I recently began having a conversation that brought about a great deal of challenging questions. Some of the most challenging questions that I have experienced since I began seminary a year and a half ago. The interesting part is that the questions are not by someone who is in seminary but rather one who it is evident loves Jesus and has a great concern for the health of the Church. One of the questions regarded a quite fundamental truth. I was asked “How would you describe the Gospel to a non-believer?” To slightly reword this question, I was asked how would you sum up the entirety of the Christian faith, and demonstrate the theme of the Bible to someone who has limited knowledge on the topic. This was my response:
In response to how I would describe the Gospel to a non-believer, part of that were to depend on context, of course, but just assuming I ran into someone at a coffee shop, and I didn’t know anything about them and some how a conversation started I’ll give two possible scenarios.
If I only had a few moments to describe the Gospel to an unbeliever I would probably start with 1 Timothy 1:15-17:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I would start here because this was most likely an early Christian creed intended to be repeated by believers with an understanding of how great our sin is, but also how much greater our Savior is. I would probably then link it to the view of Jesus portrayed in Hebrews 7:25 and Romans 6. Demonstrating that Jesus saves to the uttermost and that we cannot out-sin the grace of God, but a life of obedience to Christ is required and that this salvation that brings us eternal life is obtained through a justification given by God through our faith that is granted by the grace of God.
However, if I have more than just a few moments I would unpack it quite differently. I would begin with explaining sin. From the beginning God created us to be in community with him, but Adam sinned, and since God is holy and blameless he cannot be in communion with sin. It is in opposition to his nature. So God had no other choice but to kick Adam and Eve out of the garden because of their sin. In the midst of the curse that came from sin, we still see a promise that the offspring of man and the serpent who tempted and lead Adam and Eve to sin will have enmity with each other. The serpent shall bruise the offspring’s heel, but the offspring shall crush his head. This offspring is Jesus. Who after thousands years of God’s deliverance of his people and his people responding with disobedience, died for the sins of his people. God gave his people the Law, in which we cannot keep. The crux of the law is to be holy as the Lord our God is holy. Yet just as we see in the history of Israel, we today, still turn to other lesser “gods”, God provides for us and yet we worship other things. Through Adam we are all exposed to sin, yet because of this exposure we are still sinful ourselves and we do not uphold the law of God. In the Bible, although there is a continual theme of God’s people abandoning him for the things of this world, there is still also a promise of restoration. This restoration comes in Jesus. The only man to live a life without sin, because Christ is not simply a man, but he is also God incarnate. Jesus is fully man. Jesus is fully God. Simultaneously man and God – one person, two natures. Because only God can forgive sin, Jesus had to be God. Because man is the one who sinned, Jesus had to be man. Jesus took on the sins of his elect by being crucified. Jesus was sentenced to death for a crime that he could never commit. He was accused of blaspheming and likening himself with God, but since He is God, it’s not blasphemy, it’s a failure on the part of the Jesus people to recognize their Savior who had been told of in Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 22, Exodus, Leviticus 16, Numbers 21, Deuteronomy 18 and countless other passages – the very one they were waiting for is the very one they crucified because they did not understand his mission. He came to save sinners through his death on the cross – not to establish a political rule. His Kingdom is greater than the kingdoms of this earth. Through Adam sin was imputed upon us, granting all of us death. Through Christ righteousness is imputed upon those who believe in him as the Savior of the world and of his elect. However, we cannot forget the most important part of Jesus death. He was dead. Three days he laid in the grave, but he did not stay dead. He conquered the grave, after the third day the man who was crucified with two thieves to his left and right rose as a king. A king who 40 days later ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of The Father. After Jesus’ ascension, the third person of the Triune God, came into the earth to fill the Spirit of his people. All who truly believe receive and are filled with the Spirit of God, who has been present in the world since Creation. Through the influence of the Spirit we are able to be obedient, although Christians have no yet obtained perfection, but that is yet to come in the return of Christ when he calls those who believe home. Now, Christians as the people of God, endure in an already-not yet mindset, where we are already made right with God because we are identified with the Risen Savior but not yet fully made holy because we still sin, telling everyone for the hope that lies in us – that although we are dead in our sin, we have a savior who brings us life. We rejoice that we do not have to suffer the wrath of God, that we more than deserve because of our sin, but because of the Work of Christ on the Cross, we are able to be saved, all who confess their sin and confess Christ to be the Savior are saved and made right with God and forgiven of their sins. What a beautiful thing.