Defining the Gospel

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This past weekend, I had the honor of speaking during Collective Weekend, a gathering of Student Ministries in our city. Below is the transcript of my sermon on Defining the Gospel. Towards the center and ending of the transcript you’ll find four points from Colossians 1 which define the gospel.

Good morning. It’s good to be with you this morning at Collective Weekend. I hope you all got a good night’s rest, but probably not. Most of you probably know me but if not, I’m Amy Young, the Children’s Minister at Stone Ridge Baptist Church. I’ve been ministering there for 10 years and I love it. Being a Children’s Minister means I mostly teach children but I also minister to parents and volunteers who I refer to as leaders. I love teaching the Bible, so I’m really excited to be here today. I often teach teens, which is cool because y’all listen differently than kids. When I’m teaching kids and I’m really getting into it and excited about a big Bible point and a little hand goes upon, I’m thinking “yeah, a question, they’re listening, this is awesome.” I say, “Yeah, what’s your question?” And the kid, with a thoughtful look on his face says, “Can I go potty? I really need to potty.” I deflate a little, lol.

That really happens, but not often. I really have a great group of kids who ask great questions. Often their questions have to do with the meanings or definitions of words or phrases. They ask what Heaven is like, does Hell really exist, and what is a beatitude. They ask these things because definitions are important to understanding the truth and being on the same page in a conversation. If someone says something (a word or phrase) it’s possible to be thinking two different things about it. The other day, my sister and I were having a disagreement about the founding of our country. She was saying that it was not founded on Christian principles but on the freedom of religion. I argued that the pilgrims came over from England because the king was telling them how to worship Jesus, and they didn’t like it. So we argued for a little bit until I said, “Wait, what do you mean when you say the founding of our country?” And she said, “When the Constitution was formed.” And I was like, “Oh. I was meaning when colonization happened.” Once we realized that we were defining the same phrase two different ways and correct that, we were able to agree.

You see, definitions are important. It matters that we define words like sanctification, salvation, repentance, and holiness. But there is no definition more important than the definition of the gospel. We use this word a lot, but rarely do we all think of the same things when it’s said. So, what does the word gospel really mean?

Let’s start with what it’s not.

  1. The gospel is not a list of things you must believe about Jesus in order to be saved. We cannot boil the gospel down to Admit, Believe, Confess, I believe these things, check the boxes, I’m saved, get dunked, and go about my merry way. The gospel is bigger than that.
  2. The gospel is not a list of dos or don’ts. It’s not about doing all of the good things and not doing all of the bad things.
  3. The gospel is not moral advice that, if put into practice, magically gives you a great life. In fact, if you truly believe the gospel, your life will most likely get worse. But you’ll be happy about it because of Jesus. He is worth it.

The gospel is God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. When we realize this, we live lives totally dependent on Him. If you say or think, “I’ll follow Jesus later. Right now I want to live my life the way I want, have some fun while I’m young. I’ll follow Jesus when I settle down with a family,” then you don’t understand the gospel.

The gospel is Jesus living a perfect life, dying the death we deserve, and giving both salvation from sin and His perfect life (righteousness) to all those who trust in Him alone. We see this, the definition of the gospel, in Colossians 1:15-23.

As you’re turning there in your Bibles, I want you to know that everything being taught during Collective is for everyone. The speakers, the small group leaders, the worship band…no one has it all together. Each one of us needs the gospel the same every day. I’m preaching this to you right now and needing it just as much as you do.

Let’s look at the meaning of the gospel, starting in verse 15…

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. 18He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so the He might come to have first place in everything. 19For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, 20and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. 21Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. 22But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him–23if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.

The definition of the gospel:

  1. Jesus is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He was not created. (vv.15-19) The phrase firstborn over all creation does not mean He was created first. It is a status phrase stating that Jesus has the rights and privileges of a firstborn son. Because Jesus is Creator and Ruler and Sustainer of all things, we can trust Him to care for us and know what is best for us. When we truly get this, it changes how we view our possessions and circumstances. We don’t cling so tightly to the things God has blessed us with, but instead use them to glorify God and reach people for His Kingdom. And fear and worry fade away as we trust Jesus to direct our paths even if the journey gets rough.
  2. We sin against a holy, perfect, merciful God. (vv.20-21) Sin completely separates us from God, alienating us from His Kingdom. It causes an internal war between us and God which leads to sinful thoughts and behavior. This is the worst news ever. This is tragic. But we often do not believe our sin is that bad. We think, “I just want to be me, live my truth, be happy, have some fun, and it’s fine if I’m not hurting anyone.” But that couldn’t be more false. When we minimize our sin, we minimize God and His holiness, Jesus and His sacrifice. If you truly understand the gospel of Jesus, your sin causes you to grieve and call out for forgiveness.
  3. Jesus lived a perfect life, took the punishment of our sin, and gives His perfect life to all those who trust in and follow Him. (vv.20&22) Through His life and death, Jesus reconciles our relationship with God. Only He restores what sin breaks. The punishment of sin is death, so to live and die while separated from God by your sin leads to eternal separation from God’s glory to God’s wrath. Those who are saved by Jesus through His death on the cross are given His righteousness such that when they stand before God they are holy and blameless, not because of anything they did, but because of Jesus. We are not accepted by God by anything we do as if we could ever earn His favor. It is Christ who presents us holy to the Father. He is our hope.
  4. Those who are saved by the gospel become servants of the gospel, not masters of it. (v.23) No one wakes up not in need of the gospel. It is not possible to not need the gospel. It isn’t something you believe at the moment of salvation and then move away from and live a “good Christian life.” Instead, we live our lives by the power of the gospel, serving it as we live for Christ and tell others about Him.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation. If truly believed, it shapes your life and changes every aspect of it. Your relationships with your parents, teachers, friends, boy/girl friend, possessions, social media, thoughts…all of it. Jesus being Creator and Ruler of all things, your sin separating you from your Creator, the life and death of Jesus which brings forgiveness from sin all, when rightly understood and believed, move us to trust Jesus, repent (turn) from sin, and live for Him in every area of our lives.

You can believe all the right things about the gospel but until it goes from your head to your heart, it will not transform your life. It is not about following a list of dos and don’ts or believing a list of gospel things. It’s about life transformation by the Truth of who you are and who Jesus is. Jonathan Edwards, while discussing genuine faith verses dead or false faith, said that there’s a huge difference between hearing about the sweetness of honey and actually tasting it, the sweetness of one drop on the tongue being an infinitely more satisfying experience than simply reading about it in a book. This is what it’s like to know about the gospel and the gospel transforming your heart and life.

When you meet someone who truly understands and believes the gospel, you know it. There’s something different about them, constantly joyful no matter their circumstances, on fire to worship the Lord and share their faith, everything in their life is lived in light of the gospel. Surround yourself with these people.

My prayer for you is that when you leave Collective tonight you will know what the gospel is and you’ll truly believe it and live it. Think about your life. Do you truly understand the definition of the gospel? Have you simply believed some things about Jesus, but your life isn’t different, you’re not following Jesus? Have you been trying to be a “good Christian” by following a bunch of rules and relying on your good deeds rather than trusting in Jesus alone? If any of this hits home with you, I invite you to talk to someone about it right now during this time of response or later today. All your leaders are here for you; don’t waste this time.

Reader, I want to invite you to think about the truth of the gospel laid out above. If you want salvation from your sin, freedom from empty religion of dos and don’ts, and a right relationship with your Creator, feel free to contact me anytime.

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