July 1, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
In honor of Independence Day, I want to set us up today by understanding a controversy. How many of you read in the newspapers just a week or so ago, 2 weeks ago, about Vice President Mike Pence going to the Southern Baptist Annual Convention in Dallas, Texas? Did anybody see that in the news? There was a ton of controversy about this. There was controversy before Mr. Pence spoke, and then after he was done, there was even more controversy and more division in the room.
I was there a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll give you a summary of what I think happened when Vice President Pence came and spoke to almost 10,000 Southern Baptist pastors in Dallas, Texas. Here’s basically how his speech went. It was more than an hour long, but he spent about 20% of his time talking about his faith, and you couldn’t avoid it. There is no doubt that man is a born-again follower of Jesus Christ. About 30% of the time he spent talking about our country. -where our country is and where he believes our country is headed. And most of the people in the room, I think, would agree with what Vice President Pence said, but the other 50% of the time (and this is where it got really controversial really fast), the other 50% of the time, he spent speaking about the President of the United States, and when it was over with, more people were divided. More people were stirred to controversy than before the speech started.
I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you’re on. It doesn’t matter to me. I want you to hear something very carefully from me today. All of us who know Jesus Christ personally, we don’t look for somebody in the White House to fix the problems in America. We believe that the problems in our country are problems that start at the soul. They start in the heart of a man or a woman, and no President, no congress, no courts, can fix those kinds of problems. Here’s what I’m trying to say to you today. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, our hope is in the Gospel, not in the government, and if you believe that, let me hear you say it.
Our hope as followers of Jesus Christ is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not in the government. We’re commanded by Scripture to honor our government and to pray for our leaders, and you should do that daily, not just on Independence Day. But that’s not where our hope lies. Our hope lies in someone much bigger and something much more powerful than the government of the United States.
So today we’re going to describe the word Gospel for you for the first time. If you look in the sermon notes, you’re going to see that today’s sermon is about one word, the word Gospel. We’re going to describe, what does this word mean? What doesn’t this word mean, right? And the centerpiece of the Gospel, I’ll tell you where we’re going with this whole sermon. The essential person in the Gospel story is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here’s what I want you to hear from me today. If you forget everything else, don’t forget this: The Gospel is a story. It’s a true story, and the superhero of the story is the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the greatest story ever told, and the center of the story is Jesus Christ himself.
Now, we have guests with us today. This morning in our early service and today in this service alone, I’ve met people from Florida, from Pennsylvania, from Texas, and 2 from the Democratic Republic of China, and what I want you to understand today without anybody missing it is, exactly what do we mean when we use this word Gospel? So, with the help of all the pastors this week, we prepared a statement. It’s in your worship guide. Would you take out a pen or a pencil and fill in some blanks? -because when we say the word Gospel, we want you to hear this statement in the back of your mind. Here it is. First of all, gospel is actually a Greek word. When it’s brought into the English language, the definition of the Greek word is that phrase, good news.
The Gospel is the good news that “Jesus saves sinners.” The overall plot of the Bible is the Gospel. The Gospel has Jesus as the hero of the story and his church as the bride in need of rescue.
The Gospel story consists of four chapters:
• Chapter 1 – Creation
• Chapter 2 – The Fall
• Chapter 3 – Redemption
• Chapter 4 – Re-creation
The Bible has more than 4 chapters, but if you want to summarize the whole Bible, if you want to summarize the whole Bible story, here it is in 4 chapters. Let me explain those in very short sentences. Chapter 1: Creation. What God made was pure. What God made was perfect. God put his fingerprint on what he made when he made Paradise, and it was perfect and it was pure. Everything that comes from God is pure and perfect. Chapter 2: We human beings destroyed what God made. It’s called “the Fall”. It’s original sin. It’s our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden when they broke the only commandment that God gave them. When they did that, they were infected with the disease of sin, and they passed that disease on to every single person who has ever lived, who have come from a man and a woman. The disease of sin, you and I were infected with it, but listen carefully. When I say fall. I’m not just talking about Adam and Eve. We’re talking about me and you, because you and I, since we were infected with the disease of sin, we fail. We make mistakes. We fall. And because of our sin, we are no longer acceptable in God’s sight. That’s why chapter 3 has to happen.
God steps in and rescues us, redeems us, purchases us back from our sin, and he does it at a very severe price, at the most severe price. He sends his Son, Jesus, to earth to die the penalty for death in our place, to be buried in the ground and then 3 days later, to rise again. That’s what the redemption story is all about.
But that’s not the end of the Gospel story. The Gospel ends with a chapter that we haven’t yet had a chance to experience. One day, God’s going to hit the reset button, and one day, God’s going to fix everything that people broke. He’s going to restore perfection and purity. One day God will recreate everything, and those of us who know him personally will enjoy Paradise in his presence forever.
This is the Gospel story, and when you share the Gospel story, it demands a response. Here is the only proper response to the Gospel story: The Gospel requires the response from all who hear it, and the proper response of the Gospel is repentance (that word means a change of heart and a change of lifestyle), repentance and faith. It’s not just saying that you believe it, it’s showing that you believe the Gospel story.
So, what we’re going to do for the next few moments very quickly is, we’re going to look at this Gospel, and we’re going to learn first, how to understand it. Secondly, how to share it. Third, how to live it. Here’s the first thing that I want you to understand: Understand the Gospel.
I. Understand the Gospel
This is the story of all stories, the greatest story ever told, and the centerpiece of the story is the Lord Jesus Christ. But if we’re not careful, our focus can start to slip off of Jesus and start to become focused on someone or something else. And when that happens, according to the Bible, you’re no longer believing the true Gospel. In fact, what the Bible says for us today is, you’re not believing the Gospel at all. Here’s how the great writer of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul put it. This is to a church that he went to. He preached the Gospel story; many lives were changed, and then he left. And after he left, some people came in and they started distorting the Gospel message. In Galatians chapter 1, Paul writes a letter back to that church to deal with this issue. Here’s what he says:
I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! 9 As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!
That phrase “a curse be on him” literally means, “Let him go to hell.” If somebody is teaching you a false gospel, a different gospel, distorting the Gospel, let them go straight to hell. The Gospel that Paul is teaching, the Gospel that Paul is preaching is the Gospel with Jesus Christ at the very center of it. Now you need to know, in Paul’s day, people believed in god. Well, actually I should say they believed in gods, plural. -12 of them, in fact. This Greek church that Paul is preaching to, they had the idea that on Mount Olympus, you had these 12 demi-gods, like Zeus and Hera and Poseidon and Athena, and that the gods controlled what was happening, but there were multiple gods.
Paul had to go there and to address that the idea that there is 1 God, only 1 God, and he has revealed himself to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. Anything or anybody else that starts to take the place of God is now starting to teach or to preach a false gospel, and he’s not just talking about somebody on stage with a pulpit. He’s talking about anybody you work with or anybody who shares a different message.
Did you know that in our society, unfortunately even in the Chattahoochee Valley, there are people who are subtly being tricked into believing a false gospel? It’s when they add something to the story of Jesus or when they take something away from the story of Jesus. It’s when it becomes Jesus and blank. It doesn’t matter what you add into that story that gets somebody into heaven. When somebody starts to teach that, they’re teaching the false gospel, a different gospel.
Here’s how it usually plays out in our society. People teach Jesus plus being a good person, Jesus plus going to church, Jesus plus giving your money. And if you’ll do Jesus plus something else, then you’ll be acceptable to God. That idea is no different than what Paul is teaching in Galatians chapter 1. That’s a false gospel. In fact, it’s no gospel at all. It’s worse than silence because at least with silence, you’re not distorting the story. With this gospel, you’re distorting the truth, and the real issue is, it minimizes who Jesus is.
There are 2 extremes that even well-meaning people have to guard against when we talk about the Gospel. It’s the extreme version of Arminianism or the extreme version of Calvinism. Here’s the danger the extreme version of Arminianism: Some people have taken what Jacob Arminius has taught many years ago, and they’ve taken it to the extreme, and basically, they believe you do everything to be saved; God does nothing. In other words, God doesn’t play a role in salvation. Here’s how you know that’s what they believe. They leave out some very good biblical words like election, God’s sovereign election, or like foreordination, and they teach that it’s all on you, and God doesn’t have a role to play in this.
But the opposite extreme, is just is dangerous. It’s this radical, extreme version of Calvinism that teaches you have no responsibility in the Gospel. -that God sovereignly elects, and you do nothing but sit on your rear end, and everything else is done for you, and they fail to teach that the proper human response to the Gospel is repentance and faith.
I want to warn you, we have to always be on guard against those extremes. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn from Jacob Arminius or from John Calvin. I’m saying our view of the Gospel is given by the Scriptures, and any view of the Gospel that doesn’t line up with the Bible is just flat wrong.
So, perhaps the Florida pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, described this math formula perfectly in the title of his book, Jesus + Nothing + Everything. Jesus and you don’t need anything or anyone else. Jesus -his death, burial and resurrection and your response of repentance and faith equals everything. Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That’s the Gospel we want you to understand today.
II. Share the Gospel
But we don’t want you to just understand it. We want you to share it with people who God is already placing in your life. If you were with us last Sunday, we used this analogy in church of a swimming pool with a shallow end and a deep end. And God’s given all of us in this room 20 or 30 casual acquaintances. Those are “shallow end of the pool” relationships. But would you take 2 or 3 of those casual acquaintances into the deep end of the pool and turn them into gospel friendships, where you’re having gospel conversations with them?
And if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Where exactly is the line, Jeff? -like when does the shallow end, end and the deep in begin?”, well, there’s 1 verse in the Bible that describes this for us perfectly. No, not John 3:16, though that’s a great verse. It’s found in Acts chapter 16, and here this back story.
Paul and Silas had been preaching fearlessly the Gospel, and the religious leaders hate them for it, and the Roman government is starting to feel threatened by it. So, they throw them into prison. While they’re in prison, God does a miracle, and the earth shakes. This is a miracle because the building doesn’t collapse, but the chains fall off and the doors fly open. The jailer, who’s never seen anything like this, knows this cannot be explained any other way. How come the building didn’t collapse? Just chains fell off. Just doors flew open. So, he runs in, and now he is burning with a question that every human being needs to wrestle with at some point in their lifetime. Acts chapter 16, starting in verse 29:
The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household.
Where exactly is the line between shallow end of the pool talking about the Gospel and deep end of the pool sharing in gospel conversations? Let’s just be honest; how many of you have been sitting there listening to a friend in a coffee shop, and they’ve been pouring out their heart and talking about all of their problems that are going on? If we’re going to have a gospel conversation, at some point, we have to talk about the obvious problem of sin, and the only one who can get rid of it for you is Jesus Christ, the superhero of the Gospel story.
You see, what Paul is trying to teach us in this passage in Acts chapter 16, what Paul said to that jailor is described vividly for us in the book of James. When we use the word believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, the word believe, when it’s brought over into English from the original language, it loses something in translation.
You see, you could think that all that means is you just understand that there really was a guy by the name of Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago. He’s no different from Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. That’s not the kind of belief that the Bible is talking about. In fact, James chapter 2, verse 19 says it this way: If you think that you’re ok because you believe in Jesus, that’s not good enough. In fact, the demons believe, and when they believe, they tremble.
No, the kind of belief that the Bible is asking you to do is the difference between belief in Jesus and belief on Jesus. See, it’s like this chair right here. You could say it until you’re blue in the face, “I believe this chair is strong enough, built to sustain my body weight. You can say you believe like that all day long, but you’re really not believing on this chair until you take a seat in it and trust it to hold your weight, and when you’ve done that, now you’ve exercised biblical belief.
See, the belief that the Bible asks you to do is not just say, “Yeah, there was a guy by the name of Jesus. He lived a long time ago.” It’s the kind of belief that you take a step into the darkness, and you’re willing to risk it all on this guy named Jesus and believing that he’s going to meet you when you take that step of faith.
You see, there’s a subtle difference, but there is a significant difference between shallow end of the pool ministry and deep end of the pool gospel conversations. I’m going to be very clear; I want to clear up all that I can for you today about my thoughts on the ministries of Calvary Baptist Church. We earn the right to have deep, gospel conversations by listening and loving people. We show them that we care by listening to them. We show them that we love them by the way that we do what we do, and that earns us the right to have gospel conversations.
Here’s what I’m saying. We have a counseling center. It literally changes marriages, changes families; it changes people’s lives that are on the edge and thinking about suicide. But if that’s all that it does and doesn’t do anything with the Gospel, it’s shallow end of the pool ministry. We have 200 senior adults who live on this campus, and we take care of them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, most of them. But if that’s all we do, it’s shallow end of the pool ministry. Our school, our Christian school has students from 2 states, 7 counties, 700 students who are exposed to the arts, to athletics, to some of the best academics in the Chattahoochee Valley. But if that’s all we do, it’s shallow end of the pool. We do this ministry (counseling, senior adults, school) to earn ourselves the right to be able to have a deep end of the pool conversation with people about the Gospel, and we owe it to the people who live here, the people who are counseled here, the people who are going to school here and their parents to take the opportunities to have those gospel conversations with them. That’s the opportunity that you earn. You earn the right to share deep end of the pool conversations with them.
III. Live the Gospel
Look y’all. God is commanding us, “Don’t just understand my Gospel. Don’t just share my Gospel, though I certainly want you to earn the right by listening and loving people to share my Gospel. If you call yourself my follower, I want you to live out my Gospel”. And here’s what living out the Gospel looks like: When you sat down at a coffee shop and you started to have a conversation with somebody and you started talking to them about the problem of sin, and they prayed in that coffee shop with you and they said this prayer and they said they were committing to Jesus Christ, if they got up the next day and went right back to the same affair that they’re having in their marriage, went right back to stealing from work, went right back to cheating on final exams at college, and there was no change in their life, did they really understand the Gospel?
Or the better question is this: Are they really living the Gospel? You see, Philippians tells us what it looks like to live the Gospel. Here it is: Philippians chapter 1, starting in verse 27:
Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel, 28 not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your salvation—and this is from God. 29 For it has been granted to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are engaged in the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.
I started this whole sermon with Vice President Mike Pence to remind us, though we live in the greatest country that’s ever existed on planet earth, my citizenship is not here. It’s in heaven, and I am just here temporarily, and because I’m a citizen of heaven, live your life worthy the Gospel of Christ.
By the way, the writer of this passage, the Apostle Paul, he knows what it means to suffer. He has heard the stories of Jesus’s suffering, and he’s promising us that chances are, if you’re going to be serious about living the Gospel, you’re going to suffer too. Paul is saying, “Look, it’s not easy to live out the Gospel. It’s just flat hard. Jesus made this promise: ‘They persecuted me, they hated me. They’re going to hate you too. I promise you it’s going to be a struggle, but you don’t struggle on your own.’” He uses language like together and with one another in this passage to remind you, you have the Holy Spirit going with you when you suffer, and you have God’s people right beside you as you suffer and live out the Gospel.
Paul is saying it’s not good enough just to say it. You really need to show it, and if you’re going to show it, don’t be surprised if this gets hard really fast, but when it does, you’re not on your own.
I’m going to wrap up with this. I really started to get serious about sharing my faith many years ago because of a sermon that I heard here in Columbus, Georgia many years ago. It was actually 1 verse of the Bible. I read this verse, and I went home and I started thinking about it. Then, all of a sudden God just impressed on me the overwhelming desire to see my friends and my co-workers experience the same Gospel story that I’ve experienced. Here’s the verse that the preacher was talking about many years ago. Acts 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.
That word power is literally the word dynamite. It is the dynamite of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew and also to the Greeks. In Paul’s day, everybody else was Greek. This is for everyone. I started thinking about this. I started going home, and I had this image. The Holy Spirit put this image in my mind of what the power of the Gospel is like. It’s like God lighting a stick of dynamite, placing it in your hands, and saying, “Go use this to make an impact on somebody else.”
I started having this vision of God creating a masterpiece, a sculpture, and in order to do this masterpiece, he has to first use the dynamite of the Gospel to explode away all of the junk and get to this piece of stone. Then he takes this piece of stone out; he explodes away the sin and the filth of my life with the Gospel. And then he takes this piece of stone out, and he starts to chip. He starts to hone off all of the stuff that shouldn’t be there. Now it’s like a worker moving on a granite piece of rock, making a masterpiece. And when he’s done, that masterpiece doesn’t look like me; it doesn’t look like you. Over the course of a lifetime, that masterpiece looks like Jesus.
Here’s, what I’m trying to say to you. The Gospel is every bit as important for me and you today who believe as the person who’s never heard it and needs to hear it for the first time. Listen to this language from North Carolina pastor, J.D. Greear. Here’s what he says in his book entitled, Gospel. He says, “The Gospel is not merely the diving board off of which you jump into the pool of Christianity. The Gospel is the pool itself. So, keep going deeper into it; you’ll never find the bottom.”
You and I need the Gospel as much today as the person who has never heard it. The Gospel explodes away sin, and God uses it to pull me out of the mire of sin, but then he uses the Gospel to start to chip away and start to fashion me into a masterpiece. That masterpiece is his Son, Jesus Christ, and we’re asking you to keep the superhero the center of the story. Keep Jesus the center of the Gospel story and share it widely with people God is already placing into your life.
• Today, I responded to the Gospel for the first time.
– I didn’t properly understand the Gospel before today.
+ I will live the Gospel this week.
- When did you understand the Gospel for the first time?
- What is the minimum someone needs to know in order to properly understand the Gospel?
- What role does doing good deeds for someone play in the Gospel?
- Reread Romans 1:16. Why does Paul list Jews and Greeks in this same verse?
- Have you ever heard anyone preach a “false gospel”? (If so, explain what was false.)
- Is it possible to believe the Gospel but not live the Gospel? (Explain your answer.)
- Pray for people to ask us about our faith because of the way that we live.