What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘gospel’?
For most, this term summarizes the message of salvation through what Jesus accomplished at Calvary and through his resurrection. In other words, the gospel is the invitation that upon receiving Jesus, one can have sins forgiven and their consciences’ cleansed. For others, the term ‘gospel’ immediately brings up a particular style of music popular in the South. When I first came to the church where I served as Senior Pastor one of the pastors encouraged me to frequently explain what I meant by the term since most associated it with a music style with which they had grown up.
We should associate the gospel with the initial message sinners first need to hear. Without the redemptive work of Jesus on our behalf, we are without hope; separated from God. The gospel is the grand, great news that Jesus did everything necessary to remove the barriers keeping sinners from a relationship with the living God. No wonder the angels rejoiced when they first announced to the shepherds the good news of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whose he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). How can they be silent with this incredible announcement the Messiah has been born?
Sadly, for most believers, though their need for the gospel ends with their initial salvation. Once they have believed, they put the gospel on the shelf and begin to concern themselves with other things. They are good things such as discipleship, holiness, prayer, evangelism. It is not that these things are wicked; indeed, they are part and parcel of the Christian life. The problem is, they are not pursued in a ‘gospel’ way but grasped in our strength, unsweetened by the grace of the gospel.
Our relationship with the gospel, therefore, doesn’t end with our initial salvation; indeed, it is only by embracing the gospel continually that we are enabled to truly live the Christian life. Because I never learned that as a new believer, I spent many years striving to live the Christian life. I didn’t realize at the time, but I had become legalistic; trusting in my performance as the basis of my relationship with God. Little wonder why I carried around a low-grade guilt most of the time since I felt I never measured up. Since I never knew if I did enough to satisfy God, I never really had the assurance that I pleased Him.
But sometime after my initial salvation, I was introduced to the Gospel of the grace of God with its incredible message that our standing with God at any time is not based on our performance but on what Jesus has done for us. When Jesus uttered the cry, “It is finished” from the cross, he meant he removed every barrier from sinful man to open the way for a relationship with God. The tense of the Greek terms in this statement could render it, “It is perfectly perfect; it is completely complete.” We can add nothing to what Jesus has done.
No matter what advances we make in the Christian life, they never serve as the basis of our approach to God. We always and ever must come through the Lord Jesus Christ. No one will ever draw near to pray and will hear, “You don’t need to come through the Lord Jesus; you have now attained such standing with God through your attainment in holiness you don’t need my Son as the way of access.” In this life, we will ever and always need the Lord Jesus as our way of approach. But the good news is, He is totally and entirely sufficient at all times to serve as our high priest forever, securing our access to the Father. No wonder the writer of Hebrews, after laying out in his teaching the great truth Jesus is our high priest, then exhorts his readers with the following words: