What Is the Gospel? Part Two

We know we are saved through the cross of Jesus Christ.  But saved from what?  If our greatest threat is not ourselves, not each other, and not Satan and the powers of evil, then who or what is it?

Our greatest threat is none other than God himself.  This truth is spelled out for us clearly and repeatedly from Genesis to Revelation.

God is the one who cursed the ground in his wrath and drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, fencing the Tree of Life from them and sentencing them, and all their posterity, to death.  God is the one who executed the entire race of humanity–save Noah and his family–by the waters of a flood.  God is the one who later, and in similar fashion, drowned the idolatrous Egyptians who pursued his people through the Red Sea.  God is the one who commanded Israel to approach him through the mechanism of the tabernacle, the altar, and the blood sacrifices, communicating his holy distance from the people and his danger to them if they did not regard him as holy.  God is the one who broke out against them at select moments in history when they did not take him seriously: Nadab and Abihu were consumed by flames, Korah and his band were swallowed by the earth, and Uzzah was struck dead on the spot when he merely reached out his hand in a cavalier manner to steady the ark of the covenant when it tottered on the ox’s cart.  God is the one who overthrew an entire generation in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land.  God is the one who ordered the slaughter of the pagan peoples who possessed that land at the time of the conquest.  God is the one who sent his prophets to Israel for centuries, warning them repeatedly of his wrath because of their idolatry, hypocrisy, and social injustice, beckoning them to repent lest they fall under the curse of the law.  And that they did.  God is the one who fulfilled his word by driving his people out of the land and away from his presence–much as he drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden–and left their holy city and temple in ruins.

The wrath of God is just as prominent, if not more so, in the New Testament.  John the Baptist came proclaiming amnesty to repentant sinners, but he warned those who would not repent of the Messiah’s winnowing fork, which would divide the righteous from the wicked and send the latter like chaff to the fire.  Jesus himself came preaching the same message about the arrival of the Kingdom, and the consequences for those who would not receive the King.  Jesus is the one who, in the face of seemingly random tragedies where many lives were lost, told those who heard him that if they did not repent, they too would perish.  The epistles of the New Testament likewise testify repeatedly of the coming of wrath of God.  And perhaps more than any other book, the book of Revelation unfolds as an apocalyptic drama, whose every movement is a more intense expression of the wrath of God and of the Lamb.  It is in the book of Revelation that the inhabitants of the earth cry out for the mountains to fall on them to hide them from God.

Our greatest threat is God, and no other.  Jesus made the point crystal clear: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matthew 10:28). 

Most people do not like this view of God, so they invent another god to suit their fancy.  Many cloak this god in the veneer of Christian terminology.  But one thing they cannot do is claim that the god who is not the greatest threat to sinners is to be found anywhere in the Christian Bible.  The only God to be found in Scripture is the God who, in unrivaled holiness, stands against sinners and threatens to destroy them for belittling his name. 

And God, who is our greatest threat, is also our greatest hope.  Putting these two ideas together brings us to the heart of the gospel.  We may not understand how a God who hates us can love us at the same time.  But if we do not accept this truth, Scripture makes no sense, and there is no gospel for us after all.  God, who stands against a sinful world, is also the God who so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son to identify with sinners and die in their place as a substitute, bearing in himself the wrath that his people deserved.  Three days later he was raised from the dead, demonstrating that the sentence of death had been carried out and exhausted; the wrath of God against his people has now been forever spent.  At the Father’s right hand, the ascended Christ is our high priest and advocate, pleading his wounds as sufficient payment for sin and satisfaction of the holy wrath of God.  In this way, God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

This message, combined with an appeal for all sinners to trust in Christ alone for deliverance from this threat, is the gospel.  It is the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity. 

But even though the other threats mentioned (ourselves, each other, and Satan) are not our greatest threats, they are still threats to us in some way.  Does the gospel affect them as well?  In Part Three we will see that it does.      

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