There is no one right formula for preaching the Gospel, but there is only one Gospel message. In this lesson we want to make sure that we understand the content of the message we are called to proclaim to every creature. We will cover the three main aspects of God’s message to mankind:
- The Problem
- The Solution
- The Response
Each individual and situation is different, so we might not always emphasize each of these aspects to the same degree. But until someone has heard each of these points they have not heard the whole counsel of God. In the following lessons we will learn which aspects of the message we should emphasize in the various circumstances we face; but for now we merely want to make sure we understand all the ingredients contained in the biblical message of salvation.
The Problem: Man’s Sinfulness & God’s Holiness
We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.
The Bible begins by declaring God’s good creation, and then immediately turns to the fall of mankind into sin. It shows the effects of this fall by narrating the history of Cain and Abel, the judgment on the world during Noah’s flood and then the judgement at the tower of Babel. In Genesis chapter 12 God focuses our attention on the call of Abraham and the creation of a chosen people through him. The rest of the Old Testament tells us the story of Israel’s rebellion against God in spite of the fact that He saved them from bondage, gave them a Law, put His presence in their midst, sent prophets to warn them, poured out judgments to get their attention and poured out mercy to win their hearts. The Old Testament illustrates the problem of sin.
We are called to warn people of the wrath that is to come. But we don’t merely tell them that wrath is coming, but also why it is coming. As “children of the light” we must “expose the works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:7-10). Like Jesus, we are called to testify to the world that what it does is evil (John 7:7). We must let people know that they have sinned against God’s law. We shouldn’t merely speak in general terms, but should make very clear to each group or individual exactly how they have transgressed God’s law.
Most people will readily agree that they have sinned, but they will quickly justify themselves by pointing out that “No one is perfect,” and “Everyone makes mistakes.” By saying this the individual is revealing that they believe God is going to give them a pass as long as they are not more sinful than the average person. By helping them to see their particular sins through the preaching of God’s law, people will begin to realize that they don’t just “make mistakes,” but that they daily rebel against their Creator.
This habitual disobedience shows that they do not merely sin, but that they are by nature sinful. They do not merely disobey God, they disobey Him in thought, word and deed on a continual basis. As Jesus said, a bad tree cannot produce good fruit (Matthew 7:18). The fruit of their lives reveals that they are not simply good people that sometimes make “mistakes,” but that they are rebels at heart against a good and gracious God.
It must be made very clear to them that one who continually rebels against a good God is obviously very evil. They must understand that they are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). They must come to see that they don’t merely need to change some bad habits that they have picked up throughout life, but they need a brand new heart that is not controlled by sinful desires. We must proclaim to them that they are not sinners because they sin, but they sin because they are sinners. We must proclaim to mankind that they are evil through and through. This message is offensive to the pride of mankind, but the Bible declares that mankind is sinful at the core; and we must faithfully declare the message of God’s word. People need to understand the depth of their depravity before they will be able to look for a Savior from their sinfulness.
This would seem to be enough to humble mankind, but the problem goes even deeper. It is not just that mankind is evil, but that they are in rebellion to a holy God. The core of man’s problem is not found in the fact that they sin daily, but in the fact that they sin daily against a holy God. It is not just that they are sinful, but they are sinful in the eyes of a holy God. For this reason all people who have not come to Christ for forgiveness of, and salvation from, sin are under God’s holy wrath.
God has made known the depth of His hatred for sin by revealing in His word that He created a place of eternal punishment for sinners; a place called hell. The fact that God created such a place shows just how serious God is about dealing with sin and rebellion. For this reason Jesus, in His earthly ministry, warned about hell much more often than he talked about heaven. We too must let people know very clearly that not only are they corrupted by sin, but that they are daily in danger of the eternal wrath of God. And we must make it clear that they are not in this danger because God is bad, but because He is good. God is just in His wrath, and their rebellion against a good, loving and holy God is the reason for their condemnation. The problem we must proclaim is that people are willing slaves to sin, and God is filled with holy hatred for sin. A good God will punish sinful people.
Until this problem is clearly explained and fully accepted the solution to the problem will be despised by those lost in their sins. Until one knows he has a problem, he will not look for or appreciate the solution to it. A person in a crashing plane will not be alarmed until he knows the plane is crashing. And if he knows it is crashing but believes he can fly by flapping his arms, he will still be unalarmed. Only after we convince the person that the plane is crashing and that they are deluded to imagine they can fly by flapping their arms, will they appreciate the parachute we are offering them. We must let people know they are perishing, and that they cannot save themselves by their own effort or religion. When they see this clearly by the grace of God they will be ready to appreciate the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.
- Why is the goodness of God man’s biggest problem?
- What are some ways men make their sin look less evil?
- Why is it important that we start evangelism with the problem of man’s sin and God’s holiness?
- How can we help the people we are evangelizing see the danger they are in?
The Solution: The Death & Resurrection of Christ
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you — unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
The Old Testament presented us with the problem of mankind, namely their rebellion against their holy Creator. The New Testament continues to proclaim this problem, but it also presents us with a shocking solution to the problem. When we begin to consider the solution it is important that we note that mankind plays no role in it. Man’s problem is of his own making, but the solution to his problem is from God alone. Though mankind made themselves despicable in God’s eyes, God in His great mercy planned, provided and offers redemption to men freely through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sin is the work of mankind, salvation from sin is the work of God. God so loved His enemies that He sent His only Son into the world to die for their sins and rise from the dead to give them new and eternal life.
First we must proclaim that Jesus Christ bore the sins of the world on the Cross. He died the death that rebellious mankind should have died. And through that perfect sacrifice God offers people the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness is offered not because mankind has done anything to deserve or earn it, but purely from the mercy of God and the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of mankind’s guilt was dealt with on the Cross. At the Cross Jesus accepted the justice of God’s condemnation against mankind so that we could receive the forgiveness of sins. The guilt of sin and the just wrath of God meet at the Cross; this is the solution to mankind’s problem.
But we must remember that guilt is not the only problem the human race has; we are also in willful bondage to sin. Our character is corrupt through and through. But God is wiser than any problem men and devils can create. Jesus Christ did not just die for our guilt, He also rose from the dead to set us free. Jesus said that He came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). Though we were slaves to sin, Jesus declared that He came to set us free (John 8:34-36). Jesus defeated sin, death and the devil by laying His life down in obedience to the Father. And God vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead and giving Him authority over heaven and earth. He is the Victor! He has the authority to set people free by pouring out the Holy Spirit into their hearts. He won the victory so that He could share it with us.
God solved the problem that we created. He sent His son do die for our sins and rise from the dead so that we could be set free from corruption and sin. This is the Gospel; this is the Good News! It has nothing to do with what mankind has done; it is all about what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
- How does Christ’s death solve the problem of man’s guilt and God’s wrath?
- How does Jesus resurrection solve the problem of man’s sin?
The Response: Repentance & Faith
I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
Man created a problem. God has solved the problem. But we must proclaim something else in order to proclaim the whole counsel of God. God has solved the problem, but He requires that people must receive the gift of life He has provided. God responded to the rebellion of mankind by providing salvation in Jesus Christ. Now He requires mankind to respond to His grace by repenting of their sins and trusting in His Son. God has solved our problem, but He demands that we meet certain conditions in order to enjoy that great Solution.
Firstly He demands that we be willing to be saved from our sins. He will not pardon a rebel that is determined to remain in their rebellion. A person must renounce their rebellion to God and determine to live a life of submission to the will of their Creator. That is, they must repent of their sin.
Secondly God demands that they trust in Jesus Christ alone as the solution to their problem. They cannot imagine that they can do anything to earn God’s forgiveness. He will not allow them to pretend that they can do something to wash away their sins. They must wholeheartedly trust that the Cross of Christ is the only sacrifice for the guilt of their sins. And they must also acknowledge that Jesus, and Jesus alone, has the power to give them a new life. They must surrender to the Risen One trusting that He will transform their lives from the inside out. They must not imagine that they will be able to reform their lives without the work of Christ. And they must put their lives in His hands trusting that He will indeed work in them the will and power to live a holy life (Philippians 2:12-13).
- How is telling someone to repent different than telling them to pray the “sinner’s prayer”?
- Why is it dangerous to tell a person they are going to heaven just because they sincerely prayed a prayer?
- How do we know if someone has truly repented?
- How do we know if someone has truly trusted in Christ?