We all want it. Peace. And it's not just world peace that we long for, it's peace in our own hearts. If that describes you, then I encourage you to read the Good News Primer that I've written and included below. I know it's a bit of reading but understanding why we don't have peace and how we can have peace is important enough to take a few minutes of reading. I pray that God will give you understanding and that you will decide to follow Jesus Christ today!
In the Love of Christ,
Pastor Justin, Calvary Wolfeboro
The Gospel Primer
God’s Story, His Glory, Our Redemption
by Justin Marbury
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
The world is full of conflicting claims about reality. Even though some would say that all religions are basically the same as “paths” to God, even a superficial comparison between world religions shows that their paths have different destinations. And, it’s not only the paths that are different, truth claims about ultimate reality also differ greatly between “religions”. The law of noncontradiction applies. Two claims about reality that contradict each other cannot both be true.
Given the fact that all religions have contradictory claims, we are forced by the laws of the universe, to accept as part of reality that only one of them can be correct. Only one “story” reveals the truth about ultimate reality and our place in it. That “story” is contained in the pages of the Bible. And, it’s not really about you or me, it’s God’s story.
Now don’t get me wrong, you and I have a major role in God’s Story. In fact, God considers us His crowning creation. He made us in His image. We, in a limited way, are like God. And yet we exist as the created ones. He, as the Creator of all. He is the only eternally existent one. Nothing preceded Him. From Him all was made that has been made. Even time and space find their beginning as a result of His will. That’s why the first book of Scripture begins with the words, “In the beginning, God created...”. In those five words are established, for all mankind, the foundation of reality. Notice what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say, “In the beginning, the universe...”. It doesn’t say, “In the beginning, man...”. It doesn’t say, “In the beginning, matter or energy or time or space...” Nope. “In the beginning, GOD...”. Nowhere will you find a more profound yet simple truth claim.
That there was a beginning is significant in it’s own right. Only in the last century has man confirmed scientifically that the universe had a beginning. A truth that God revealed supernaturally to Moses, the author of Genesis, over 3000 years ago. Human language and our own ability to understand or describe fails before the beginning. But that’s ok because all we really need to know is clear: God was there before the beginning. He has always been and will always be. That’s what is means to be eternal. So when the Bible reveals that “In the beginning, God created...”, it is saying that the eternal, uncreated God hit the start button for the universe. The history of our universe began at a point. But more importantly it began with a Person. And what we find out about this Person, as the story unfolds, is that He loves human beings very much. He introduces us to His love for humanity by telling us of one of His favorite past times: Going for walks with Mr. and Mrs. humanity - Adam and Eve. Later we see God providing food and water for those He loves. And ultimately God would provide, from Himself, the forgiveness of our sins through the redemption that Jesus Christ paid for on the cross. But wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Redemption is the climax of God’s story. We’ll get there, but first we have to understand why redemption is necessary. After all, God did create human beings perfect. What happened?
“But the LORD God called to man, ‘Where are you?’
He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden,
and I was afraid because I was naked;
so I hid.’ And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’”
Whether it’s about politics, education, or religion, I’m sure you’ve experienced your fair share of disagreement. Even kids on the playground have a hard time coming to a consensus about team captains for kick ball or who the winner is in tetherball. There are very few issues that everyone will find agreement about. So it’s significant to point out that one of the few issues that you will find almost complete consensus on is that the world is messed up. People may not agree about how to fix it, but everyone agrees that its broken. Whether its homelessness, poverty, murder, theft, or some other from the long list of observed problems, we all know that something is terribly wrong. And it is a world-wide phenomenon. It’s not contained to America, or even Western Civilization. It’s universal.
Why is the world so messed up? Why does evil prevail? The answer to this question has stumped philosophers throughout the ages. In more modern times, psychologists and sociologists have tried their hand at figuring it out. To no avail. Atheists have claimed that the obvious existence of evil is evidence that God doesn’t exist. Their argument goes something like this: “If God existed then evil would not”, “Because evil does exist, God must not”. Even honest Christians struggle with the question, “how could a good God allow such evil?” It’s an important question. And before we tackle the Bible’s revelation about why evil exists, we need to answer the question of how a good God could allow it.
There are several different ways to answer the question. The first is to establish that without the God of the Bible the question doesn’t even make sense. Think about it this way. To describe something as evil, one must appeal to a moral law - the standard by which good and evil are measured. In order for a moral law to exist, there must be a moral law giver. “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever will”, said Maria, in the classic film, The Sound of Music. It’s the law of cause and effect. The moral law as an effect must have a cause - that cause is the Moral law giver. That Moral law giver is God. And if God is, in fact, eliminated by the existence of evil, then there is not a Moral Law giver. If there is no moral law giver, then there is no moral law. And if there is no moral law, then there is no legitimate existence of evil. But everyone knows that evil exists, so why?
Here’s where we focus back on Genesis 3 and “The Fall”. As we understand from creation, good and evil (the moral law) are tied directly to the nature of God. God said that Adam being alone was not good(morally not good) because it is contrary to God’s nature who has never been alone (The Trinity is unity in the diversity of the persons of the Godhead - perfect togetherness and community while not affecting God being one God). So Adam and Eve were created “very good” and innocent. They were pure and without fault. God had given them dominion over all of His earthly creation. He intended for them to be caretakers, and He would even walk with them in Eden.
Everything was perfect. The love of God was experienced in a personal way through the relationship He had with man. But love could not truly be love without the freedom for the object of that love to choose to love back, or to choose not to. That freedom (to choose) was granted to the objects of God’s love - man and woman. They chose poorly. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Having disobeyed God (sin) and followed the temptation of the “serpent”[literally, “Shining One”], God removed them from His presence and Eden (the consequence of sin). He also removed their access to the source of everlasting life(the tree of life). This, you should recognize, was very merciful. For to live separated from God forever is the definition of hell. So the sin of Adam and Eve introduced death. And “...death reigned...”, writes the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, “...even over those who did not sin by breaking a command...” Now, clearly, no mere human being has ever lived who has not broken the “commands”. What Paul is speaking of is what Theologians refer to as the noetic effects of sin. What it means is that the sin of Adam and Eve, and the Fall that it precipitated, affected all of humanity from that point to the present day. That’s why Christians say that humans are born sinners. It’s in our DNA. We are S.I.N. positive. We share, collectively, as humanity, in the condemnation brought by the sin of our ancestors. This, however, is not the end of the story. The Apostle Paul also points to the fact that God ultimately provided a cure, a solution to the problem of sin:
“But the gift is not like the trespass[sin]. For if the many died by the trespass[sin] of the one man[Adam], how much more did God’s grace and the gift[redemption, forgiveness, restoration] that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, over flow to the many!”
But the ultimate solution of the cross required a lot of ground work. It would be thousands of years after Adam and Eve walked in the garden that the “second Adam”, Jesus, would be born, live the perfect life, die on the cross, and rise from the dead. But God’s plan for redemption was set in motion...immediately.
“The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country,
your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”
Genesis 12:1-3 NIV
“The Fall”, precipitated by the sin of Adam and Eve, left the world forever changed. All of man’s relationships were distorted. Death and Evil began to rule. But God, who is eternal and therefore sees all things past, present, and future, began to implement His solution to The Fall. The first thing we see God do is cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness with animal skins. This is significant because it means that an animal was killed because of their sin. It foreshadows the fact that God would continue to require the sacrifice of animals and their blood to pay for man’s sin. But the “covering” of their nakedness by animal skins was only a partial solution. Humanity was taken into slavery by sin and God’s plan was to ultimately bring about our redemption from that slavery. But before He could send the Redeemer, who we now know as Jesus the Son of God, He first laid the necessary groundwork. This groundwork included two major historical works: The nation of Israel and The Law of Moses (including the 10 commandments). The law of Moses will be covered next time, but let’s make sure we understand the significance of Abraham and the nation that descended from him.
In 1948 the nation of Israel was reestablished in the modern world after almost 2000 years of absence from the world’s maps. With it’s reestablishment a renewed sense of Biblical destiny has captured the hearts and minds of Bible students everywhere. But why is Israel so important Biblically? Why is it that the vast majority of the Bible contains the records of the events in Israel? In fact, The Old Testament is almost entirely the stories of a nation(a group of people) who began with God making an unconditional promise to a man named Abram(his name was changed to Abraham). What’s the big deal with Israel? The answer is quite simple. God chose Abram, quite mysteriously to us, as the person through whom he would develop the nation through whom He would bring the Redeemer. Remember that Jesus was born the Son of God but He was also the son of Mary of the tribe of Judah, an Israelite. So God’s special relationship with Israel has everything to do with His plan of redemption. Were Israel to go the way of all the other great nations of the earth, they would have ceased to exist more than a thousand years before Jesus was even born. How did the nation of Israel avoid the fate of so many other ancient people groups? In part, because God gave them a standard to live by: The Law.
It’s fashionable in today’s culture to believe that right and wrong are relative. That there isn’t and cannot be an objective standard for morality. The thinking typically goes something like this:
“What’s right and wrong today in our culture isn’t the same as what was right and wrong 2000 years ago in a different culture. So right and wrong(ethics) change. If ethics have changed then they should change and therefore they are relative.”
But just because something has changed, doesn’t mean that it should change.
Others point out that presently there are cultures around the world who have a different morality than we do in America:
“How can we say that one morality is correct and another is wrong? Isn’t that arrogant and a form of cultural elitism?”
The answer is that it could be arrogant and a form of elitism. But it isn’t necessarily. It depends on what the source of the standard is. If the source of right and wrong is found from within the culture alone, then it is elitist to claim moral superiority. In order for a standard of morality to transcend all cultures and all times it must come from outside of all cultures and all times. That’s what we have in “the Law”. God, the Creator of the universe, who is not in time or space, gave us the standard for all time and for all people in what we know as “The Ten Commandments”. What we are doing when we judge right and wrong throughout the world is we are measuring according to the ultimate standard that is above and beyond our own culture and time. That is not arrogant.
So God gave the world the ten commandments as a guide for right and wrong. But there’s another really important reason. This reason, too, is quite simple. In the New Testament the apostle Paul writes, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”(Romans 7:7 NIV) The importance of the law is obvious if you put a little thought into it. The law is like a tape measure. If you want to know exactly how long something is you need an instrument that measures length. Without a tape measure you might be able to say that something is one hand breadth or six paces but you could never know that what you’re measuring is 6 inches or 18 feet.
So it is with sin. We have a conscience because we are made in God’s image. But our conscience is not sufficient to measure the height, width and depth of our sin. And without knowing the reality about our sinful nature and that we break God’s standard constantly we would never know that we need to be forgiven. Paul points this out in Galatians 3:24,
“So the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (NKJV)
We’ve almost arrived. We’re almost there. Beginning with Creation, “the beginning”, we’ve covered a lot of territory. From creation where everything was made perfect, to the Fall where we find the reason for our sin, to the promise of God to Abram that help was on the way through his descendents, to the moral standard that shows humanity its need for help. Now we get to the climax of the greatest story ever told. Redemption!
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Why did John the Baptist call Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”? This doesn’t make any sense if you don’t understand the rest of the story; especially the pretext - what has happened before(pre) the events in the story(the text). Pretext is critical to understanding what you’re reading in the Bible. In John 1:29 John the Baptist, a prophet and cousin of Jesus, called him “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. This doesn’t make any sense unless you know the pretext. In this case, what happened during the times recorded in the Old Testament. I alluded to it before but It was during Old Testament times that “the lamb” became a prominent part of God’s redemptive plan.
It’s quite possible that it began as early as the Garden of Eden. Remember how once Adam and Eve had sinned and recognized their nakedness God responded, in part, by covering them with the skin of an animal? Perhaps that animal was a lamb. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that when we fast forward to the time of Moses - the giving of the Law, and the building of the tabernacle - we find God firmly establishing that the sacrifice of a lamb would be necessary as a payment for sin. In fact, the lamb (or ram or goat) was a central part of the sacrificial system that God required for almost 1500 years before Jesus was born. Then suddenly God’s requirement changed. In one act, with one final sacrifice; the offering of one last “lamb” would satisfy the requirements of God’s justice. So that now, because of Jesus‘ death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven through faith, not by works.
“For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith.”
“It’s the name for a girl, it’s also a thought that
changed the world.”
Why was it grace that saved us? How does the idea of grace change the world? What is grace? To understand grace is to understand redemption and why forgiveness is such an amazing reality. To understand grace we must first understand the alternatives. Grace is related to two other ideas that we’re more familiar with: Justice and Mercy. Two words that find their rightful place in the courtroom. When someone is found guilty of a crime, justice says that the person should get what they deserve, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Mercy, on the other hand, says that the guilty person shouldn’t get what they deserve, that justice should be withheld. Because God is just, His nature requires justice. How can a just God carry out justice while sparing the lives of his prize creation? The answer is not mercy but grace. The grace of God means that God took the just consequence upon Himself. He took the consequence for us. So that we wouldn’t have to. It’s the greatest gift that anyone could ever received. But you do have to receive it. You do have to believe. That’s the only response that makes sense.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The word “gospel”, which appears many times in the pages of the new testament, means “good news”. Jesus spoke of the gospel and he commanded his disciples to preach the “good news”. And of course the good news is that humanity can be forgiven of our sin and restored in a right relationship with the Creator that we had before the Fall of Adam and Eve. It’s one of the most prominent ideas in Scripture. And it’s a common word to the New Testament vernacular. So much so that the first 4 books of the New Testament are nicknamed “The Gospels”. It’s interesting then to discover that the “Gospel” of John has not a single occurrence of the word gospel. It’s impossible to know why the apostle John didn’t use the word in the pages of his letter to the world. Certainly his letter is full of “the good news”, just not the word that means “good news”. But there is another word that is found more often in John’s gospel than anywhere else in the New Testament. 85 times to be exact. It’s the word “believe”. John uses this word twice as much as all the other gospels combined.
Is there something significant about this inversion? Does it reveal the fundamental difference in purpose for John’s gospel when compared with the others? Maybe. It certainly serves to illustrate something really important about the good news. The gospel is not just good information. It’s about good transformation. Maybe John uses the word “believe” so many times because it is the only logical and necessary response to the good news. We can have perfect understanding of the story of God on every page of Scripture but if we don’t respond in belief then its all for nothing. But wait. What is belief? If it’s so important that John hinges salvation upon it then we should probably understand what it means. Check out the way that the Amplified Bible translated John 3:16:
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that he [even] gave up His only-begotten(unique) Son, so that whoever believes in(trusts, clings to, relies on) Him may not perish - come to destruction, be lost - but have eternal(everlasting) life.”
Belief that saves us from destruction for our sin is belief that means “trusts, clings to, relies on”. And this kind of belief makes perfect sense. If God, the creator of all things including us, exists, and He sent his only Son to become a man and die a horrible death to show us how much he loves us then there is no other reasonable response than to trust him with our lives and all that we have, to cling to or adhere to his truth, obediently following Him and to rely on him for strength and all that we need for this life and the life to come. You see, a proper understanding of the word believe leads to a proper understanding of the simplicity of salvation. All you have to do to be saved is believe. Do you believe?
Sample Sinner’s Prayer:
If you’ve never prayed to accept Jesus gift and put your faith in Him, here’s a sample prayer you can use as a guide. Pray to God, mean it from your heart. He knows you and loves you:
“Jesus, I admit that I am a sinful person. That I have sinned against you in what I think, what I say, and what I do. I deserve justice for my sin. I deserve the consequence for sin, which is hell - to be separated from you forever. But I know that you died on the cross so that I could be forgiven. I give you my life and want to live for you from this day forward. I know that’s what it means to believe, to trust you, to rely on you, and to obey you. I Believe. Thank you for saving me and giving me new life. Please help me to follow you and please you all the days of my life.”
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