The word gospel is the Middle English version of an Old English term, godspel, meaning “glad tidings,” or “good news.” The Greek equivalent, evangelion, likewise means “good message.” The term evokes the idea of a welcome pronouncement or a happy declaration. So it is ironic that quite often, the gospel is not gladly received by those who hear it.
It is likewise ironic that when Paul begins his most thorough systematic presentation of the gospel message, he starts with a statement that is decidedly bad news: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). Paul then goes on for the equivalent of two full chapters, making the argument that the whole human race is fallen and wicked and hopelessly in bondage to sin. “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one’” (Romans 3:10). Furthermore, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Obviously there’s a close connection between the two ironies. So many people spurn the good news because they can’t get past the starting point, which requires us to confess our sin. Sinners left to themselves are neither willing nor able to extricate themselves from the bondage of sin. Therefore instead, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). They are objects of God’s wrath—because “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
People love their sin. Respectable sinners are especially prone to defend their genteel approach to sinning; gross sinners are more likely to confess their sin and turn to the Lord for redemption. Jesus was remarking on that phenomenon when He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17, NKJV).
That aspect of Jesus’s teaching differs sharply from the conventional wisdom of all this world’s religious elite. Virtually all the major world religions teach that humanity is fundamentally good—or at the very least that there is in each person some spark of divinity, giving us the ability to redeem ourselves. We must nurture our native goodness, they say. That is the way to gain heaven, achieve Nirvana, reach a higher level of consciousness in the next reincarnation, or whatever.
Of course, various religions have vastly differing notions of what constitutes “good.” To some, righteousness is achieved by quieting the mind or extinguishing the flames of human desire. To others, righteousness means waging jihad against the infidel. But what all man-made religions and all the doctrines of demons teach in common is that the rewards of righteousness are within reach, and you can achieve redemption for yourself by following the tenets of whatever religion you have chosen. They promise merit in exchange for good deeds, religious rituals, and human willpower.
That’s because all false religions are systems of human achievement. Many are harsh and rigorous with standards that are barely (if at all) attainable. Others feature such a minimal standard of righteousness that only the very grossest of sins are deemed worthy of any reproof. In one way or another, most false religions “call evil good, and good evil; [they] substitute darkness for light and light for darkness . . . bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). They teach people to be “wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21). At the end of the day, all of them are works-based religions. The focus is on something the creature is supposed to do for God—or worse, for oneself. (Indeed, the most thoroughly evil religious systems are those that literally aim at the deification of the individual—thus echoing the false promise the serpent made to Eve in Genesis 3:4–5: “You surely will not die! . . . You will be like God.”)
By contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of divine accomplishment. It is an announcement that Christ has already triumphed over sin and death on behalf of hopeless sinners who lay hold of His redemption by faith alone. This is grace-based religion. The focus is on what God has already done for sinners.
But to appreciate how such a message is good news, a person must know himself to be a wretched sinner, incapable of making an adequate atonement and therefore powerless to earn any righteous merit of his own—much less obtain redemption for himself. The sinner must feel the weight of his guilt and know that God is a righteous Judge who will not sanction sin. Indeed, he or she must be prepared to confess that perfect justice demands the condemnation of guilty souls.
That means a clear message about the reality of sin and the hopeless state of fallen humanity is a necessary starting point for the gospel’s good news. That’s why the gospel, as the apostle Paul presented it in Romans, begins with a guilty verdict that applies to all humanity. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). People apart from Christ are “condemned already” (John 3:18, NKJV). Any person “who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36, NKJV). Or, as Paul says in the preamble to his brilliant gospel summary in Ephesians 2:8–10, unredeemed people are “dead in [their] trespasses and sins,” walking “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience,” conducting themselves in the lusts of their flesh, “indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” They are “by nature children of wrath,” dead in trespasses (Ephesians 2:1–3).
That is Paul’s starting point for an extended exposition of gospel doctrines in his epistle to the Romans. His commentary on human depravity runs from Romans 1:18–3:23. He returns to the subject of sin in his discussion of sanctification in Romans 6–7. All told, Paul devotes more space to the doctrine of sin in Romans than he does to any other single aspect of gospel doctrine. He knew that if we get this doctrine wrong, we get everything wrong.
It is critical that we rightly understand and embrace the biblical truth about our depravity. That is why we will bring this doctrine under close scrutiny in the days ahead.
As you may be aware, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into full effect on 25th May 2018. GDPR is the new European privacy regulation, which will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 in the UK and the equivalent legislation across the EU Member States.
Here at Grace to You Europe we take our data protection responsibilities very seriously and, as you would expect, have undertaken a significant programme of work to ensure that we are ready for this important legislative change.
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