This is probably the most detailed gospel presentation I have ever written. It was shared in a family update letter from Christmas 2012.
Finally, it brings us great joy to share with you a message that is rarely heard today. It is even more rarely believed, because it is a very offensive message. Yet out of love we are compelled to share it with you. Many believe that Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, came to earth to live and die as the greatest expression of love the world has ever known. That is certainly true, but it makes for little more than an inspiring story unless we understand why Jesus Christ had to demonstrate this love. Speaking to Christians, Paul gave one of the best answers to this “why” in Romans 5:
[S]carcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
We know you’re busy, and we know that that toffee over on the counter looks appetizing, but please give us a few moments to elaborate on Paul’s words.
Would you give your life to save your son, daughter, husband, wife or even best friend from death? Most of us would shout out “YES!” with no reservations. Let me ask you another question: if your dearest family member or friend had been shamelessly abused and killed by the most repulsive person you can imagine, would you give your life to save this criminal from a death he or she deserves?
Likely, your hatred of this person would be so intense that you would spend every ounce of your time and energy seeking his or her justice. Yet God did just the opposite—He died for His enemies so that they could be freed from the punishment they deserve and reconciled to Him, their Creator.
That by itself sounds wonderful to many. Few are offended by such a remarkable display of grace and love. What is offensive is that, according to scripture, every single person by nature is in the same state of unrighteousness as even the foulest criminal. Like this criminal, we all have violated God’s perfect standard of goodness (his law) and therefore deserve a perfect punishment.
“Nonsense,” some might say. “Sure, I’ve broken a few of God’s commandments, but not very often, and certainly none of the serious ones.” James offers an important warning to this line of thinking: For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. Yes, you could spend your entire life faithfully attending church, praying, serving your community, caring for your family—and yet if you sin in any way even once, you have failed to meet perfection.
Perfection. That is what a holy God demands of those who will dwell with him.
Yet if none have this perfect righteousness, how is it that some do become His children and go on to spend eternity with Him? Why are so many in the Bible spoken of as righteous? These are excellent questions, and for the answer we return to Paul: Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
Justification. Not just a fancy theological word—it’s the difference between eternal life and eternal punishment. Justification is a new, righteous standing before God. It’s new because no one has it by default, since no one is by nature righteous (Romans 3:10).
Now, if we know that sinners need to be justified to escape His wrath, the question of infinite importance that must be asked is, How does an unrighteous person become justified?
For the clearest answer, let’s go back one chapter to Romans 4:
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness … [Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Righteousness is credited to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross on their behalf and His resurrection from the dead to new life. It is on the basis of this righteousness that God can declare those who have placed their trust in Him worthy to enter His presence. Moreover, Paul states the source of this righteousness in 2 Corinthians: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The righteousness a sinner needs to be justified must come from none other than God himself. It cannot come from within us, for we are unrighteous despite our good deeds. At this point we must ask: If you believe you have the perfect righteousness that makes you worthy of God’s kingdom, what is the source of this righteousness? Is it you? Is it you and God? Or is it God alone? Many will affirm the first two, yet Paul does not mince words when he speaks of true believers: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Grace is undeserved favor. If a sinner could contribute to the righteousness that justifies him or her in any way, being saved from sin would not be by grace. The righteousness of God alone that is credited through faith alone in Christ alone is your only hope. Even a Christian’s faith is a gracious gift from God. He alone is savior, that He may receive all of the glory in bringing a sinner from death to life.
What does this have to do with Christmas? Forgiveness of sins requires the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). In order to have his blood shed on the cross as the perfect, acceptable sacrifice to God, Jesus Christ had to become a human and live a life of perfect obedience to God’s law. Christmas is worth celebrating because the God of the universe became a man in order to live the life that sinners could not live and die the death they should have died, that by faith they could be reconciled to God and enjoy Him for eternity. This is why “gospel” means “good news”.
And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. –Matthew 1:21