Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Light of the Gospel

This morning my wife and I took our second son Seth to take a look at a university he may be attending this fall. The weather was almost perfect for a campus tour and the buildings and roads that weave their way through this particular campus were almost deserted compared to a normal day during the academic year. We were impressed by the facilities and I was particularly interested in the library that we visited. But more than anything else that I saw, I was encouraged to see evidence of Christians in the student center. There amid the various ethnic, religious and political groups on campus were Christian student groups who were letting their light shine as they testify to the grace of God that has come to lost human beings in Jesus Christ. Testifying in this way is not easy and they are to be commended and upheld in prayer that they may remain unified and true to their Christian calling. We need Christians who will live out their faith in every domain of life to the glory of God. People everywhere are searching for answers, and at a university, though it is a place of higher learning, there are often more questions than answers. Yet in Christ, and in his word, we have basic answers to the most profound questions asked by human beings, and, as Christians we have the great privilege of sharing these answers with others.

For instance, in the Bible we are told where we come from and why we are here. We were made by God in a unique and special way, formed from the dust, creatures who were made alive by his breath as those who bear his image more than anything else he has made. As his special creation we were made to have a relationship with God, made to have fellowship with him, and to love and enjoy him forever. But this is not all the Bible tells us. It also goes on to tell us something that many do not want to hear. It tells us that we are fallen and rebellious, that we are sinful and wicked, that we would rather go our own way and do our own thing rather than love and obey the Lord.

Our bias toward evil is not a minor glitch but a major moral deficiency that justly brings us under God's wrath and plunges us into a state of spiritual death. As if this were not bad enough, if we remain in our sins and our rebellion we will perish eternally in our sins. Although talk of eternal judgment is greeted with a condescending smiles and snickers in our day, the Bible is clear. Jesus himself spoke more about hell and judgment than anyone else in the Bible and we ignore his teaching at our peril. And not only did he speak of this dark realities but his death on the cross is incomprehensible if we do not take seriously the wrath of God that burns against sin and sinners who live their lives as if God does not exist beyond being a good luck charm.

Fortunately for all of us this is not the end of the story. Although there is bad news, there is even better good news. In the most amazing act of grace and mercy God sent his Son into the world to die on the cross and secure the salvation of all who put their faith and hope in him. This is the very best news possible! God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). In fact, when we read all that the Bible has to say on the subject we discover that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were involved in this great salvation. The Father planning and choosing to save, the Son accomplishing salvation by living, dying and living again, and the Spirit giving new spiritual life to spiritually dead sinners and bringing them powerfully and yet freely to Jesus Christ.

At this point, however, we must be careful. God's provision of salvation for a world of lost sinners does not mean that people will be saved no matter what they do with Christ, and how they live. God does not just save from the penalty of sin but from the love and practice of sin. Where he is at work the power of sin is broken in our lives and we desire righteousness. In other words, salvation comes to those who turn away from their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Master. While we are never perfect in this life, we have a desire to be perfect. We want to live for God and please him in all that we do. Any other way of living would be a denial of his grace and it would cheapen what was accomplished on the cross when Jesus died. Furthermore, it would cast doubt upon our share in the power of Christ's resurrection which brings us into a new spiritual realm and reorients our whole way of thinking about the past, the present and the future.

There is no gospel like this gospel! The religions of the world all have one thing in common and that is their united teaching that human beings can somehow save themselves by obeying whatever rules are prescribed by their religious tradition. Christianity says something completely different. We cannot save ourselves! We need a Savior, but not just any savior, we need the one that God has provided in Jesus. There is no salvation outside of him. And this salvation comes to us by grace through faith alone. We are not required to clean ourselves up before we come for the simple reason that we cannot make ourselves clean enough. We are commanded to come just as we are and to confess and forsake our sins and ask God to forgive us in the name of Jesus. We trust in his work on the cross in our place, the fact that he paid the price for our salvation, and we do so believing his own promise that whoever comes to him he will not drive away (John 6:37). May this grand and glorious gospel never cease to be proclaimed on university campuses and throughout the world until Jesus comes again at the end of the age. And may God use this ancient message to enlarge his family and build his church to the glory of his great name.

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