First, the Bad News
The “gospel” is the very good news that there is hope for mankind in Jesus Christ. Because Jesus has come and wrought redemption, there is hope for a real and everlasting happiness for us, who were born into this world of sin and misery, vulnerable to all kinds of suffering: cruelty, injustice, disease and death. What happiness we enjoy during this life is mixed with disappointment, as it is usually brief, and it always falls short of our expectations; but what ruins it completely is the fact that it must end in our death. We must leave this world through the destruction of the flesh that we have tried to preserve and make comfortable all our lives. And usually we must experience the painful and horrible decay of our faculties, beginning sometimes before we are halfway through our threescore and ten years, and continuing to the bitter end. Then we must leave, not only our own bodies, but the people we love, the places and things that are familiar to us, and every pleasure that we have ever known.
Death would be painful enough, if there were nothing beyond – if the worst we had to fear was annihilation. But there is good reason to fear something far worse. For conscience tells us that we have done many things worthy of punishment in the course of our lives, which are not punished here. The very thought that God may be angry with us is terrible. But what if it is actually true? What if we must lie under that wrath until our debt is paid (which can never be)? For longer than our whole lives have been? For ever and ever? Who can bear to think such a thing!
Jesus Christ taught, as the inspired Hebrew Scriptures taught before Him, that after death, there is a judgment unto everlasting life or everlasting death. These are His words:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:46)
This awesome truth overshadows us, and it makes all the miseries of this life as nothing. For it would be better to suffer great pain for a mere lifetime than to suffer the least pain forever. It is therefore far better to suffer all of our lives because we are Christians, and then die and go to heaven, than to live comfortably, and go to Hell. As Jesus put it, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”(Mark 8:36)
It is this dark backdrop of our miserable condition – this very bad news – that makes the gospel such good news! It is because we are ruined in our sin and guilt, and helpless to save ourselves, that God intervened in history, sending His Son to do for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves. It therefore behooves us to give our most earnest attention to what God says about all this!
What The Good News Is
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
Everyone is not going to Hell; for we have already seen that there is a life eternal, into which some will enter. This is not because there are some people so perfect that they deserve to go to heaven – no one is that good! Only Jesus Christ is perfect, because He is not a mere man, but “the Word made flesh”, God and man united in one complex person. He was made in the womb of the Virgin Mary without a human father, by the direct operation of God, and so He was not plagued, as we all are, by the presence of indwelling sin. He could honestly say, “Which of you convicteth me of sin?” and “I do always the things that please my Father.”
To deserve heaven, we would have to be as perfect as that! The truth is that we have two great problems: a bad record, and a bad heart. If anyone thinks that he is a good man, who just needs some self-improvement, a little cleaning up, he is sadly mistaken!
We spend our entire lives either ignoring or consciously disobeying the Author of our being, while we make ourselves the center of our universe. We treat our fellow-men as objects for the promotion of our happiness. We pursue our own selfish goals with our eyes closed to everything else; without even considering why God made us, and what we ought to be about. Then something happens that makes us afraid and we think about God for maybe five minutes, until the fear goes away. Perhaps we make a few half-hearted attempts at prayer, or stop doing something that we know is really bad. And now, we think we’ve done pretty well, and the fear goes away. But the danger has not gone away – it’s increased! For now we have added to ingratitude and profanity the sin of refusing to repent when warned! And now we are in danger of hardening our hearts, falling into a sounder sleep, and dying in final impenitence.
This is what we are really like – sinners by nature and by choice. We don’t love God: we would be perfectly glad to live in a world without any God – so that we could run our own show. And we imagine (all evidence to the contrary ) that we are smart enough to make a heaven on earth for ourselves, if God would just leave us alone.
We don’t love our fellow-man. We use him, and throw him away when we are done with him (or her).
For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)
We don’t want to do what’s right. We want whatever it is that we want, we mean to have it, and no one had better get in our way! We are ugly, deformed monsters who do not deserve to live for another moment; but no, we are even worse than that! We are Satan’s thralls! We serve the Devil! We do his work!
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
We are, in spite of all our shameful guilt and depravity, proud – as proud as the Devil himself! What arrogance it is for such an evil being to strut around feeling superior to everyone else! How insulting to God, when we treat him like we don’t need Him or owe Him anything; like a paperboy, left waiting on the porch while we go inside to make change!
Not that we have ever seen ourselves like this – in our true light. For the fact is, that we are deceived – deceived by the Devil, who is an expert at hiding ourselves from ourselves. We are blind and we are helpless in the hands of one much stronger and wiser than ourselves, who means to keep us captive, if he can. It would really be a hopeless situation, if it were not for God’s matchless grace!
What is God’s Grace?
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Grace is undeserved goodwill. We deserve only wrath from the God we have so offended; but He responds with kindness and love. This should amaze us; but even more so when we consider the properties of Divine grace, which are these: it is sovereign (that is, both free and distinguishing), eternal, infinite, almighty and unchangeable.
First, it is sovereign grace – it is the grace of a sovereign, indeed, of the sovereign! It is altogether free! There is no law which binds God to forgive His enemies; indeed, he is rather bound by His own integrity, holiness and justice to punish the wicked. To exercise grace, He must find a way to do so without compromising His justice, abasing His honor, and offending His holiness. He has done so, but at the cost of the humiliation, suffering and death of the Son of God. God exercises His grace of His own free will, even choosing to pay the price Himself.
It is distinguishing grace. It makes a difference between one man and another. As the sovereign, God decides who are to be the objects of His saving grace. It is not all; for all are not saved. On many, He has mercy; but the rest He passes by and leaves them to perish justly for their sins. It is a common error to suppose that we determine our own destinies by our own free wills. God is the only one in the universe that is truly free, without qualification. He calls all the shots. He is the predestinating God, who foreordained all things that would ever come to pass, from before the foundation of the world.
Grace is therefore eternal. Grace was given us in Christ Jesus before we were born, before we had done any good or evil; so we could not possibly have done anything to deserve it. The chosen were given to Christ to redeem, and He will not fail to bring every one of them into the possession of eternal glory.
Grace is infinite. The worth of Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death is infinite! There is no sinner so vile that God cannot save Him on the basis of Christ’s merit. There is no gift so great that God will withhold it from His elect, if he sees that their salvation requires it. There is no request so large that he cannot grant it.
Grace is almighty. God alone is able to raise the dead; and we are dead in sins without grace. Jesus “quickens” or gives life to whom He will. This is sometimes called “effectual calling” or “regeneration” or “the new birth”; but in Scripture, it is often called “sanctification”. God comes to a sinner, and by His almighty Spirit of power, makes him a “saint” or holy one. He creates a new life within the man that is holy and imperishable. The bad heart is taken away, and replaced with a good heart. We could not possibly effect such a change in ourselves; nor could anyone do it for us.
Grace is unchangeable – as unchangeable as the nature of God himself! God does not alter his plans as we do; for they are always perfect, and He is always able to execute them just as He intended. Nothing and no one can interfere; for He foreknows everything, and takes up every attempt to defeat Him as a part of the plan. Satan tried to make Jesus sin, but this failed; and then He moved his slaves to kill Him, but this very act, the crucifixion of Jesus was what God intended to be done, and without it, we would all be lost forever! All things in God’s perfect, immutable counsels work together for the salvation of His people.
What is Given by Grace?
Man’s greatest generosity is beggared by God’s! God’s giving is unparalleled!
His grace knows no measure! He gives us His own Son! He took our sins upon Him, and canceled them out by suffering the penalty, freeing us from all guilt. His righteousness is then credited to us by virtue of our union with Him. He gives us the Holy spirit, to sanctify us, and to make us new creations – new creatures that love God and man, and that are growing in grace, becoming more like Christ and less like the world all the time, until they come to eternal glory. But not only do we obtain all that He has purchased for us by His glorious doing and dying: He Himself becomes our dear Elder Brother, our constant Companion, our Guardian, our Provider, our Teacher, our Guide, our Best Friend! No one can be more patient, kind, or understanding than He can.
What Keeps Men From Receiving this Grace?
How can anyone refuse to receive this gracious gift of God’s own Son? It seems incredible that anyone would choose to turn away from the gracious offer, the gracious summons, the gracious solution to the most serious problems we face. How can anyone refuse God Himself, who has come down from heaven to save sinners? Yet many do. Perhaps you have, as well, until now. Why?
I have already touched on this, but it deserves emphasis. Man is a sinner, and the gospel comes to man for the purpose of redeeming him from sin. We do not want to become sinless! We love sin! We intend to remain sinners! We refuse to consider the consequences – we pretend that the Christian message is all make-believe rather than accept that we need to be changed. Only the fear of death avails with most men to make them act according to their true inner convictions so far as to become outwardly “religious”. But fear alone cannot change the heart. We are willfully blind; but we are also really deceived. Our wills are in bondage to sin, just as truly as an alcoholic is in bondage to drunkenness.
Besides all this, we want the world to think well of us, and becoming a Bible Christian will get us laughed at. We are afraid of losing our jobs, our wives or husbands, our friends. We tell ourselves that it’s not necessary to totally “go off the rails”, so we content ourselves with a little religion – but not too much, nothing radical, nothing risky. Perhaps we promise ourselves that we’ll repent someday, after we’ve done this or that evil that we have in mind to enjoy first. Or we put it off, saying “This is worth considering, but I have no time today.” Or we say that it can’t really be true that so many nice people like ourselves are going to Hell. We tell ourselves that God could not be so “picky” as Christians represent Him to be. We pretend that “God is love” in a perverted sense that denies He is also holiness, justice and wrath. We compare ourselves with infamous sinners, and somehow, illogically, imagine that we could not be bad enough to be damned, as they must certainly be.
Some will go so far as to deny the existence of God altogether; preferring to believe that life is just a strange quirk in a meaningless cosmos that ends in a pointless death and eternal unconscious non-existence. Others will take up false religions: Roman Catholicism, Unitarianism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Buddhism, that make man his own savior (as they all do). For a sinner, anything is preferable to God’s way.
By all these excuses, men damn themselves, when they would certainly be saved if they would only believe the words of the God who cannot lie, and of the faithful witness, Jesus Christ! Do not make this mistake, for the consequences will be horrible and irreparable. Get down on your knees and cry to God for mercy to escape your just deserts through the Great Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ! Do it today. There may be no tomorrow for you. Make it the chief business of your life! Nothing else really matters. Persevere in seeking God until you find Him. Determine that, if you are to die without assurance of eternal life, then you will die in the act of calling upon God.
But do not imagine that you may sincerely seek God without finding Him. He is near unto all that call upon Him in truth and sincerity. It is our unbelief alone that renders our prayers unavailing. Do you imagine that God is a hard case, who has to be moved to pity! He has already shown His humility and kindness to sinners countless times, and He sent Christ to save us before we were born! Believe in God’s graciousness, repent of your sins, be forgiven and changed and saved forevermore!
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15)
I beseech you, in Christ’s name, be reconciled unto God!
Howard Douglas King