Ministry Matters: The Gospel - Part 3

The third part of my outline of the gospel for the church magazine.


Knowing the basic Christian message (the gospel or good news) is key to being a Christian, being a church and sharing the message as Jesus taught us, which means it's a good place to start when considering the life and ministry of the church.

In a couple of earlier articles (part 1 and part 2) I've suggested this brief outline of the gospel:

  1. God – our loving creator, who we are accountable to.
  2. Us – we have sinned against our creator and face judgement.
  3. Jesus – God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross taking the punishment for our sins.
  4. Us – we need to trust in Jesus and his death for us to be saved.

We've looked at point one and so we now turn to point two. Here I'm focusing on us, by which I mean you individually and every member of the human race. There are lots of things that the Bible teaches us about ourselves, for example our value to God, our dignity as image-bearers of God. However the storyline of the Bible constantly brings the focus back to one thing – we have sinned against our creator and face judgement.

1. We are sinners

You probably know the story of sin entering the world in the Genesis 3. God had given Adam and Eve one rule in the garden of Eden – they must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the centre of the garden (Genesis 2:17). But the serpent (who we find out was Satan in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2) tempts Eve to eat the fruit and she gave some to Adam who also ate.

The effects are disastrous. They are cast out of the garden of Eden and lose their friendship with God. The Genesis narrative then descends into disaster, as Cain murders Abel, Lamech boasts of his violence and in the time of Noah we read:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5 NIV)

This is, of course, the story of the world and each person in. So in the New Testament, Paul picks up a number of Old Testament passages and writes:

There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10 NIV)

He goes on to write:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 NIV)

But what does it mean to be a sinner?

2. What is a sinner?

When we go to the Keswick Christian convention the children have their own groups. Last year they learnt a memorable definition of sin:

Shove off God
I'm in charge
Not you

And that gets to the heart of it. We all have a heart condition, which, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, is rebellion against God. We all naturally want to go my way rather than his way. That is sin and it shows itself in all those actions where we think, say or do wrong things (sins).

I don't think most people have a problem with the fact that they're not perfect. We all admit that we do something wrong every so often. But most of us like to think that we're good at heart. We suspect that our sins are just aberrations and mistakes, but they're not really who we are. We tend to think that only really terrible people are fundamentally bad (Hitler, Pol Pot, the Moors murderers etc.).

Jesus doesn't think so. When he talks about our sins in Mark 7:21 he describes them as coming from our hearts. He gives a list of sins in vv.21-23 and the shocking thing is that quite everyday sins (greed, deceit, malice, arrogance) are put alongside what we think of as truly shocking (theft, murder, adultery). His point is simply that we sin because we have a heart problem and whatever sins it shows up as in our lives, the heart problem is the same.

So, Jesus, like Paul wants to tell us that we are all, at heart and by nature sinful. That means we have a heart or nature that is turned away from God and that nature shows up in our lives in all kinds of different sins. But why does that matter?

3. The consequences of sin

Probably the hardest bit of the gospel message to tell people is judgement and hell. It's hard because people think we believe daft things about it (devils with pitchforks). It's hard because people are glib about. How often have you heard someone saying they'd prefer to be in hell with their friends, as if it's some sort of fun social club? It's hard because people mock you for doing it - “You're the 'hell and damnation' lot.” But I think it's hard fundamentally, because it faces us with a reality we don't like. It faces me with a reality about myself, which is hard to take if I've been pretending I'm fundamentally good. And it faces me with a reality about family, colleagues and friends.

The Bible is uncomfortably clear. The day of judgement is coming:

For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31 NIV)

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:10 NIV)

And everyone will face judgement:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19 NIV)

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgement. (Hebrews 9:27 NIV)

And given that we are all sinners and God is a just judge, the judgement will find us guilty and there will be punishment. In Genesis 2:24, the punishment for eating from the tree was death. Paul tells us that our punishment for sin is the same.

For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23 NIV)

This isn't simply physical death and then it's over. Paul writes of those who do not obey the gospel:

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV)

This is hell, and the Bible has lots of descriptions of it to help us understand how bad it is, e.g. darkness, gnashing of teeth and unquenchable fire (Matthew 25:30; Mark 9:43). It is the place where there is no hope of friendship with God and only eternal punishment from him.

As I said, it's hard to talk or write of these things and some would rather avoid it, or soften the blow. I like what American minister Greg Gilbert wrote in his book What is the gospel?:

“We Christians don't read, believe, and talk about hell because we somehow enjoy it. God forbid. No, we talk about hell because, finally, we believe the Bible. We believe it when it says that hell is real, and we believe it with tears when it says that people we love are in danger of spending eternity there.”

Now sin and judgement isn't the full story of the gospel, but it is an important part of the story. If we don't know this bad news or we try to pretend it isn't true, then we'll not be that interested in the good news. If I don't know I'm dying I won't want the cure, but if I do, I'll search high and low until I find it.

The cure is, of course, Jesus Christ and his death for our sins. But that's for our next article.


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