In a previous article I noted that 1) salvation begins with God, 2) includes God's good creation, 3) though it is a creation broken by sin. Let's now consider three additional truths that clarify the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Truth #4: The drama of salvation takes a beautiful turn at this point - God enters history.
God could have left us in our sin and been perfectly justified in doing so. God doesn't owe us anything. God is not "needy." In our sinful condition, we have no rights before God. Yet, God's plan to save a people for Himself – beginning with Israel (Deut. 7) and graciously including people "...from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages..." (Revelation 7:9) – is rooted in God's great love, grace, and mercy. As Ephesians 2:4-5 states, it was because "...God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ..."
We did not first love God, God first loved us (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:16). God does not save us because we do good things (dead, unholy people cannot do good things for God). God does not love us because we are lovable or lovely; we are lovable and lovely because God loves us. God does not love us because we are good; we are good because God loves us. In fact, even the good we do is sinful if those good deeds are not produced by saving faith (Romans 14:23).
God saves us without condition – that is, we don't meet a set of conditions that make us desirable to save. Instead, we are totally saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation belongs to God and is freely given by God to dead sinners so that they might live! Ephesians 2:5 notes that God "...made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved." In summary, the good news is that God saves sinners. God makes dead men and women live, not based on any condition other than the condition of His eternal love, mercy, and grace. Yes, we must repent and believe, but even our repentance and faith is a precious gift from God (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; Acts 17:30). Just as He did for Lydia, God must open the heart of the sinner to turn from sin and believe the good news (Acts 16:14).
And who are the sinners God saves? God does not save everyone because God is not a universalist, though He desires the salvation of all (2 Peter 3:9). God saves "His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Who are "His people?" People of the Promise, people who hear the gospel, turn from their sin, and place their faith in Jesus Christ. Or, to put it another way, God saves everyone who repents of their sin and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:30-31). In summary, the good news is that God enters history to save sinners, not abandoning us to ourselves.
Truth #5: How does God save and forgive sinners?
God made possible our salvation because He sent His only Son into the world to save sinners (Matthew 1:21; John 3:16). Further, God actually and permanently dealt with our sin when Jesus – perfect and sinless – died on our behalf. Jesus is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). God passes over our sin because of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our substitute, our crucified Savior. He was our substitute who stood in our place, condemned though without sin.
God does not forgive sins by acting as if sins never happened. Nor does He sweep our sins "under the rug." If God overlooked our sins He would be neither just nor holy. God's character and holiness have been offended by our rebellious sinfulness, His Laws have been violated, and God's creation has been cursed as a result. Sin carries with it a penalty, the death penalty. In other words, I must pay for my sin. If the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) then someone has to die, must die, will die; the sinner, ME, deserves to die. But I cannot pay for my sin; I cannot excuse my sin; I cannot change my sinful nature; I cannot endure the death penalty. I do not have enough good works in order to "cash the paycheck my sins deserve." I am condemned. Besides, apart from Jesus Christ the sinner doesn't care about God because he/she is in love with himself/herself. Sinners love themselves instead of God. So what did God do?
God sent Jesus Christ to pay our sin debt for us. God took the place of the sinner on the cross, enduring the judgment and wrath of God even though He was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result, Jesus took our sin, so that I might take His righteousness (Romans 3:21-25). It has been called the GREAT EXCHANGE! God took my sin away (forgiveness) and He gave me something I did not previously possess (righteousness and life). And when Jesus was raised from the dead sin, death, hell and eternal judgment were defeated and He completed His conquest of sin and the penalty of death.
As the great Puritan preacher, John Owen, wrote: there is the death of death in the death of Jesus Christ. When I place my faith in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished for me I am set free from the deadness of sin and the burden of wrong-doing (John 8:32; Galatians 5). Jesus didn't potentially or possibly save sinners by His death and resurrection; Jesus actually and definitely enacted salvation on our behalf in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ so that if we call upon His name, God will save us to the uttermost. This is the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). In summary, the good news is that God has made provision to deal with sin through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Truth #6 - God makes dead men live. But how can dead men live?
If we are dead in our sin, yet God has provided salvation for us in Jesus Christ, how can we know forgiveness and eternal life? How is it possible for the unbeliever to believe? How can I live if I'm dead? How can I embrace Jesus if I'm rebellious? How can I believe if I'm continually resistant to God? Dead men do not live on their own. Haters of God do not automatically love God. Further, we are not saved by good works. So, we face a dilemma. We are called to live, but are dead; we are called to repent and believe but we can't; we are commanded to have faith but we do not believe. The answer: God does not leave us in our sin; God rescues sinners!
John 1:12-13 says it best, "But all who did receive him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." How beautiful and awesome is this truth. I can receive Christ, I can believe His gospel, I can become a child of God because God has first done something – God gives the sinner new birth! In other words, it is God who, through His Spirit, gives us new birth and life (John 3:3). We must be born again. God acts first. While we are dead in our sin, resisting all things holy and righteous, God is able, through the preaching of the gospel and the convicting, converting work of the Holy Spirit, to overcome our resistance, awaken our dead souls, and make us live in Christ. God takes out the heart of stone and puts in us a heart of flesh, a living heart and mind (Ezekiel 11:19). Oh, the blessed thought!
So, the preacher preaches the good news, the Spirit moves on the heart of the dead sinner, and God awakens the cold, dead heart so that the sinner is born anew and feels compelled to repent of sin and place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ! God changes the heart and will of the sinner so that they now desire and will to believe. Salvation comes about because of the transformation of the will, the heart, and the mind. Whereas before I did not choose to believe, now the sinners wills to believe. What Jesus said in John 6:44 and 6:65 is so true, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." Once He draws us we will and desire to come willingly. Oh, the blessed thought of God calling us; Oh, blessed thought of God's regenerating power that enables the dead to be made alive, the unregenerate to be converted, the rebellious to repent, and the faithless to believe the good news by faith.
Think of it dear friend, we were dead, but God regenerated us by His Spirit, we then were awakened and enabled to believe, to trust, to have faith, and to desire God through Jesus Christ. Like a baby who had nothing to do with his own birth, yet there was the simultaneous cry of faith at birth, "I believe!" In summary, the good news is that God applies the good news of Jesus Christ to the sinner!
Next week: Truth #7 - The good news preserves the believer to the end of life; Truth #8 - The gospel calls for faithfulness and obedience; Truth #9 - The gospel connects me with other believers in the church; Truth #10 - The gospel glorifies and makes much of God.