The Gospel Presented With Definitions
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" (John 11:25b-26). Since Jesus said this in the first century the veracity hasn't changed: Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody may approach God except through Him (cf. John 14:6).
There is a story told of a mother who appeared before a general to plead for the life of her soldier-son who had been asleep at his post. "Sir, I beg of you," she implored, "have mercy on my son." "But your son deserves to die," replied the general. "Sir," answered the mother, "I asked for mercy, not justice."
This little story is exemplary of how we approach God and become Christians. When we rightly approach God, it is by repenting of our sins, asking for forgiveness and placing our faith, not in ourselves, but in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. We do not appeal to anything we have done, believing that we can make deals with God and that God will repay us according to our piety (cf. Rom. 4:4). Rather we appeal to God by throwing ourselves on His mercy through the person and work of the Son of God. We do not ask for justice, for by the measure of justice we know that in the depravity of our sin we have missed the mark and set idols of our own making between us and God. Instead we believe that God manifested Himself to destroy the works of the evil One (1 John 3:8) to reconcile a fallen world with Himself. Our only appeal is to Jesus Christ, who being God, offered Himself up as a sinless sacrifice on our behalf, and having accomplished this, He rose from the dead in triumph over sin and death (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4) as a historical event. By making Jesus Christ the object of our hope, faith, and love, we appeal to His holiness and his sacrifice on our behalf. The object of our faith is only in Him.
Sin is man's basic problem. It is sin which necessitates the need for salvation and the entire plan of reconciling man with God. Sin, in an etymological sense, is missing the mark. People often assume that the target is missed because of sinful man's inability to live up to God's perfect standard. But the picture is not of man's wishing to be holy and falling short. Rather, it is man's desire for fulfillment which he misses because he seeks it through selfish pursuits rather than through submission to the will of God where it is found. In this, man is in rebellion to God (Rom. 8:7). Because the sinner shoots at the wrong target, he misses the fulfillment that he desires.
Repentance means a change of mind. It can be said that repentance has three aspects. The first is intellectual. By it the sinner comes unto "the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20) and its consequences. The second aspect is emotional. It is a genuine sorrow over sin. It is a deeper sorrow than "being caught." It is a "godly sorrow," sorrow because one has sinned against God (2 Cor. 7:9-10). The third aspect is volitional, a change in the will and purpose. It is a turning from sin unto God, the heart crying out to God for pardon and cleansing (Ps. 51:7, 10). In this sense, true repentance is a lifelong attitude against sin and not a momentary emotional upheaval. It is taking God's point of view on sin and rejecting it in all known forms. This rejection isn't reserved just for past sins only, but all sin everywhere and always.
Faith is the investing of trust in something or someone based on the sufficiency of evidence. Yet faith can be likened to why we do not reason why a sunset is beautiful; the beauty is mysteriously self-evident. Nor do we reason why a child smiles at the sight of her mother; love's mystery requires no explanation. It would seem that at some point faith overlaps reason and enables us to further understand our experiences and situations. But at still a further point, reason falls totally by the wayside, completely incapable of providing any explanation for what is taking place around us. From that moment forward, faith must be fully operative. Faith takes over when reason fails. For this reason it has been said credu ut intelligam, "I believe in order that I may know," and not intelligo ut credam, "I know in order that I may believe."
Forgiveness involves the aspects of acknowledging sin by one party and free pardon of it by another party. Forgiveness by God is conditional upon repentance to God by the sinner and faith in God's promise to forgive.
Salvation involves the removal of guilt from personal sins and the sentence of death that all men are under because of their own sin. Positively, salvation bestows a new status of being adopted into the family of God onto the repentant faithful believer, and hence, we are the "joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17; cf. 1 Pet. 3:7). In the Gospel of John, the fourth book of the New Testament, salvation is equated with eternal life, a spiritual life, given by God, and experienced now, and not limited to an extension of this life in heaven. Salvation here is a quality of life, not simply an extension of life (John 5:21-29). In addition, salvation of the soul also involves a resurrection to a glorified incorruptible body to serve and enjoy eternal life with God (1 Cor. 15).
What is God like? God is the beginning and end of all things. He is that which nothing greater can be conceived being an uncreated, sufficient, and necessary being. He is the infinite, unmeasurable, eternal One who manifests himself in the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit. He is the all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-empowering creator, redeemer, and consummator of all things. He is immanent without ceasing to be transcendent, the Holy One present in our midst, whose very way is incomparably free, self-determining, spiritual, responsive, and self-congruent. His every activity is incomparably good, holy, righteous, just, benevolent, loving, merciful, gracious, forbearing, kind; hence eternally blessed, eternally rejoicing, whose holiness is incomparable in beauty and who through mercy and grace, has reached out and taken hold of and touched my life because He is personal.
Who am I, as a member
of the human race? I am a creature
of God created in the image of my Creator to willingly love, serve,
and fellowship with Him. But, on my own, apart from God, my character
is that of a sinner: I am a cheat, one who supplants, ousts and
takes the place of another, one who seeks to gain the advantage
by whatever means at hand: even if it means telling lies or stealing
from my own brother. But, through my Lord Jesus Christ, I am free
to truly image God and reflect His glory back to Him choosing
the good over the evil, by choosing His will over mine.
The reality of this is that although my sins are forgiven in Christ, I am not yet holy. 1 Peter 3:18 says that we are to "grow in grace" as our destination is maturity in faith and practice. 1 Peter 1:16 says, "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (see also Lev. 11:44-45, Lev. 19:2). To that end it is by the grace of God do I go, seeking the maturity to manifest the fruit of the Spirit which is hope, faith, and love, in all my ways (Gal. 5:22-23 cf. 1 Cor. 13).
What is my relationship
to God? To other humans? Created
in the image of a personal God, I too am a person and it is only
through the Son of God that I may have a relationship with the
Lord (1 Tim. 2:5). In my deepening relationship with God, I note
that it has pleased our Lord that words would be his agents of
change. Therefore, I spend time with the Lord reading and learning
His word, the Bible, reflecting upon its precepts so that I may
know my Lord better through contemplation and prayer and manifest
the fruits of the Spirit, loving God and my neighbor. It is through
this lens that I know of and trust in the Lord, and from which
I view all things.
I hold that the Body of Christ is an organism that best works together. Therefore a single denomination, ministry, group, or individual--no matter how blessed by God above--does not have the whole truth. I see that God has set up a system of reliance and community with mankind. This community starts from Himself to individuals, out to families, then neighborhoods, into our cities, and finally, unto whole nations. That is what the Body of Christ is in effect, a vast community, which, Christ is the head. Christ is the "one" who includes within His resurrection Body "the many" as a corporate personality. The Church may then become the means of Christ's work in the world. It is His hand, His feet, His tongue, and His voice. In His resurrection life in this age He still needs a pure, clean body as His instrument to evangelize a lost world. The vibrant personalities of redeemed and sanctified human servants of God make a powerful impact upon the imaginations and minds of men. Every type of person, and every gift man has, can find its place in the total work of God. He who turns to God can remain no longer neutral. The Church must ever be that fellowship wherein people find God's righteous will and His outreaching grace.
What are the barriers that block me from achieving my purpose? Having already implied the meaning of life as Jesus told us (Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:25-28; Gal. 5:14), I will now define the purpose of life in human terms as expressed by Solomon (Ecc. 12:9-14) who said that the whole duty of man to God is to fear the Lord and to obey His will, for it is only then that the gift of life becomes meaningful. Therefore when we fear anything other than God alone, we place an idol between ourselves and God, in willful rebellion. This is the nature of our condition: Apart from God we are guilty from our past, anxious about our future and the present monotony seems empty and without meaning. With God, our past is forgiven, our future is set, and our present is filled for the service of the Lord and our neighbor.
How can I overcome
those barriers that interfere with my fellowship with God? On my own I cannot.
It is only through the regenerative ministry of the Holy Spirit
that sin and rebellion can be overcome. Apart from the Lord, as
a sinner, like all men, I am in bondage to sin because sin brings
one under its power and reduces its victims to abject helplessness
(cf. Rom. 8:21; Gal. 4:3) by the tyranny of its guilt, the irresistibility
of its pull, and the grip of its habit. But "I thank Christ
Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful,
putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and
a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did
it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding
abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is
a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ
Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief"
(1 Tim. 1:12-15).
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