Early on Sunday morning, some 2,000 years ago, a small group of woman slowly made their way to a nearby tomb. A few days earlier Jesus of Nazareth, their dear friend and teacher, had been crucified on a Roman cross and then hastily buried before sunset. They had vowed to come and tend to Jesus’ body and to grieve His death properly after the Sabbath day rest was complete. And so, as the sun’s light began to break over the horizon, these women approached the grave where Jesus’ broken body had been laid…
When they drew near, the women were surprised to see that the large stone which had been placed in front of the tomb’s opening was already rolled away. They hastily entered the tomb, and were troubled when they found that Jesus’ body was not there. Had it been stolen or moved elsewhere? As they wondered suddenly 2 angelic men wearing dazzling clothing appeared and began to speak. They said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen!” These women came to realize that Jesus was more than a mere man, but was in fact the long-awaited Messiah.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single-most important occurrence in human history. It confirms that Jesus was indeed the divine Son of God just as He claimed to be. Moreover, it is the proof that Jesus forever conquered sin and death. It is the evidence that God’s wrath has been completely satisfied by the punishment that Christ endured on our behalf. Finally, it pictures that the dead can be raised to life again by the remarkable power of Almighty God.
Over the past 2 weeks we have examined some of the more common perversions of the gospel that are being preached today. These false gospels have caused significant damage to the church and have led many people astray. But this Easter morning, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us conclude this message by discussing the true gospel. It can be summarized with this simple phrase, “God saves sinners”.
God saves sinners, but who exactly are these sinners? The Bible teaches that all people are unrighteous and corrupt. We are born with a fleshly nature that is wholly averse to God. Mankind has been tainted by the sin of Adam, and there is no escape from its polluting effect. The heart of man is desperately wicked and consumed by lustful passions. Therefore, we all inevitably and repeatedly rebel against His commands and violate His laws. The Bible states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
No person, no matter how virtuous, can attain God’s standard of holy perfection in their own strength. Human efforts to live a sinless life are both futile and pointless. God does not grade humanity on a curve or against some passing measure. God is unblemished and completely holy, and those who dwell in His eternal presence must be holy also. For this reason Scripture urges us to aspire to holiness, even though we cannot achieve it own our own. Even one sin, no matter how small and/or inconsequential, renders a person imperfect and thus unholy. All people are hopelessly and helplessly lost - separated from God - apart from Jesus Christ.
Even after a person comes to faith in Jesus, they still continue to struggle with sin. The corrupt nature of a man is not removed immediately at the point of salvation. Even Christians still disobey God and are in need of ongoing forgiveness as they walk with Him day by day. Born-again believers are “sinners who have been saved by God’s grace”. This is an important truth to remember because the gospel is not only for the lost, but also for those who have accepted Christ. We are all sinners, and will continue to be until the day we die.
God saves sinners, but who is this God? The Bible teaches that there is only 1 true God, and that all others are false gods. The true and living God, though singular, exists in 3 distinct and divine persons. This doctrine is called the Trinity. It is a difficult concept to explain because it transcends human understanding. There are not 3 separate gods, but rather 1 God who exists in 3 persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each is fully God, yet distinct, and each has an important role in the salvation process.
God the Father created mankind, loved them, and determined to redeem them even though they sinned against Him. These decisions were made solely by the Father’s sovereign choice, accomplished solely by His divine power, and we did nothing to merit them. So in the fullness of time the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross as a substitute for all of humanity. Jesus bore upon Himself the full weight on man’s sin and endured the unmitigated wrath of God in his place. Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb through whom the sin debt of man was completely paid. After His ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to abide within the lives of those who had been born-again. The indwelling presence of Holy Spirit is works to increasingly conform the believer into the image of Christ.
God saves sinners, but what does it mean to be saved? The Bible describes several facets of salvation. Some of them occur only once at the moment when a person places their faith in Christ, another continues throughout a believer’s life, and another doesn’t take place until after physical death (at the rapture). In other words, salvation is not an event but a process. It has a definite starting point, a continual recurrence, and a final culmination. Salvation should be understood in terms of the past, present, and future.
When a lost person surrenders their life to Christ by confessing their sins and placing their faith in Him, the salvation process begins. Immediately the sincerely repentant sinner is justified in the eyes of God. Justification involves the forgiveness of sins, the pardon of penalty, and imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon the new believer. Once accepted by God, the person is reconciled to Him and their spirit which had formerly been dead to sin is instantaneously resurrected to life in Christ. This miraculous event is called regeneration. Both justification and regeneration take place at the moment when someone accepts Jesus as their Savior.
When sinners come to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence within them. Born-again believers then spend the rest of their earthly lives walking with the Lord and growing in their relationship with Him. During this period of time, the Holy Spirit works in various ways to help, guide, encourage, and mold the redeemed person into the image of Christ. Over time Christians should become less attracted to the things of this world, more appreciative of God and His goodness, and more concerned about other people. This process of being set apart is called sanctification, and is the ongoing work of salvation within a person’s life.
The Bible teaches that someday Christ will return again at an event called the Rapture. He will appear in the sky and call all believers to Himself. The dead in Christ from all previous generations will rise from their graves followed by those who are currently alive on earth at that time. All of these believers will ascend into the sky to meet Jesus there. In this moment, all will be changed and given new, eternal heavenly bodies. These bodies will be imperishable, incorruptible, and without a sinful nature. Individual Christians will finally become fully perfect and holy in both body and spirit. This is the completion of salvation and is called glorification.
The good news of the gospel boils down to this… God saves sinners. In the Old Testament God provided for Adam and Eve by clothing them even after they’d sinned. He rescued Noah form the Flood by having him build an ark. He brought Abraham out of Ur and protected his family from various dangers in Canaan. He delivered His children from Egypt and brought them under Moses’ leadership to the Promised Land. He rose up judges and then kings to protect Israel from their enemies. He saved Daniel from the lions; Shadrach. Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace; Elijah from the prophets of Baal; and I could go on and on. All of these ancient stories of deliverance foreshadow and point to the coming of Christ.
The New Testament describes the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He voluntarily took upon Himself the condemnation and punishment that we as sinners deserve. He paid our ransom, that we might be set free. Jesus made forgiveness available to any and all who would receive it. And this amazing truth, the fact that God saves sinners, became the impassioned cry of the early church and spread throughout the known world. Centuries later this message remains the same. The true gospel isn’t about worldly prosperity, moral living or becoming a good person, physical healings and miracles, or any other such things. The true gospel is this…
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16