When my wife was a child, her father used to give her marshmallows whenever she got hurt, referring to them as “get better pills”. The goal, of course, was not to cure the injury, but rather to distract from the pain and calm the fountain of tears. In the same way, a kind of “marshmallow gospel” has been circulating through our modern cultural “Christianity”. Churches in search of larger congregations, and even parents trying to lock in a “ticket to heaven” for their children, have been spreading something less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Like a father offering his child a marshmallow to fix a bloodied knee, these would-be evangelists present a pseudo-gospel to a dying world. But, just because a parent calls it a “get better pill”, doesn’t mean that the marshmallow takes on healing properties. Neither can a false Gospel give life.
“Gospel” means “good news”, but it’s only good if it’s true.
Who cares about eternity?
What does it mean to follow Christ? To be a Christian? Perhaps you thought that being a Christian was the same thing as being an American. Perhaps you prayed a prayer as a child, but haven’t been to church since high school, and now you’re planning to ride that prayer into eternity. Perhaps you’ve never believed, since the church is “full of hypocrites” anyways. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe.
Whatever you decide, I want you to at least have a fair shot. To have the Gospel (or good news) of Jesus Christ explained plainly and biblically. That’s why I’m writing this to you. To clear away the fog of misconceptions and misinformation. Let’s be clear, eternity is at stake.
The Gospel in 4
A Christian can answer these 4 questions biblically: 1.) Who is Jesus? 2.) What did He do? 3.) Why did He do it? 4.) How should I respond?
Who is Jesus?
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Jesus posed this same question to His own disciples. He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Today’s answers vary from “a prophet” or “good man” to an “imaginary figure” like the Easter bunny. But what other people say will matter very little when it comes time to give an answer for your life. Who do you say that Jesus is?
He’s not just a man. Nor is He just one of a pantheon of deities. No, Jesus is the God. He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Completely God, and yet completely man.
What did He do?
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
-1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Ok, so, let’s just say for the sake of argument that Jesus is this God-man. Not 50/50, but 100/100. What did He do? Well, He did a lot of things – created the world, you, me, everything. But He didn’t just create it and then leave it to spin like a music box wound up and left to play until the time runs out. Instead, He actively cares for and sustains the world. More than that, He entered into it, as a man, and died.
Died? Yep. On a cross. Crucified. Buried. Dead.
That’s crazy! Yep. Then He rose again. And now He’s in heaven reigning as the risen God-man KING of the universe.
Why did He do it?
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 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. 16 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. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
-1 Timothy 1:12-17
If Jesus is who the Bible says He is – God – and did what it says He did – crucified, buried, risen, and reigning – why did He do it? What kind of story is this?
He did it for you. For me. For all of us, so that whoever would believe in Him would not die, but would have eternal life. This is a story of love and redemption.
As the Bible says, God planned in eternity past (even before the creation of the world) to put His greatness (glory) on display. So, He made a world. A world of wonder and beauty. And in it, He made people. People who were made in His image. In other words, we were made to be like God. To put Him on display.
You see, mountains and oceans can show His strength, and animals can show His creativity, but only people can show His character – love, mercy, grace, even holiness (that means perfection). How are we doing? As people. As image bearers of God, how well are we demonstrating God’s love, mercy, and grace to others? What about His perfection?
Don’t feel bad. Well, maybe you should. But don’t feel alone. We’re all failures. When it comes to displaying the glory of God, we’ve all fallen short. Since the very beginning, that’s been our pattern. Even the very first humans failed to honor God. In fact, they rebelled.
That’s what we do every time we choose to do things our own way – to lie, to hate, to lust. That’s what we do every time we love something more than or instead of God – work, money, ourselves. It’s all rebellion because God is KING. So, He makes the rules.
You might be thinking, “It’s a good thing that He’s a good God.” Well, not quite. At least not good for us. Since He’s a good God, that means He’s also just. You can see where this is going, right? A just and righteous God with a bunch of rebellious people to deal with. What would you do?
Punishment must be executed. Wrongs must be made right. Every thought, every word, every action must be punished. That’s going to take a while. Eternity in fact. Unless someone takes the punishment for us. But who would do that?
That’s why He became a man – to live the perfect life you and I were supposed to. Perfectly putting God’s character on display. He is God after all.
That’s why He died – to take our punishment. God took all of His wrath and poured it out on Himself. Even while we were still living as rebellious enemies of God, He died for us.
That’s why He rose – to demonstrate that the debt had been paid, that sins could be forgiven, that God could be both merciful and just at the same time.
That’s why He’s reigning in heaven now – because He’s earned it. Not just because He made everything (though that would be enough) but because He is perfect and yet He gave His life as a ransom for others.
How should I respond?
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
– Mark 1:14-15
Repent and Believe. These aren’t 2 different actions. They’re 2 sides to the same coin.
Repenting means to turn from your sin – from your selfish, rebellion. But turning away from something, of necessity, means that you’re turning toward something else. In salvation, that something is Jesus.
Believe. Turning to Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean a prayer, as though you have to say the “magic words” or “password” to get into the club. Turning to Jesus means you believe what the Bible says about Him – Who He is. What He did. Why He did it.
This action of repenting and believing – of turning from yourself to Jesus – is an act of submission. Jesus is KING whether we acknowledge it or not. As I tell my son, there are only 2 kinds of people in the world, those who want Jesus to be KING and those who don’t.
Which one are you?
So, what now?
If you’ve read everything up to this point, and you still don’t believe it (or you don’t want to believe it), then I’d beg you to reconsider. Read it again, and pray that God would show you truth. We aren’t promised tomorrow. Forever could be less than 24 hours away.
If you’ve read these words and believe them now for the first time, you should find a good church and be baptized. Baptism, though it doesn’t add to your salvation, is a public declaration and demonstration of what you now believe to be true.
Whether you’ve believed these things for years or moments, they compel us to action. If you claim these things to be true, then your life must reflect it – faith without action is dead. Just as baptism adds nothing to salvation, doing good doesn’t add anything either. But, a fruit tree that’s alive bears fruit.
We’ll address some promises about the Christian life next week, but here are a few things you should start today.
Study your Bible. It contains the words of God, which will teach you more about who He is and how you can be like Him, putting His glory on display the way you were meant to.
Find a good church and serve there. If you’re local to Wilmington, NC, Cornerstone would love to have you visit Sundays at 2730 Northchase Pkwy. If not, here are a couple websites to aid your search.
Pursue discipleship. An essential part of growing to be more like Jesus is relationships. Find someone who can teach you more about who God is and how you can be more like Him.
Beware of “marshmallow gospels”. Anything that adds to or takes away from the good news presented in the Bible is a false gospel and cannot save you.