Names are hard. You can forget names, mix up names, and mispronounce names.
But there’s a subject in scripture that is described many different ways, and it is given multiple names. The word “gospel” appears 101 times in the Bible. Some have described this word as meaning, “a reward for good tidings.” The basic meaning of the word “gospel” is “good news.”
It is the good news about the benefits we receive from the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fundamental facts of the gospel are the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These facts are found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Notice what else we learn about the gospel from this passage,
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
In this text we see what the gospel can do in the hands of a faithful Christian:
First, Paul preached this gospel.
Second, they received that message.
Third, they were standing in that message. That is, they were following the gospel.
Fourth, they were saved by that message.
Fifth, they would continue to be saved as long as they held fast to that message.
Sixth, these facts were true if they truly believed those facts.
Seventh, he delivered what he had received. He didn’t make-up this message. In Galatians 1:12 he explained, “For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Eighth, what he delivered was of most importance which was that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (according to what had been foretold in the Old Testament).
Ninth, Christ was buried.
Tenth, Christ was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures – according to the Old Testament prophecies.
That is the gospel. That is what we are commanded to proclaim. So let’s share the good news with our lost and dying world.
We established last week that our existence just is. We can’t control that, so we must accept it and make the best of it.
For this question there are two options: do what God wants, or don’t.
If we choose to do what God wants, then we’ve chosen to believe that he exists and has some expectations. We’re going to love people, which is not a natural response. We’re going to pray for our enemies. We’re going to do good things for people who hurt us. Our focus isn’t going to be on stuff that exists on this earth, but on the cosmic (Col 3.2). This lifestyle gives us a passport to the new earth.
If we choose not to do what God wants, we’ll live by our own rules. This lifestyle is focused on happiness and feeling good. It avoids suffering at all costs. It typically rejects any absolute moral standard. All Christians sin (I Jn 1.8), but that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is a lifestyle obsessed with self and with chasing happiness. It concerns itself only with this earth.
Our purpose is to get through this trial period — our first life — with character intact. Our purpose is to help other people. Our purpose is to search for God and all that that entails. Our purpose is to anticipate the next life. This one means nothing to the Christian, aside from being a force for good on a dysfunctional planet. Our purpose is to get home.
On June 14, 1921, Winston Churchill warned the British House of Commons about a looming threat that took a little over 80 years to see come to fruition in a graphic way: “The Wahabis profess a life of exceeding austerity, and what they practise themselves they rigorously enforce on others. They hold it as an article of duty, as well as faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children” (Churchill, “Never Give In,” p. 83). These ones he called “bloodthirsty” were ancestors of many of today’s radical Islamic fundamentalists.
It is eerie to see how accurate Churchill’s concern was and how timeless his warning. He warned of a threat that few saw as looming in the days immediately following World War I. If politicians and military strategists had given deeper consideration to his warnings, lives would have been saved. Often, though, warnings are more dutifully considered in the rearview mirror.
In the last chapter of the Bible, John relays a heavenly warning and an invitation. The warning is against tampering with the word of God (18-19). It will bring about spiritually fatal results, whether one adds to what God says (cf. Prov. 30:6) or takes away from what God says (Deut. 4:2). Adding to divine truth adds torment to the soul; taking away from divine truth results in one having taken away from him the promises and hope of heaven. In both testaments, God warns man not to change His word.
Yet with this warning is also an invitation (17). It is an invitation to share in a gift undeserved and yet unreservedly given. It is for all who are willing and who come. Those who hear this invitation and properly respond need not worry about the warning. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” will be with them (Rev. 22:21). We are wise to consider the validity of the warning and prepare our lives convicted of its power and reality. In turning from iniquity, though, let us turn toward the one who invites and live.
I Thessalonians 2.17-3.5 proves that Satan will always try to interfere with our work. He will do everything within his power to keep us from encouraging each other. It’s very interesting that of all the things to target, he’s identified our encouraging each other as most threatening to his goals.
He’ll also do everything in his power to destroy our confidence in God. For reasons I don’t fully understand, Satan has it out for the human race. This is pure conjecture, but perhaps jealousy has something to do with it. We know from scripture that angels really wanted to know what God was doing with his plan to save humanity (I Pt 1.12). Angels don’t get any kind of grace when they mess up (Jd 6; II Pt 2). Maybe Satan – as a bad-guy angel – doesn’t like that God gives preferential treatment to inferior living beings.
1 Thessalonians 3.6-13 contains a guide for avoiding burnout in our faith. If we start to run out of steam, we should remember how important our work is. It’s also encouraging to think about the lives we’ve impacted. This is grounding, and it’s a tangible reminder of how important our work is. We also learn that it’s important to focus exclusively on other people. This is even used in behavioral therapy to help manage depression and anxiety–doing things for others is very beneficial for our own mental health.
When we start to burn out, we can also pray constantly. Even though the conversation is one-sided (from our perspective at least), prayer is how we communicate with God. When we get burnt out. God will give us the oomph we need if we just ask for it. Our ultimate goal is to be morally pure when Jesus comes back, and the only way we’ll be able to make that happen is with his help.
I Thessalonians 2.1-6 reminds us that our motivation for staying faithful shouldn’t be selfish. We’re not here to gain a following or expand a financial portfolio. Those things aren’t intrinsically wrong, but using Christianity as an opportunity for financial gain is terrible. We’re faithful because it’s what God wants, and because we want to live with him forever.
The application of 2.7-12 is that God expects us to tell people about his son’s return, even if we have to do it alone. This means we don’t expect financial help as a condition for service. This means we teach with great patience. It means we share our time generously. It means we work hard. It means we invest all of our emotional resources into the work.
2.13-16 teaches that our message originated with the creator. It has a powerful effect on people who believe it. It also draws negative attention from people who find it too otherworldly to accept. For the most part, people find it difficult to accept the idea of a God. Beyond that, most find it even harder to believe that this God will destroy the planet, and will only rescue those who follow him. To most it reads like science fiction. As with other things that don’t fit a naturalistic narrative, our worldview is attacked as bring fringe or fantasy or irrational. But God will handle those who try to stop his message from spreading, so our job is to keep at it until our time is up!
In southern Peru, there is a massive area of geoglyphs carved into the ground and rock. They are named for the area, called the Nazca Lines. There are humongous carvings of people and animals, National Geographic reporting that “in total, there are over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant designs, also called biomorphs. Some of the straight lines run up to 30 miles, while the biomorphs range from 50 to 1200 feet in length (as large as the Empire State Building)” (NAT GEO). There are so many theories about the meaning and purpose of these etchings, made by a people who could not have seen the entirety of figures that require aerial view to take in. It is suggested that these geoglyphs were formed between 500 BC and 500 AD by people from at least two distinct cultures. Overall, they have been well-preserved (aided by lowest annual rainfall rates in the world) and their authenticity is indisputable.
While this massive ancient project raises more questions than answers, it points to an effort that was done by a people whose work could not be appreciated in their own lifetime. The time, calculation, effort, and plotting required to draw these figures in the ground is awe-inspiring. We could argue that their work did not have the significance of medical breakthroughs, ingenious inventions, and literary brilliance, but they are still impressive. They could not see the fruits of their own labor, yet they continued to diligently work.
When it comes to matters of faith, how hard it is to labor with such foresight. The decisions we make every day, the priorities we map out for ourselves and our families, even the seemingly insignificant choices definitely impact ourselves. But, we are also building for the future in ways that we may never see in our lifetime. They will eat the fruit of the trees we are planting today.
Asaph urged an investment in the faith of one’s descendants. He says, “For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, and not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart And whose spirit was not faithful to God” (Ps. 78:5-8).
When we write God’s love and His will on the hearts of our children, it increases the likelihood that generations yet unborn will trust, remember, and obey God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:2-3)! That’s profound! New Testament Christianity extends back several generations on my mother’s side. The same is true of Kathy’s father’s side of the family. We pray daily for our children’s faith and their children’s faith. Won’t it be wonderful to spend eternity with descendants, maybe many generations removed from us, who “saw” our faith and imitated it? That is a wonder that far exceeds any archaeological find!
Live your faith! Not only will it save you, but may contribute to the salvation of many generations yet to come. Keep writing on tablets of human hearts. The future will see it and marvel!
In I Thessalonians 1.2-3, we’re motivated to work for each other for three reasons. First is our faith, which is a confidence that Jesus is coming back for us. It’s enough to make us go out of our way for each other. Our love for God is another motivator. We love God because he promised us a life with Jesus forever. Because he showed this kind of love, we show the same love to each other. Our hope is the last motivator listed in this section. A better word for this is anticipation. According to research led by Dr Andrew Huberman (neurobiologist and behavioral scientist at Stanford School of Medicine), anticipation is one of the strongest human emotions. This makes perfect sense, as our anticipation of Jesus’s return is why we live the Christian life. This is almost a word-for-word parallel to I Corinthians 13.
I Thessalonians 1.4-6 reminds us that God loves us, so he chose us to be rescued. A few thousand years ago, God chose Israel to be his special people. When they were faithful to him, they enjoyed physical blessings and a relationship with him. God chose us to live with him forever. We’re his special people. Paul also points out that we can trust God to deliver on his promise. This will show up again later in the letter. God promised that we’ll live with him forever when his son comes back for us. Faith means confidence or trust. When we trust God to deliver on his promise, we’re demonstrating faith.
This section also teaches that we can find happiness while we’re suffering. The anticipation we have of Jesus’s return is the only reason this statement is true. If this life is all there is, we’re the most miserable group of people in the world. What makes death, suffering, and anxiety worth the pain? How can we have any semblance of sanity when all the bad stuff happens? We keep going because he promised he’d come back for us, and because this life is short any way!
The concept of righteousness is quite similar to holiness; both terms refer to a state of being morally upright and emotionally attuned to God’s will. It comprises all that we term justice, honesty, morality, and affections of the heart; in a nutshell, it is true religion. And while there is this type of righteousness to emulate, there are other types of righteousness to avoid.
The first type of righteousness we need to avoid is that which originates in a person’s mind, which is distinct from the righteousness that originates in God. We identify this type of righteousness as “self-righteousness.” Self-righteousness, often born out of pride, is when a person relies on his or her sense of morality to judge right and wrong.
Another example of false righteousness is John Calvin’s teaching on imputed righteousness. By imputed, Calvin meant that God credited the elect sinner with Christ’s righteousness. As a result, God shifted His attention away from the sinner and toward Jesus, whom He acknowledges to be sinless. Consequently, Calvin believed that a person God has chosen for salvation does not need to worry about living a good life. When God looks at him, he can only see Christ. (As a side note, it is expected that the one chosen by God will seek a life of righteousness. But the truth is that according to the doctrine, it’s possible to be a willful sinner and still have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.)
There are seven occurrences of the word “impute” in the KJV. None of these verses suggests that a person can appropriate Christ’s righteousness as their own. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ allows for the transformation of sinners into saints through forgiveness. Entrance to the heavenly kingdom is granted only to those who do God’s will (Matthew 7.21–23). Thus, while imputation suggests that God finds one without guilt and blame, it does not mean that a person can take on the righteousness of Jesus Christ and expect to gain entrance into heaven.
A sinful man becomes righteous through faith in God, not through any meritorious works he can perform. But faith does not exclude human participation. Man must do something. James 2 and Hebrews 11 remind us that faith works the works of God (Ephesians 2.10). A sinner becomes righteous, sanctified, and justified by God’s grace. God gave him his righteousness, and God counts it as his righteousness, not on account of the goodness of Christ or anyone else, living or dead.
Abraham is a great role model for how to achieve righteousness. First, Paul says that Abraham believed in God, which God credited him as righteousness (Romans 4.3–9, 17–22). Second, it is also important to note that Abraham’s righteous status was independent of his being circumcised (Romans 4.10–12). Third, Abraham’s faith was active, working by grace (Galatians 3.6–9; James 2.21–23).
So, it was Abraham’s faith in God rather than Jesus’ own sinless life and obedience that God credited as righteousness. Even though Abraham’s efforts would have been futile without Jesus’ perfect life and obedience, he could not leave everything to be accomplished by God. This truth meant that God gave Abraham the tools he needed, but Abraham was the one who had to use them.
We must do as Abraham did. And just as God will not credit us with Christ’s righteousness, neither will He credit us with the righteousness of anyone else (e.g., a parent or spouse). Our evaluation before God is personal (2 Corinthians 5.10). We must avoid doing as Paul did before his conversion, seeking righteousness contingent on anything other than Christ (Philippians 3.9).
Jesus chose imperfect, flawed people like you and me to help Him spread the gospel. It is easy for us to think that only the super-spiritual, seemingly-perfect can be effective, but the opposite is true. None of us is too spiritual or perfect, though we should always be striving to be better and do more for the One who gave everything to save us.
Paul is continuing his discussion about the ministry he and his co-workers have when he pens 2 Corinthians 4. As he does, he speaks candidly about himself and them–the messengers. As Christians charged with carrying out the Great Commission, we should all put ourselves in his shoes and understand better who God uses in His service.
GOD USES PEOPLE OF INTEGRITY (1-4)
Character does not demand perfection, but it does require a conscience shaped by Scripture and a heart softened by it. This leads one to stay encouraged no matter what is encountered (1). It also leads to honesty and trustworthiness (2). We will conduct our lives righteously, and we will handle God’s Word faithfully. People can trust who we are and, thus, what we say. We may be rejected by the spiritually blind, but we won’t be a roadblock to their faith.
GOD USES PEOPLE OF HUMILITY (5-7)
Paul gives a helpful reminder. It’s not about us, it’s about Christ. He’s the source of light, glory, and power. We’re the plain, fragile pottery God uses to demonstrate His surpassing greatness.
GOD USES PEOPLE OF DURABILITY (8-12)
To be His servants, we have to weather storms. Those storms may be those we would avoid if we didn’t serve Him, but we understand the importance of our mission. We won’t let affliction, perplexities, persecution, and threats keep us from doing His work! God does not need spiritual sissies in His service. We draw our courage and strength from Him, and it causes Him to shine out through us!
GOD USES PEOPLE OF STABILITY (13-15)
What causes us to be stable? Faith! Because we are truly convicted of the truth, we cannot help but speak. We have faith in the reality of the resurrection, so we teach and share the message that brings grace to more and more people. This leads more people to give thanks to God and causes God to be glorified.
If I want to be a faithful servant of Jesus, I need to watch my personal conduct, lower myself, endure, and be trustworthy. That does not require perfection, but it does require dedication! But God depends on imperfect people like you and me! We cannot let Him down.
If you want to win on the battlefield, you need to know your enemy and yourself, as Sun Tzu outlined in The Art of War. We are engaged in a spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6.11–13). As a result, in order to arm ourselves against sin, we must first recognize sin and its nature. Additionally, we need to be aware of how God will respond to any sin not atoned for by the blood of His Son. Finally, we must also properly respond to sin’s threat.
How can sin be identified?
First, it is a transgression of the law (1 John 3.4). By definition, transgression is “the act of passing over or beyond any law or rule of moral duty; the violation of a law or known principle of rectitude; breach of command” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary). Accordingly, “transgression” describes instances in which we break the law, whether on purpose or accidentally. This infringement only needs to happen once to be considered a transgression.
Second, all unrighteousness is regarded as sin (1 John 5.17). Looking back to Webster’s original definition, we can see that unrighteousness “may consist of a single unjust act, but more generally, when applied to persons…denotes a habitual course of wickedness.” In other words, this is a condemnation of willful sinners. This is more than just breaking the law; it’s a deliberate decision to disobey God.
Third, anything not of faith is a sin (Romans 14.23). As Burton Coffman observes: “Where the conscience is in doubt, the definition of proper conduct must be made on the basis of what the word of God says; and, lacking any clear knowledge of what the word says, or, if knowing it, lacking full confidence and faith in it, the person is bound by his scruples.” This principle does not extend to situations where the conscience is not threatened.
Contextually, Paul is referring to the consumption of meat offered to idols. Meat offered to idols was technically forbidden (Acts 15.20). However, if the origin of the meat was unknown, you could gladly accept it. If, on the other hand, your host identified the meat source as coming from a pagan sacrifice, you couldn’t eat it for the sake of your conscience and the consciences of those who might see you and stumble as a result (1 Corinthians 10.27–29).
Fourth, God defines sin as not doing something. “So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, for him it is sin” (James 4.17 NASB). This sin is the most concerning of all the ways we fall short. We’re aware of potential threats, but can we also spot opportunities? We can become so preoccupied with avoiding what is wrong that we miss out on what is right.
Now that we have identified sin, what is its nature?
First, sin is deceptive (Hebrews 3.13). You’ve probably heard the phrase “bait and switch.” That is what sin is. It makes promises that it cannot keep. It lures us with the appearance of pleasure, success, and freedom only to enslave us with guilt, shame, and emptiness.
Second, sin hardens the heart (Hebrews 3.8). It’s worth noting that the original Webster’s Dictionary from 1828 contains a definition for “harden” in this context. To harden means “to confirm in wickedness, opposition, or enmity; to make obdurate.” Oxford Dictionary defines obdurate as “stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action.” As a result, the practice of sin causes one to become stubborn and reject God’s goodness in favor of the allure of sin.
Third, sin progresses (2 Timothy 3.13). David is a fantastic example of this. When one reads 2 Samuel 11, he finds David atop his palace when he should have been in the field with his soldiers. David could see into Bathsheba’s courtyard from his rooftop. He was moved with lust when he saw her bathing and had her brought to him. He had an affair with her, and she became pregnant.
Instead of admitting his sin, David brought the woman’s husband home, assuming they would have marital relations and that others would perceive his illegitimate child as her husband’s. Because he was such a great soldier, the woman’s husband forsook home comforts while he and his comrades fought. As a result, David orchestrated his death on the battlefield. When David paused atop his roof that fateful day, he had no idea what would happen. We can see, however, how quickly and far sin led him.
Fourth, sin’s pleasure is fleeting (Hebrews 11.25). Consider the phenomenon of intoxication. While under the influence, one may feel giddy or relaxed, but when sobriety returns, there may be things to deal with, such as headaches and the stupid things you did while drunk.
Fifth, sin’s price is astronomically high. (Romans 6.23). What a dreadful boss! Sin rewards you with death for your faithful service.
Sixth, sin dulls the conscience (1 Timothy 4.2). Paul depicts a conscience seared with a branding iron. He is discussing false teachers in the immediate context. One might wonder if such a person would repent if lovingly shown the truth. Unfortunately, there are times when one’s conscience is seared. They continue to teach falsehoods despite knowing they are false.
Note how God responds to sin.
God takes vengeance upon it (2 Thessalonians 1.7-9). We find this thought-provoking discussion about vengeance in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
“The infliction of pain on another, in return for an injury or offense. Such infliction, when it proceeds from malice or more resentment, and is not necessary for the purposes of justice, is revenge, and a most heinous crime. When such infliction proceeds from a mere love of justice, and the necessity of punishing offenders for the support of the laws, it is vengeance and is warrantable and just. In this case, vengeance is a just retribution, recompense or punishment. In this latter sense the word is used in Scripture, and frequently applied to the punishments inflicted by God on sinners.”
God punishes it (Matthew 25:46). This outcome is because, as Webster stated, God’s actions are just. God does not punish sinners because He is sadistic or because He can. Instead, God takes action because the punished person has done something deserving of the punishment. And this punishment is eternal (Matthew 25:46). Words like “eternity” are mysterious to us as beings defined by time. However, from our perspective, even one second of our skin’s exposure to fire feels like a long time. Consider a scenario in which the flames never die, and one cannot escape them.
Now is the time for a proper response to sin and its character.
We must adequately address sin. (Proverbs 28.13). However, hiding sins will not remove them. God reminds us that sin will eventually betray us, revealing its presence to all (Numbers 32.23). We can’t avoid our sins by pretending they don’t exist (1 John 1.8–10).
No, God has provided the means to save us. This method is known as the plan of salvation. “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” Peter says (Acts 2.38 NASB). We must walk in the light of God once He adds us to Christ’s body (1 John 1.7; Acts 2.41, 47).
However, because everyone has sinned, including God’s children, repentance never loses relevance (Acts 8.22). Similarly, we must confess our sins (1 John 1.9). By doing so, we have the assurance of Christ’s cleansing blood.
Lastly, keep away from sin by obeying the Lord’s command. “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NASB). Paul also urges us to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5.22 NASB). Trust in the Lord and obey Him to cleanse your life of sin and receive your soul’s salvation.