Our world is awash with news. And yet how much of that news is either distressing in its graphic reports of human suffering, or unreliable in its mistaken announcements.
The Christian gospel is news – but it is both good and true. A man call Paul who dedicated his life to spreading its message summed up its indispensable ingredients in a letter written to new believers living in Rome. Paul was a remarkable man. He had formerly been one of the greatest opponents of the gospel, harassing Christians, arresting them, and having them killed. But his life had been turned upside down when he personally encountered the living Lord Jesus Christ. Here’s what he wrote:
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
‘Peace with God’ – that’s what the gospel offers. It does not promise earthly riches or fame or popularity – indeed, it guarantees a tough time down here – but it does bring the simple believer into a living, joyful, eternal relationship with the God of the universe. To understand this, Paul presents five key words.
The first key word of the Christian gospel is God. Our society focuses on self and our rights, but the gospel magnifies God. Despite the loud objections of those who refuse to acknowledge that they live in a wonderfully designed universe which testifies to its Creator, the Bible starts unapologetically with God. And this God is not a cosy, non-judgmental deity who makes people feel good about themselves. The God of the Bible is all-powerful (for He made and maintains everything), all-present (because we cannot escape Him) and all-knowing (probing our most secret thoughts). The God of the Christian gospel is glorious, sovereign and awesome in His spotless holiness. No wonder someone has said, ‘the man who thinks well of himself has never met God’.
The next key word is sin. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’. The Bible is uncompromisingly frank in its diagnosis of the human condition. We are by nature ‘without strength’, ‘ungodly’, ‘sinners’, and ‘enemies’. In essence, we are utterly incapable of satisfying God’s requirements, because ‘all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Because the gospel begins not with man but with God in all His splendour and holiness, the gulf between our ruin and His unspeakable majesty is all the more marked. Sinners by nature (an inner disposition we inherited from the first man, Adam) and by practice (our individual deeds), we cannot do a thing to save ourselves.
And we do desperately need to be saved from God’s wrath, which is Paul’s next key word. Only believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are ‘saved from wrath through him’. Once again, the Bible pulls no punches. A dreadful destiny awaits all those who die in their sins, because they are guilty of wilful rebellion against the God of heaven. ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3:36). You see, God is just and will punish sinners, for ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). And that death is not annihilation but eternal separation from God’s kindness, eternal exposure to God’s burning anger against sin in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
Mercifully, such bad news is followed by the divine remedy: blood. Unlike the religions of this world, all of which insist upon human effort, the Christian gospel announces that God Himself has stepped in to answer man’s terrible problem. Far from telling people to work their way up to heaven (which not one of us can do) God has come down to where we are. But how? The people to whom Paul wrote were declared right with God ‘through his blood’. Whose blood? Paul refers to the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God in love sent His own Son into this evil world that He might live a perfect life and then die on behalf of sinful people. The key word ‘blood’ in this context is biblical shorthand for a sacrificial death which satisfies all God’s holy demands. God’s holy standard is reemphasised throughout the Bible: ‘without shedding of blood is no remission [forgiveness]’ (Hebrews 9:22). In his death on the cross the Lord Jesus became His people’s substitute, offering to God the payment that their sins demand. This is why He came into the world, to ‘save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). In the whole history of the universe there has never been a grander rescue mission.
But how can guilty sinners come into the good of this wonderful deliverance from the judgment they deserve? The last key word is faith, for this is the only way into blessing: ‘being justified by faith, we have peace with God’. Religious observances, rituals, law-keeping, turning over a new leaf – none of them can save because they are all tainted with our sinfulness. As Paul wrote elsewhere, it is ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us’ (Titus 3:5). Salvation is provided by God’s mercy alone and received by faith alone. Simple confidence in what Christ has done once for all unlocks the door of forgiveness. And that saving faith is not placed in a dead martyr but in a Saviour who has triumphed over death and lives for evermore. God endorsed the work of His Son on the cross by raising Him from the dead and taking Him back to heaven. That’s the way we can be sure that His atoning death has met all God’s claims.
No wonder Paul could rejoice in the inexhaustible benefits of salvation: peace with God, free access into His presence, joy amid the trials of life, and the certain hope of coming glory when the Lord Jesus returns for His people. This is the gospel of God. And it demands our response, for God ‘commendeth all men every where to repent’ (Acts 17:30). That is, we must agree with God’s verdict on our perilous condition (sinners heading for eternal condemnation), turn away from confidence in anything else, and grasp His wonderful provision of salvation, for ‘the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).