Broadly speaking, the gospel is the good news that sinners (like you and me) might be reconciled to God. His chosen method of reconciliation is faith in the salvation provided as a gift through the death of Jesus. God chose this method of reconciliation in order to be merciful (forgiving sin) while also just (punishing sin).
Sin is the biggest problem of every human. Sin encompasses both what we do and even what we do not do. (See James 4:17: “So if anyone knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”) Sin also encompasses our thoughts and our innermost desires that we may not even fully understand about ourselves at times. The bible describes the actions of our natural selves (our “flesh”) as against the Spirit of God: things like, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
At this point, you may be tempted toward one of two ways of thinking. First, you may think that this “sin problem” lumps every single person into the same category as “bad.” But do not be fooled, just because your problem is identical to the problem facing every man does not make it less severe! Second, you may assume the opposite and think that this “sin problem” does not affect you at all. Sure, you admit to telling the occasional white lie and might remember a time of jealousy toward your brother – but is that really a big deal? The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) To God, sin is a hugely important deal. This brings us to your second problem.
Even though you are a sinner, it may not seem like an issue because you have lived your life around sinners of a similar lifestyle. The real problem with our sin is that it separates from God. One Psalm says of God: “evil may not dwell with you” and again, “you hate all evildoers.” God, in His perfection, cannot be near, take part in, or be the author of sin. Otherwise, He would cease to perfect. God guards His holiness, and He intends to punish our sin as the One True Righteous Judge of the universe. If you were to ask God that you may dwell in His presence, it would be impossible due to the incompatibility of your sin and His holiness.
Jesus, likewise, is holy. While on earth, Jesus lived a perfect life (see 2 Cor. 5:21) but yet some killed him out of jealous rage: “…you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” (Acts 3:14-15) While some men acted in wickedness, God had a “definite plan and foreknowledge” to deliver Jesus to be killed on the cross: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In the great divine switch, Jesus (a perfect man) took the punishment of a holy God for the sake of us (imperfect sinners) so that we may be raised to the standard of God’s holiness for us. It is a trustworthy statement that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) This righteousness is available to anyone who believes in him (John 3:16).
What were some of God’s motivations for providing a path to righteousness for undeserving sinners? First, God is loving and merciful: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). This historical event also showcases an undeniable “light” which shines forth the glory of the gospel of Chris (2 Cor. 5:4). This is the same glory that will one day cause every single knee to bow before God, and every tongue to confess that He is God!
Why did Jesus partake in the gospel plan? We stand amazed that Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
How exactly does the act of one man, Jesus, cleanse the whole world of their sin and allow us to dwell in the presence of God? Well, sin came into the world through one man. Adam, the first man, sinned and he eventually succumbed to the wages of his sin: death. Afterwards, all men eventually die. It is as if the whole of creation “groans” under the weight of sin and death. That first man introduced death and decay for all who came after him. So also, through the life of one man, Jesus Christ, the whole world may receive the “abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” (Romans 5:17)
How so? God put forth Jesus as a “propitiation” – the payment for the penalties of sin, to be received by us through faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, that while He is merciful to forgive, He may not overlook the true nature of sin! He must punish. He chose to punish Jesus in our place.
Why Jesus? Jesus is truly God and truly human. By virtue of being God, Jesus is the perfect spotless lamb, able to atone for the sin of the whole world in his sacrificial death. And if we are reconciled to God by his death – how much more shall we be saved by life? The grave did not hold Jesus for long: God raised Jesus up from the dead, on the third day. Jesus ascended into heaven where He reigns and rules.
What is Jesus doing now? As someone who is truly God and truly man, He is able to sympathize with the weaknesses that come with being human and He serves as a priestly intermediator who pleads with God on our behalf for all our needs (Hebrews 4:15). He will also come again “a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)
It is of vital importance to know how to receive this gift. Firstly, it is all of faith in Christ: “for by grace you have been saved through faith.” You cannot come to be reconciled to God by your own merit, but only by the merit of the blood of Jesus. You must also know that this is a life-long calling of God. God initiates this call, saying “repent of your sins and believe in me.” This is a call to die to yourself and follow and obey Jesus for the rest of eternity.
Unfortunately, while we believers have been reconciled to God, we still have lingering desires for sin. We believe that the Spirit of God dwells in us as God acts the miracle of faith in our hearts, but we also know that the vestiges of sin remain: sometimes faintly, and sometimes all too strong. The Bible says that “there is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” God intends to use the remainder of our lives to sanctify us: to grow us into a similar likeness of Jesus’ life, from one degree of glory to the ultimate stage of glorification. In order to help us, He gives us His word to instruct us. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
In summary, I will leave you with a trustworthy saying that deserves the fullest acceptance: “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)