Ministry Matters: The Gospel - Part 5

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 earlier article 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.

Now we come to the final part of this outline – our response to the message.

1. The Response Required by Jesus and the Apostles

Jesus himself summarises what our response to him should be right at the start of his ministry.

"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15 NIV)

Both Peter and Paul pick up the same call as they begin to preach this good news (Acts 2:38; 3:19 26:28). But what does it mean to repent and believe? Let's take each part in turn.

2. Repent

We don't use the word “repent” in everyday English. In fact, I wonder if we only associate it with the idea of particularly fiery preachers trying to browbeat their congregations into submission by entreating them to repent. However, it simply means to turn away from sin. That's what John the Baptist was calling people to do (Mark 1:4-5). It's how Peter challenges Simon the sorcerer when he tries to pay the apostles for the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:22). And Paul captures the idea as turning from idolatry in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, which is because the heart of sin is telling God that he's not God and turning to something else (see the third article in this series for more on our sin).

It's not that responding to Jesus requires us to be perfect by obliterating sin from our lives. The apostle John tells us:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8 NIV)

It's that we reject sin as our god. We hate it. When we fall for it, we are sorry and resolve once again to turn our back on it. Someone who is a true Christian isn't perfect, but they are in the fight to stop sinning. For the Christian, repentance is a way of life!

There is, of course, the flip-side to that. If repentance isn't a way of life, then you aren't a Christian. We still suffer in the UK from the concept of the nominal Christian. This is the person who ticks the “Christian” box on a survey and who shows up to church from time-to-time or even regularly. The person who is perhaps baptised, confirmed and takes communion. Yet they sin and they don't care. Sometimes it's obvious for everyone to see, because the sin is in the open. Often it's more subtle and carefully hidden.

Either way, it matters to God. In the New Testament we see some especially striking ways that a lack of repentance can cause problems in the present. For example, the death of Ananias and Sapphira for deception in the church (Acts 5:1-10) and the judgement and sickness of those who take communion in an unworthy way (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). These are, of course, pictures of the ultimate judgement that a lack of repentance produces.

3. Believe

The words for belief and faith are from the same group in Greek. Often, people think of this kind of religious faith as belief without evidence (a view that atheists want to encourage). That's not Christian faith though.

In John's gospel, where the focus of response to Jesus is on belief, he writes of his book:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 NIV)

In other words, the Bible is providing the evidence for sensible faith. It's a faith in the good news of Jesus. In particular, it's a trust that because of who Jesus is (the Messiah, the Son of God) and what he has done (his death for our sins and his resurrection), we are forgiven now, we will be declared righteous (because of his righteousness) and we will have eternal life in his name (see also Romans 4:24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). Ultimately then, our faith or belief is a reliance upon a person: Jesus Christ. That's why we're Christians. And just as the Israelites would look to God's actions for them in history as reasons for faith in Him in the present, so Christians look to God's actions in Jesus, which make us confident to rely on him now and for eternity.

4. Not Works but Grace

It's important to grasp that this response is radically different from other religions. The response required to become a Christian is not to be more moral, or more religious. It's not to build up the good works pile in the hope that it will outweigh the sins pile.

The Reformers of the 16th Century reclaimed this from a Roman Catholic church that had gone astray by getting people to work for their salvation. They called it salvation by faith alone, because they looked at what Paul said and saw that it wasn't our works which justified us (made us right with God) but our faith (Galatians 2:16). And in case we want to turn our repentance and faith into some sort of work to be proud of, the Reformers also reminded us that we are saved by grace alone, i.e. it is all the work of God. Again they were just following Paul.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

I wonder if, as you have read of these articles, you've found them describing what you believe and how you've responded. If so, then what a great thing to be able to thank God for his great grace to you and what a great message to take to those who don't know it.

However, perhaps you've read these articles and thought, either that you never knew this, or that you have never responded like this to Jesus Christ. If that's the case, then why not take the chance now to turn from your sins and put your faith in Jesus? There is nothing more important that you will ever do.


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