing Goliath by JP Jones
Rev JP Jones is the Senior Pastor of Crossline Church in Laguna Hills, CA. JP is the author of Facing Goliath published by Regal Books and an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Biola University.