Greg Laurie — What Is the Gospel?
The Gospel. Now we have all heard that term of course. We throw it around a lot. We use it to describe everything from a certain kind of music. Gospel music. If we are trying to emphasize that we are actually saying something truthful we might say, "Listen man. This is the Gospel truth". But what is the Gospel? Did you know that only one-third of Americans even know what the term means? Yet we are told to go into all of the world and preach the Gospel. How are we going to do that if we don't understand what the Gospel is? I want to talk a little bit about that with you right now. The Gospel message.
You probably know that the word Gospel means good news. I think before we can fully appreciate the good news, we have to first know the bad news. What is the bad news? Here it is: Everyone has sinned. The Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". Then we are told over in 1 John, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us". So it is clear that we are all sinners. Now sometimes you might be talking with a nonbeliever. You will tell them they are a sinner and they will say, "Well actually I am not a sinner". You may have to break that down for them because you can't necessarily assume they even know what the term means. There are different words used in the Bible to describe sin. One definition of "SIN" is a trespass. In the book of Ephesians it says we are dead in our trespass and our sin. It is interesting two words are used. The word trespass means exactly what it says. It is crossing a line.
For instance here at the pier if a big storm came in and they had to shut it down, you would probably see a sign that says no trespassing. When we commit a trespass it means that we cross the line that God has set. What is that line? We find it in the Ten Commandments. You shall not lie. You shall not steal. You shall not take the Lord's name in vain. If you break one of those commandments you have crossed the line. When talking with a nonbeliever you might say have you ever stolen? Have you ever lied? Have you ever taken God's name in vain? If they are honest they will say yeah. Then you have committed a sin. Again here is the bad news. The book of James says, "If we offend in one point of the law, we are guilty of all of it". One sin is enough to keep us out of heaven.
Then there is the other definition of the word sin which comes from a Greek word hamartia which means to miss a mark. It was based on the ancient game of archery. Let's say you and I were competing and we each had 10 arrows. We walked up. Our goal is to get all of our arrows in the bulls eye. You went up there and you fired nine of your arrows and they all went in the bulls eye and one was just a little off. You missed the mark. Let's say that I went up there and all 10 of my arrows not only did not hit the bulls eye. They didn't even hit the target. In fact one hit you in the arm. Ok granted I did worse than you. But listen. God's goal is absolute perfection. If I am not perfect, I have missed the mark. Jesus said, "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect". That is the bad news. We have all sinned. We have all crossed the line. We have all fallen short of God's standards.
Here is the good news. 2,000 years ago while we were yet sinners the Bible says Christ died for us. He died in our place. He took our place on the cross. Jesus paid a debt he did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. Sometimes some people will say, "I don't really think I need Jesus. I am a happy person. My life is going well". But yet they are still a sinner. You see. That is what we want to emphasize. As I have already said, one sin is enough to keep you out of heaven. Here is an example. There is the story in the New Testament about a brash young man that came to Jesus one day. He was wealthy. He was powerful. He was a religious man. We often call him the rich young ruler. He said, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life". Jesus says, "Why do you call me good. There is no one good except God". Then Jesus listed a number of commandments that this man should be keeping. This guy foolishly said, "All of these commandments I have kept since I have been a little boy". Then we read, "Jesus looked at him and loved him".
Here is the point. Jesus quotes the commandments. Why? Because it is possible that we can keep all of them and then get to heaven? No. He quoted the commandments to simply show no one keeps all of the commandments. That is why it is so ridiculous this young guy said, "I have kept all of these from my youth". We all break these commandments. In fact, God did not give the commandments or the law as it is called to make us righteous. He gave it to us to show us how unrighteous we are. It is sort of like a moral mirror. I look at God's standards and I realize how far short I fall. The commandments open my eyes and they shut my mouth. So when you are speaking with people you need to really establish that they are sinners and they need the Savior.
Let me say something that might surprise you. I think there are good people out there. In fact I have met people who aren't Christians who I think are nicer than some Christians I have met. Right. But here is the problem. Being a good person, being a nice person will not get you into heaven because heaven is not for good people. Heaven is for forgiven people. Ok. We have all fallen short. Here is the bottom line. When we say a person is not good we are not saying there are not people who have done good things. What we are saying is no one is good enough. There are good people in general. But no one is good enough to get to heaven on their own merit. The person might say to you, "Well are you saying you are good enough"? No. I am a sinner too. That is where Jesus comes in because he paid the price for us. God poured his own wrath and anger on Jesus who died in our place.
Romans 5:6-8 says: "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners". Because there was no way that Greg Laurie or any of us could satisfy the righteous demands of God, God sent his Son to die in our place. Because we faced a future in hell Jesus died for us. If you dare use the word hell get ready because you are going to get pushback. People don't like to hear the word hell. I think it is one of the reasons Christians skirt the subject. I don't really want to talk about hell. But listen. If you only promise the glories of heaven and you don't warn about the reality of hell you are not declaring the whole Gospel. I am not saying we should focus primarily on hell. But we certainly shouldn't edit it out of the message.
You might be sharing the Gospel with someone saying Jesus has filled the void in my life and I have joy and peace and I am so happy. Hey that is cool man. I can see religion has done a lot for you. I am happy for you. I don't really have a void in my life they might say. I already feel pretty good. In fact, I drank a couple of beers. I have got a good buzz going on so I am happy. I like the way my life is going. I don't think I need what you have. Oh. So what happens to me when I die? Well do you like warm climates? Wait. Here is the thing. You are focusing on the fringe benefits of salvation and you are not addressing the core issue. The fringe benefits of salvation are peace, purpose, fulfillment, joy. But the biggest thing about salvation. Do you want to know what it is? You are not going to hell anymore. You are going to heaven now. That is the biggest thing. You have to know that.
If I only offer Jesus as sort of an additive like a new product out on the market that will make their teeth whiter and give them more spring in their step that is not true Gospel preaching. I have to tell them the truth that you are separated from God by sin and there is a place called hell. You might be surprised to know that most Americans believe in some kind of an afterlife. 82% of Americans believe in heaven and 70% believe in hell. A lot of people believe in hell but they just don't think they are going there. Because for every American who believes he is going to hell there are 120 who believe they are going to heaven. That is in direct contradiction to what Jesus said because he said in Matthew 7, "Broad is the way that leads to destruction and many there are that go that way. But narrow is the way that leads to life and few there are that find it".
Know this. You can't edit hell out of scripture. Did you know Jesus spoke more about hell than all of the other preachers in the Bible put together? That surprises some people. Why? Because he and he alone knows the horrors and reality of hell. G. I. Packer said, "An endless hell can no more be removed from the New Testament than an endless heaven can". Here is what is going to be asked next. You already know it. I don't have to tell you. Oh wait a second. They act like they dreamed this question up themselves. How can a God of love send someone to hell? Right. How many of you have heard that question? Of course you have. Ok. Here is your answer. Because he is a God of love and justice he invented hell. But know this. Hell was not made for people. Hell was created according to Jesus for the devil and his angels. If a person ends up in hell God is in effect giving them what they wanted all along. C. S. Lewis summed it up this way. "There are two kinds of people in the end. Those who say to God, 'Thy will be done' and those to whom God says in the end, 'thy will be done.'" Lewis concludes, "All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell".
Timothy Keller wrote, "People only get in the afterlife what they have most wanted. Either to have God as Savior and master or to be their own Saviors and masters. Hell is simply one's freely chosen path going on forever. We wanted to get away from God, and God in his infinite justice sends us where we wanted to go". It is not that God is sending anyone to hell. It is that you send yourself there because you are living this life you want to live without God and God is saying I am going to give you that freewill and you can go on. But listen. You are going to have to kind of climb over my dead body to get there. Because I sent my Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross in your place so you don't have to go to this place called hell. Listen. The last thing that God wants is for any man or woman made in his image to spend eternity separated from him in this place called hell.
That is really true. The last thing God wants is for any man or woman uniquely made in his image to spend all eternity in this place called hell. I mean think about it this way. Say you are walking down the street and you saw a house was on fire. You heard people screaming. Would you do something to help the people? At the very least would you call 911? You might even go in the house and try to help somebody. But to keep walking that is not just being indifferent. That is downright criminal. We have got the message of the Gospel. The only message that can change a person's eternal address from a place called hell to a place called heaven. Listen. Heaven is not the default destination of every person. They need to put their faith in Christ to have their ticket if you will to get to heaven.
Really why was Jesus uniquely qualified to bridge the gap between holy God and sinful humanity. Because Jesus is the only person who ever walked this earth who was the God-man. Not just a good man. The God-man. Not man becoming God. That is impossible. But God becoming a man. Jesus was fully God. Yet he was fully man. So when he hung on the cross and they pounded those spikes through his hands and his feet in effect with one hand he took hold of that holy God that we have all offended by our sin. And with the other hand he took hold of sinful humanity and those spikes were driven through and he died there for us. He effectively bridged that gap. The Bible says, "There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved". Jesus is not one of many choices. He is the only choice. He is our only hope. We need to proclaim this message to people.
Now let me say something that may surprise you. I do believe all roads lead to God. So if someone says I believe all roads lead to God you can say I believe that too. Whatever road you are on you will get to God. If you are a believer. If you are a nonbeliever. You will get to God. But only one road leads to heaven. See the difference. See you can live without God. But one day you will stand before God. Even the atheist will stand before God because the Bible says, "Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord to the glory of God the Father". So you will stand before God. Then you will face your sins. If you said no to Jesus Christ you will face the repercussions of those sins. So a road will lead you to God. But only one road will get you into heaven. And that is the road through Jesus Christ who died in our place and satisfied the righteous demands of God.
Listen. Here is the bottom line. When you are sharing the Gospel, you want to know what you have got to make a beeline to. Ready for this. You make a beeline to the cross. The essence of the Gospel message is not your testimony. That is just a bridge to get started. The essence of the Gospel message is not just that Jesus will make you a happier person, though he will do that for you. The essence of the Gospel message is I don't have to go to hell. I can go to heaven because Jesus Christ died on the cross. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1, "I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom. I just don't want to know anything else among you accept Jesus Christ and him crucified". Paul says then in 1 Corinthians 1:17, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel not with words of human wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power".
Years ago I was in Billy Graham's home. A great honor. The greatest evangelist who has ever lived in human history. It is kind of intimidating to hang around Billy Graham. I will tell you. Even though I had gotten to know him quite well I was still nervous. We were sitting at the table. His wife Ruth who is now in heaven had made us a wonderful lunch of fried chicken. They had one of those little lazy Susan's there on the table. You know what those are. Those are things that you turn them around. So we are eating. Billy turned to me and said, "Greg would you like a coke"? When he said coke. The way Billy spoke. Whatever he said it sounded authoritative. Do you want a coke? Yes. I don't even like coke but I wanted it because of the way he said it. Coke. So I am drinking the coke I really didn't want.
Then I am thinking I have got to ask Billy a question. When am I going to get a chance like this again? I have got to ask him a question. My mind went blank. Finally a question came. I know what I will ask him. I said, "Billy let me ask you this. If an older Billy were speaking to a younger Billy what advice would you give yourself? What would you say as someone who has done this for years to a younger version of you"? Without skipping a beat Billy said, "I would preach more on the cross and the blood of Christ. That is where the power is". Well this evangelist remembered that. What is true of a preacher is true of a Christian. When you are talking to someone about Jesus you talk about the blood that he shed. You talked about the death that he died. You talk about his resurrection.
Here is the problem. Sometimes in our attempt to crossover, we don't bring the cross over. We want to be cool. We want to relate. We want to get along. We want them to like us. But there is going to come a moment where you are going to have to get to the bottom line and tell them they are a sinner. Tell them there is a judgment. Tell them Jesus died on the cross. But that is where the power is. Don't miss that stuff. I have heard presentations of the Gospel so-called that never mention the cross. As far as I am concerned that is not a presentation of the Gospel at all. This is the message we are to share.
So here is your assignment for this coming week. You want to go tell someone the Gospel. Again what is the Gospel? Remember it means good news. But before we can fully appreciate the good news we have to also know the bad. The bad news is we have all sinned against God. We have crossed that line that is trespasses. We have fallen short of his glory. That is where Jesus comes in because we can't save ourselves. We need a Savior. We want to make a beeline to the cross. The cross is where the power is. As I said earlier, sometimes in our attempts to crossover we forget to bring the cross over. There is power in this message of the cross. That is why Paul said, "I don't want to hear anything else among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified". Paul also wrote, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes". That word for power is an interesting word. It is the Greek word dunamis. We get our English word dynamite from it. Paul is effectively saying there is explosive power in the message of the Gospel. Look for someone you can tell this week about Jesus Christ. Look for an opportunity. Actually they are everywhere. Here is your homework assignment for this week. Go tell someone.