Thursday, March 12, 2015

What Is the Gospel? - by Richard D. Emmons

Richard D. Emmons is professor in the School of Divinity at Cairn University in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. He is also senior pastor of GraceWay Bible Church in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.

     If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain you would go to heaven?
    I've heard all types of answers to this question: “I don't believe in heaven.” “I think I'm going to heaven.” “I hope I'm going.” “I'm not certain I'm going, but I try to be a good person.”
     Life does not cease at death; and eternal life versus eternal punishment is not merely a Christian concept. King David said he would “dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Ps. 23:6). Job said that after his skin was destroyed, meaning his body was in the grave, “in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26).
      Yet not everyone “shall see God.” The prophet Isaiah spoke of sinners dwelling “with the devouring fire” and “everlasting burnings” (Isa. 33:14). The New Testament reveals the site of these burnings: the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14-15).
      So what do you do when you want to tell someone you love how to avoid eternal punishment? You evangelize. You proclaim the Good News. You present the gospel. As the world grows closer to the coming of the Antichrist, many false gospels will be circulating. But only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power of salvation.

      WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? The word gospel in Greek is euaggelion, which simply means “good news.” There are various types of good news, and the New Testament uses the word in a variety of ways.
      If you take the noun form, euaggelia, and add the verb form izo to the end, you have the Greek verb “to evangelize,” which literally means “to share good news.” This is the same verb used when the angels came to the shepherds in the fields and announced the birth of Christ. The angel basically said, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I evangelize you”: “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Lk. 2:10).
      When you share with people how they can obtain eternal life and avoid the Lake of Fire, you're sharing the gospel – the Good News.
      Four Bible books are called Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They present the Good News of the earthly ministry of the Son of God who came from heaven to reveal God the Father to mankind and then die a sacrificial death for our sins.
      The Hebrew Scriptures – 39 books written over a span of 1,000 years – call God “Father” only a dozen times. But in the Gospels, Jesus speaks often of His Father and tells us to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9; Lk. 11:2). Being able to call God “Father” is good news. In fact, the truth of Jesus is great news any way you look at it. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers people God's unending love, forgiveness of sin, help in time of need, direct access to the throne of grace, deliverance from the Lake of Fire, and eternal life in God's presence.
      No wonder the apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek [Gentile]” (Rom. 1:16).
      The content of the gospel we share with people usually follows Paul's message in 1 Corinthians 15:

I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you....For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once....After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also (vv. 1-8).

     Christ died according to the Scriptures, was buried, was raised, and appeared to many. That is the gospel in a nutshell.

     THERE ARE MORE THAN 7 billion people on Earth. Out of that 7 billion, God in His grace reached out to me one day to open my eyes to grasp this Good News. Today He is reaching out to you. He is sharing the gospel with you purely on the basis of His goodness and grace, and He desires to lead you into a personal relationship with Him.
     If someone offered you a brand new car for free, would you respond, “No thanks. I have an old clunker I prefer to keep”? Chances are you would be thrilled with the offer. And not only would you be grateful to that person, but you probably would tell everyone else about it as well.
     God has made you an offer. He wants to give you forgiveness of sin, membership in His family, and a home in heaven forever. That is good news.
     Why can He make that offer? Because Jesus paid the penalty for your sins. He died in your place. Even though you may not care about Jesus, He still cares for you. In fact, He cares so much He died for you: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
     Why was it necessary for Jesus to die for us? Because God's holiness required a perfect, sinless sacrifice. You and I cannot die for each other; we are sinners by birth and by action. In all of human history, only Jesus was qualified to die to pay the penalty for someone else's sin. You no longer have to pay the penalty yourself in the Lake of Fire. You can obtain forgiveness through faith in Christ: “Christ also suffered [died] once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to god” (1 Pet. 3:18).
     The Lake of Fire was never prepared for people: “Then He [Jesus] will say to those on the left hand [unbelievers], 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Mt. 25:41). The Lake of Fire was prepared for the Devil and the demons. But it is also where people will spend eternity if they fail to respond to the Good News.
     A number of years ago, I was driving on the Garden State Parkway in North Jersey. There is a spot where the highway is walled in on both sides. That day traffic was tied up for miles because a German Shepherd somehow ended up on the highway. People wanted to help the dog; but the dog was so fearful, so crazed by what was going on, he wouldn't let anyone near him.
     Many people are like that. They fear those who want to help them. They fear or dislike Christians who share the gospel, even though we do it to save their lives.

     DO YOU KNOW WHERE you will spend eternity? If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain you would go to heaven?
     There is no room for doubt. And there is a way you can be certain. Jesus died to pay for your sins. God wants to put your sin on Jesus and transfer Jesus' righteousness to you. Faith is the key. Faith means trusting Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sin. You cannot trust in yourself, your good deeds, your theological training, or anything else. And in trusting Jesus, you are trusting in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are one and the same.
     We do not know when we will die. Now is the time to welcome the Good News. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
     Psalm 95:8 declares, “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.”
     If you have never accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, you may do so right now by praying, “Dear God, I know I'm a sinful human being. I know I can't get to heaven by myself. I could never be good enough. I believe Jesus is Your Son. I believe He died on the cross in my place. I understand He's the only way into heaven. Please take my sin away and give me the gift of eternal life. Help me to serve You [now that I'm saved], and make me a follower of Jesus. Thank You, God, for doing this for me.”
     Millions of people throughout the ages have prayed a similar prayer from their hearts and have been transformed from the inside out and born into the family of God. The gospel is the power of God for salvation.
     If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain you would go to heaven? As the apostle John neared the end of his first epistle, he wrote the following:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God (1 Jn. 5:13, emphasis added).

      Faith is the certain victory over death and the Lake of Fire. Faith assures us that we can “dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” And if that isn't good news, I don't know what is.

This article first appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Israel My Glory magazine, published by The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Copyright 2015 by The Friends of Israel. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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