1. The Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The word “gospel” means “good news.” Before we can appreciate God’s good news, we must recognize the bad news: we’ve sinned. It’s not hard to acknowledge that we’ve done wrong. The difficulty is that the average person cannot see the greatness of his wrongs to see the need of any good news.
Enter the Ten Commandments. Most of us believe that the Ten Commandments are moral guidelines that help us live right. Actually, they are a light illuminating our sinful hearts. How so? You know you’re in trouble when a patrol officer motions you to pull your car over and says, “Did you know you went through the stop sign back there?” The Ten Commandments are like that officer: it tells us that we are law-breakers. Let’s look at the first commandment for an example. It tells us not to have any other gods aside from the God who saved the Hebrews from the Egyptians (Exodus 20:2-3). Do you value anything as more important than this God? If so, you have not merely done what’s wrong, but broken God’s law. All of us have broken this law. You can read the rest of the commandments in Exodus chapter twenty. Through all of these laws we learn that we are sinners.
Question: So we’ve sinned. So what?
2. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Would we respond to the above police officer’s word with, “So what”? No, because we know that breaking the law is a serious matter that brings unpleasant consequences. Running a red light or stop sign brings a penalty. In the same way, breaking God’s laws bring a penalty. As the verse above tells us, the penalty is capital punishment, then in the next life the sinner suffers in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15).
This verse also gives us good news: in exchange for death, God will give us the gift of life. A gift God gives us is not dependent on anything we’ve done in this life. The gift of eternal life is found in a person, in Jesus, not in works, religion, or a church denomination. God’s gift is a relationship with his son, which we enjoy by faith.
Question: What does Jesus have to do with sin and eternal life?
3. The Bible says, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
When God delivered the Hebrews out of slavery to the Egyptians, he introduced a system of animal sacrifices they were to practice. When a Hebrew knew he had sinned, he would take a lawful, spotless animal from the field, such as a lamb, and offer it to a priest. The animal was then killed, and the sinner could see the animal suffering and dying in his place.
This system teaches us that sin must be punished, and that God accepts a substitute for sin. In John’s gospel, John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus, the son of God, is the one who came to bear the penalty of death in our place. He died on a cross then rose again from the dead. Only sinners bear the full penalty of death. Jesus was sinless, so death could not keep him down. He rose from the grave. Now he’s in heaven at the right hand of God.
Question: So if Jesus saves us from punishment, what am I supposed to do?
4. The Bible says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
a. Try harder to be good? This won’t work. Remember that sin gives us the death penalty. Can prisoners on death row really do a good deed to change a judge’s mind?
b. Try to stop sinning? If you try to succeed in being a perfect person from this time on, it’s too late – what about the laws you’ve already broken? You cannot try to balance out bad with good conduct. That’s karma, not truth.
c. Let Jesus be Lord? We are told to confess Jesus as Lord. What does this have to do with sin? In the early part of American history men were born into slavery to plantation owners. Through the Underground Railroad and people like Douglass Frederick and Harriet Tubman, many men and women obtained freedom from their masters. Similarly, we were all born as slaves of sin. Through Jesus and the Underground Railroad called faith, we escape sin – its power and penalty of death. We may let sin lead us to @#!*% or let Jesus lead us into the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus bore the blame for our sin as he suffered on the cross. He was buried in a tomb. On the third day he rose from the dead. The cross is God’s Emancipation Proclamation. The blood of Jesus spilled on the cross redeems us; that is, it purchases us from our old master of sin to become the Lord’s. When you are tempted to sin, you may experience power over sin by saying with your mouth from the heart, “Lord, I belong to you.” This freedom from sin, from its penalty and power, is what we mean by salvation.
Question: What does this salvation do, exactly?
5. The Bible says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
What’s the difference before salvation and after? God comes into our life. The wonder of it all is that a holy God would dwell with sinners. Before Jesus was born to Mary, an angel told her to call him “Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Salvation joins us into a relationship with God. What happens then? Over time, we develop a hunger for spiritual values more than worldly ones. With sins washed away, we are no longer burdened with guilt. We find peace with God and in time, peace with ourselves and others. We find that God is a real person that we can come to, and when we act according to His Word, He responds. He rewards our trust in Him. He is knocking on the door of your heart for permission to teach you this way of life. If you know God wants to be in your life, open the door of your heart and invite him in.
Question: So after that, I get a free pass with sin; I can’t help sinning, right?
6. The Bible says, “Likewise you also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. … present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:11-13).
The good news is not simply that Jesus took your punishment in your place, but that he broke the power of sin. When you believe in Jesus, your old sinning nature goes into the grave with Jesus and your new creation rises to be in him, who is seated in the heavenly places. Sin no longer has control over you. When you feel its pull, you may now say, “I no longer need to follow you; I have a new Lord: Jesus Christ. That sin is from my old life; I am now with Christ having power over sin. I give myself to God to follow him instead.”
That’s like someone taking away the craving for cigarettes you were addicted to, and removing the power of the addiction so it doesn’t control you any more. This is the power of the cross of Christ. All other religions tell you to be good without dealing with the inner sin nature that controls you. Only Christ can break the power of sin.
If we see sin as a light matter, then we disrespect the painful and gruesome death of Christ on our behalf. Consequences will be severe. Sin separates us from God and leads to death; dealing with sin will revitalize our relationship with God.
Question: Why do I find Christianity making little difference in the lives of churchgoers?
7. The Bible says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
It takes time for two people to grow in a relationship. These early Christians grew in faith and knowledge of God through four disciplines: the Word preached to them, prayer, fellowship with other Christians, and worship, such as recalling often the death of their Savior through the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion). These four practices are like four legs of a table that keep it strong and stable. Lose one leg and it all totters.
A healthy marriage relationship needs communication between husband and wife. So through the Word, God talks to us and in prayer we talk to God. A healthy relationship depends on thinking well of the other person. So we partake of the Lord’s Supper often and remember how he gave himself in love to save us from our sins. In a healthy marriage, a father and wife pass on godly values to their children. So in fellowship with other believers, we are taught, and then pass on instruction to others.
The supermarket shelves are full of various brands of soap, but the streets are still full of dirty people. In the same way, America is full of Bibles, but many sinners continue in their own ways. Like soap, we must apply the Bible to the unclean areas of our lives if we want its benefits.
Jesus is coming again. He will judge us, giving rewards to those who followed him. Jesus will have a place in his kingdom for those who believe in him and serve him. If you don’t know Jesus in your life, I invite you to pray and receive him. Confess your sins. Ask him to come into your life and give you power over sin through the Holy Spirit. Then start studying the Word for yourself, and begin a relationship with the Almighty God who loves you.