16 Feb The wonder of the Gospel
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The Gospel. What is the gospel? Tonight, I have one goal. I want us to be crystal clear on what the gospel is. If you have been in RSI for a while, then you should have noticed that we are obsessed with the gospel. We talk about the gospel all the time. Here is the problem. The word gospel has become a cliché in the church and if we are not careful, we can label everything as gospel and we have no idea what the gospel actually is. And that is what is happening today in many churches. There are many churches that claim to preach the gospel and yet it is not gospel at all. I would even take it to the other extreme. They said they preach the gospel but in fact, they preach an anti-gospel sermon. That is why we are taking the whole months of January to March to explain to you what the gospel is. I want us to be crystal clear on what the gospel is. Some of you might think, “Yos, that’s cool. But it has nothing to do with me. Why do I need to know what the gospel actually is? Just tell me what I need to do to fix my life.” I would argue that knowing the gospel rightly has everything to do with you. Getting the gospel right is what you need to do to fix your life. Listen to this. Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Did you catch that? Paul says that the gospel is not just information. The gospel is not just a doctrine. Paul says that the gospel is the power of God. He does not say the gospel gives access to the power of God. The gospel is the power of God. To know and understand the gospel is to experience the power of God that changes life. Let me put it another way. If the gospel does not change your life, you do not understand the gospel.
What is the gospel? The word for gospel comes from a Greek word “euangelion”, which is literally translated as good news. Get this right. Gospel is not good advice; it is good news. Let me put it this way. Let’s say I am in love with a girl and I decided to ask her out. Don’t get too excited, this is just an illustration. Guys, what do you do when you ask a girl out? You muster up courage and you say, “You are the best thing ever happen to me. Will you be my girlfriend?” And the girl pretends she is shocked by it while I wait anxiously. And now, there are two possible responses and only one of them is good news. If the girl says, “I have never met anyone like you. You are the kindest, the most gentleman I know. But…” The moment she says “but,” it does not matter what she said before it, you know that it is not good news. She might say a lot of good things and gives a lot of good advice but that is not gospel. Good news is if she says, “Yes, I will be your girlfriend.” And this good news radically transforms my life. First thing I would do is I would tell my closest people of the good news. I would text Edrick and Jejep to let them know that I have a girlfriend. They would be excited for me. Then I’ll call my dad and mom to tell them, “Your son is no longer single.” And they would reply, “When is the wedding date?” And by the time I hang up the phone, all of RSI already know that I am no longer single. That’s the gospel. There is a sense of celebration and wonder to it. So when you hear the gospel being preached, there is a sense of joy and wonder to it. The gospel is good news. And this good news is the power of God for our salvation.
But if we can be honest, a lot of time that is not what happened when we hear the gospel. We don’t celebrate the gospel as we ought. Why? Because we don’t understand the gospel. We know that the gospel is that Jesus Christ came and saved us from our sins, but we don’t celebrate it. There is no sense of wonder. And I believe the main reason for it is because we do not understand how bad the condition of our life is without Christ. We only celebrate the wonder of good news to the degree we understand the severity of the bad news. Good news is not good news unless we understand the bad news. We won’t celebrate getting cured from flu like we are getting cured from cancer. The problem is that many Christians don’t understand the bad news. Preachers jump straight to the good news without explaining the bad news. Many even said from the pulpit that they refused to tell people the bad news because the gospel is good news. And that is why the word gospel is nothing but a cliché for many Christians. The gospel shows us that the problem is far worse than we think and the solution is far greater than we imagine.
Tonight I want us to be crystal clear on what the gospel is. I want to talk about 4 aspects of the gospel: Problem; Solution; Process; Outcome.
Ephesians 2:1-3 – 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Everybody knows that there is something wrong with the world, but no one gives a radical diagnosis like the Bible. Let me give you an example. Reynhard Sinaga. If you have no idea who he is, he is an Indonesian man who lived in London who is found guilty of raping 48 men. It is extremely evil and wicked. Now, every time this unexplainable evil happened, people end up blaming everything but themselves. They are convinced that they are good people who simply lost their ways. I mean, you hear this all the time. You hear people who made a big mess in their life being interviewed and say, “The reason I am like this is because I was abandoned when I was young. Or, I was molested or I grew up in a bad neighbourhood.” We always find excuses for our brokenness and the reason for it is always outside of us. We are just a victim. So the world’s diagnosis of the human condition is that deep inside all of us are actually good people. We just need help to find the right path. Right, Oprah? However, the Bible gives us a radically different diagnosis of the human condition. It is extremely bleak. The Bible tells us that our problem is not that we messed up in life or that we made wrong decisions. Our problem is not that we do not have the right family, the right job, the right relationship or the right education. The Bible tells us that our problem is that all of us are sinners. The problem is not that we sin but we are sinners. Sin is not first and foremost something that we do. Sin is a condition. We are not sinners because we sin but we sin because we are sinners. Paul describes our sin problem in three ways.
First, we are dead in our sins. This death is not a physical death but a spiritual death. It means that there is a total separation between us and God. We are blind to his glory, we are deaf to his voice and we are numb to his love. We are as unresponsive as a corpse in our relationship with God. We do not want to have anything to do with God. There is a big difference between being sick and dead. If you are sick, there is still something that you can do. What do you when you are sick? It depends on how sick you are. You can try to sleep it off. You can take medicine. Or you can go to the doctor. There is a degree in sickness but there is no degree in death. There is no such thing as half-dead or almost dead. You are either dead or not dead. And if you are dead, you are dead. You are absolutely hopeless and there is not a single thing you can do. Try this the next time you go into a cemetery. Pick a grave and speak to it. Speak to the grave and tell it that you want to give him $1 million. Let me tell you what will happen. Silent. No response. Nothing. Why? Because they are dead. That is our condition before Christ. In the eyes of God, all of us are spiritually dead. There are moral people and immoral people. There are nice people and bad people. There are rich and poor. But here is the truth about all of them. None of them seeks God. All of us are walking dead in the eyes of God. And because we are spiritually dead, it means there is no amount of external change that can help us.
Let me give you an example. It’s gross but it makes the point. Many years ago, I had a traumatic experience. I bought a chicken from a restaurant and I did not eat it till the next day (or later that afternoon). I heated the chicken in the microwave and turned on the TV to watch soccer highlights. So I had a plate of chicken, rice and chilli in front of me and I watched soccer at the same time. As I started to eat, my eyes were focused on the TV. They were showing the highlight of Manchester United game. Without looking at the plate, my hand took a piece of the chicken, dipped it in the chilli, combined it with rice, and put it in my mouth. As I chew my food, I thought, “Hmm, the rice is really crunchy today.” But I still did not realise what happened. My eyes were on the TV. Then I took another bite. This time I thought, “Hmm, why does it feel like something is moving on my mouth?” I looked at my plate and thought, “How come my rice is moving around?” It was maggots coming out of the chicken. That means I ate two handfuls of maggots. The chicken was rotten. So what can I do with the chicken? “Oh, I know. I just need to add more chilli and sweet soy sauce to cover up the maggots.” No! The chicken was dead and rotten. There is no amount of sauce that can cover it up. That’s the picture of you and me without Christ. We are dead in our sins. There is no amount of external improvement that can help us. A better-improved version of us won’t help us. A better relationship won’t help us. A better job, a better family, none of it can help us. We are dead!
Second, we are enslaved by sinful desires. Do you realise that we live in a world that holds different value than the one we see in the Bible? Every day we are bombarded with values that are contrary to the Bible. And I know it is not modern to speak of Satan but Satan does exist. And he is the prince of the power of the air. It means that there is no domain in this fallen world that is outside of Satan’s influence. Wherever air is, Satan’s power is present. We are all subject of his power. And our desire is also corrupted by sin. Do you realise that? God created us with good desire. For example, a sexual desire. It is God who gives us that desire. God is the one who invented sex. But then we take the good gifts of God and make it the ultimate thing in our life. Rather than using our sexual desire to worship God, we are enslaved by it. We become sex-addict. We become porn-addict. We are enslaved by it. So look at what happens. The world bombards us all the time with a different value of sex than the one we see in the Bible. We see it in TV shows, movies, internets, billboard advertisements etc. Then there is the influence of Satan’s power that tempts you to pursue sex and disobey God. And there is also internal sinful desire within you that wants to pursue sex for your happiness. What hope do we have? We are enslaved by sin from both outside influences and from within.
Third, we are under the wrath of God. Here is something that we must understand. Yes, God is love. Our culture loves to point out that God is love. But God is also extremely angry at sin. The Bible teaches both the love of God and the wrath of God. And God’s wrath is not subject to mood like you and me. He does not have a bad temper. God never has a bad day. God is a just and perfect God and he hates sin. Which put us in a lot of trouble. All of us are enslaved by our sinful desire. All of us are sinners by default. That means God is angry at us. We are under the wrath of God. Here is a question for us: If the God of the universe is angry at us, who can save us?
So here is the Bible’s diagnosis of the human condition: dead in our sins; enslaved by sinful desires; under the wrath of God. There is only one thing that we deserve. We deserve eternal punishment. You and I deserve hell. Some people say, “It is not fair. I understand that I sin and make mistakes, but I do not deserve hell. I am not that bad.” We think it is not fair because we do not realise whom we sin against. The consequence of sin is not determined by the degree of our sin alone but also to whom we sin against. Let’s say that I see a cat and I don’t like a cat and I slap the cat in the face. What happens? The cat runs away. Let’s say I don’t like you and I slap you in the face. What happens? You turn to the other cheek and let me slap the other cheek because you are a Christian. Let’s say I slap my dad. What happens? He slaps me back ten times. Let’s say I slap a policeman. What happens? Jail. Let’s say I slap our Prime Minister. What happens? You will not see me for the next 10 years. But let’s say I slap the God of the universe in the face. What happens? And this is the horror of sin. When we sin, we actually slap God in the face. Because every single commandment comes from God. When we break them, it is an assault against God. And we can’t help but do that. We cannot choose not to sin. We are a sinner by default. We are dead to God, we are enslaved to sin and we are under the wrath of God.
How are you doing so far? “Yos, this is the worst sermon ever.” I know. Let’s pray and go home. Kidding. There is a reason why I want you to fully understand your problem. I want you to understand that there is nothing you can do to save you. Failure to understand your problem leads you to superficial remedies. You think that religion and good works can save you. But no. Your problem is far worse than you think. Until you come to term with the depravity of your problem, you won’t understand how wonderful the solution is. Maybe the reason why the gospel does not amaze you is because you don’t understand how severe your condition is without Christ. But when you understand your problem and what you deserved because of it, you can only marvel at what God does next.
Ephesians 2:4-7 – 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Here is what happens. You and I are dead. You and I are enslaved by sin. You are I are under the wrath of God. You and I deserved hell. But then comes the two most powerful words in the Bible. BUT GOD. You and I are dead BUT GOD. You and I are enslaved by sin BUT GOD. You and I are under the wrath of God BUT GOD. Rather than giving us what we deserve, God intervenes. Rather than leaving us to our destruction, God has another agenda. God in his richness of mercy, in his great love with which he loved us, looks at our hopeless condition and say, “I love them too much to let them perish and I am going to save them.” Don’t miss what’s about to happen next. What God is about to do is beyond wonderful. It is unexplainable by human logic. It is far better than the greatest love story the world has to offer. It is far better than a South Korean girl who crashed landed on North Korean soldier and a North Korean soldier who went to South Korea to protect the girl. The gospel is far better than #CrashLandingOnYou. The gospel is the God of the Universe intentionally #CrashLandingOnSinners to save them and love them for eternity. This is what God does.
First, God makes us alive together with Christ. We were dead. We were unresponsive toward God. We did not want anything to do with God. But God in his mercy breathes out his breath of life into our deadness and we come alive. What does it mean? It means that now we are responsive toward God. We can feel his love and we love him in return. If before we did not care about him, now we have a new profound affection toward him. We were dead but now we are alive. I have heard some preachers describe salvation is like you are drowning in the sea. You cry out for help and God sees you and he throws you a life vest for you to hold on to. That’s cute but that’s wrong. You are not drowning and seeking help. You are dead and floating in the ocean. But God jumps into the water, takes your body out of the water and breathe his breath of life back into your lung. That’s what God does in our salvation.
Second, God seated us in the heavenly places in Christ. We were enslaved to sin. We were not able to say no to sin. We were tempted to sin from within and without. But God raises us up with Christ and put us in a place of authority in Christ Jesus. We are now seated in heavenly places which means God put us in a position of royalty. We were slave but now we are royalty. Of course, right now we have yet to physically seat in heavenly places. Last time I check, we are still on earth. But our position in Christ is already legally secure. Right now, at this moment, you are no longer a slave of sin. Christ has elevated you and gives you the power and position to say no to sin. Sin has no dominion over you. Absolutely none. The power of sin in you has been broken by Christ and now you have the authority of Christ in and through you. Whatever sin and struggle that you face, you can rule over them because you are seated in the throne in Christ. No Christians can say, “the sin is too strong for me to resist.” None. For most of us, the reason we lost the battle against sin is that we do not know what God has given to us. My friend, you are no longer a slave to sin; you are royalty of heaven.
Third, God will show us kindness in Christ. Before, we were under the wrath of God. We deserved eternal punishment. But instead, God decided to show us kindness. In fact, it is not only kindness. It is the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness. I love that. John Piper put it this way. How rich is God? Piper says that in 1990, queen Elizabeth was worth $4 billion. That’s a b with 9 zeroes. Even in 1990, that is a lot of money. I don’t even know what she does but waves her hand. But apparently, she is extremely rich. But let’s say that one day I meet queen Elizabeth and she likes me. She says, “Young man, I find it quite pleasant to be able to meet you today. And it is to my joy that I want to give you the invitation to be part of the Royal family. I want to adopt you into my family, and I want to lavish you with all of my wealth. It would be to my pleasure if you agree to it. What say you?” And I’ll be like, “Your wish is my command your highness. Consider it done my queen.” From that moment, I am no longer Yosi. You can call me Prince Yos. But here is what I know about $4 billion. It is a lot of money and she can lavish me with a lot of riches, but it won’t last forever. Eventually, those $4 billion will run out. Are you with me? But not so with God. How rich is God? Immeasurable. And he says that he will show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness. It means that there will be no end to God’s kindness toward us. God will never run out of kindness toward us for eternity. There is always more of his kindness for us to experience forever. Can you get your mind around that? We were once under the wrath of God but now we are the recipients of his kindness for eternity.
And here is what’s beautiful. Don’t miss it. Paul repetitively used the phrase “in Christ” or “with Christ.” We are made alive together with Christ. We are seated in heavenly places in Christ. We will be shown kindness in Christ. With another word, we received all of these blessings not because we deserve it but because we are in Christ Jesus. It is Christ Jesus who qualifies us to receive all these blessings. There is a term for it. It is called “union with Christ.” It means this: Whatever is true about Christ is true about us. Christ’s past is our past and Christ’s future is our future. We become one with Christ. We are not just us. We are found in Christ. Whatever is true about Christ is true about us since we are in him. All the righteousness and the glory of Christ are ours.
But there is a dark side of the union with Christ. We received everything that Christ deserved but Christ got everything that we deserved. There is an exchange that happened. God cannot just overlook our sins and pretend that it is not there. God is a just God and he demands payment for every sin. That is why Jesus came to earth. Jesus was born as a man, lived the perfect life that we could not and he died as a criminal at the cross. And at the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is what pain Jesus the most. Not the pain of crucifixion, not that all of his disciples left him, but that he lost God’s presence. For the first time, the Son of God who was always with God the Father from eternity experienced separation from the Father. Why? Because Jesus got what we deserved. Jesus experienced separation from God and he received the wrath of God toward sin. It all came down on him at the cross. Jesus took every drop of God’s wrath toward our sin so that’s left for us is immeasurable kindness. This is what Jesus did. And he completed it perfectly. It is finished. This is the gospel. And the wonder of the gospel is that God acts is not motivated by you or me. God acts based on the richness of his mercy and his great love toward us alone.
Ephesians 2:8-9 – 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
So, how do we get it? How do we receive all of these blessings? Here is Paul’s answer: “For by grace you have been saved.” Grace. I love this word. It is the one word that separates Christianity from every other religion. What is grace? I have heard it described this way. Grace is God’s riches at Christ’s expense. A beautiful phrase that summarise grace. Grace is unmerited favour. It means that you cannot earn grace. You cannot deserve grace. You cannot demand grace. Grace is only given according to God’s pleasure. Grace by definition must be free. If it is not free, it is not grace. Which means that what prompted God to act for us was not something of us but of himself. That is why we find that God alone is the active agent of our salvation. God is the one who does all the work in verses 4 to 7. It is God who made us alive. It is God who seated us with Christ. It is God who will show us kindness. We are passive recipients. God does all the work from beginning to the end.
So get this right. Living right won’t save you. Doing good won’t save you. Getting baptized won’t save you. Joining a church won’t save you. Serving God won’t save you. Loving others won’t save you. There is only one thing that can save you. Only God’s grace can save you. And in case you miss it, Paul repeated the phrase twice. By grace you have been saved. And I love the word saved. The word saved in Greek is in perfect participle form. Which means that that it is a completed action in the past that has a continuous effect. So, there is not a day where you are less saved, or half saved. Just like there is no degree in being dead, there is no degree in being alive. You are either in Christ or you are not. You either have eternal life or you do not. You either have been saved or you have not. If you have been saved by grace, you are saved forever.
But Paul does not stop there. “By grace you have been saved through faith.” With another word, unless you have faith, you cannot receive grace. Grace is the source of salvation and faith is the means of salvation. Faith is simply receiving and trusting what the grace of God has done. And here is where we need to be very clear. At this point, some would say, “faith is something that we must do on our own. God has done everything he can, but it is up to us whether we want to receive it or not. Therefore, salvation is 99% God, and 1% us. We have a role to play in our salvation.” I do understand why some people say that. And yes, we have to make a conscious choice to trust God’s grace. But here is the big problem. We were dead! We were unresponsive toward God. How can a dead person conjure up faith on their own? Imagine the story of Jesus and Lazarus. By the time Jesus get to Lazarus, Lazarus is already dead for four days. And now Jesus comes to bring Lazarus back to life. So what happens? Does Jesus say to Lazarus, “Hey pal, I know I am a bit late, but I am here now. And I am going to bring you back to life. I am about to perform one of the greatest miracles that anyone has ever witnessed. Many people will trust me because of it. But here is the thing pal. I need you to have faith. I need you to trust me. I need you to muster up all the intellectual cell in your brain and trust me. Okay? So here is what I am going to do. In a count of three, I am going to tell you to rise up. But you have to trust me. You have to put your faith in me. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. Are you with me pal?” No, Jesus is not going to say that. You know why? Because Lazarus is dead. He cannot respond or do anything because he is dead. But when Jesus stands in front of Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus does not need Lazarus’s faith. All Jesus needs is three words. “Lazarus, come out.” And at his words, life invades Lazarus’ dead body. Lazarus body begins to move, and Lazarus opens his eyes and he walks out of the tomb. The man who was dead is now walking out of the tomb alive. Pay attention friend. Yes, you must have faith to receive God’s grace. But it is Christ’s word that birth faith in you. Faith is not something that we can create on our own. Faith is what the word of God produced in us. When God speaks and calls out your name, faith is produced in you and you are enabled to trust God and receive grace.
That is why Paul continues to say, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” The word “this” refers to the whole process of salvation. Grace and faith are the gifts of God for you. A gift is something you receive, not something you earn. “Not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Paul cannot be clearer than that. You cannot work for your salvation. You can only receive. Why? So that no one may boast. So that God receives all the glory. If you have even the slightest part to contribute to your salvation, then you can boast about it. “God may do 99.99%, but I did 0.01%. Ultimately without my 0.01% contribution, there will no salvation.” But God would have none of that. God is the one who does the work of salvation from beginning to the end and that is why God receives all the glory.
Let me tell you why this is good news for us. It means that our salvation is secure. Our salvation is firm and solid. Our salvation is not dependent on the intensity of our faith but the object of our faith. Let’s say that it is the first time for Bob and Sally to fly on the plane and they are flying to Japan. They are having a little discussion in the waiting gate. Sally asks, “Bob, aren’t you a little nervous about flying on a plane? Are you sure we are going to make it to Japan?” Bob replies, “I watched videos on how safe it is to travel on a plane. We don’t need to be nervous. We will make it to Japan as long as we get in the right plane. Did you buy the right ticket?” Sally answers, “Of course I did. I am not dumb. But it is still very scary if you think about it. I mean, we are going to fly thousands of meters above sea level. And we will do that for 9 hours. That means we have to defy gravity for 9 hours. On top of that, there will be two hundreds of us inside this metal cage. I know what the videos said but it’s pretty scary if you think about it.” Bob responds, “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” So they enter the plane and make their way to Japan. My question, which one arrives in Japan safely? Both! Why? Because it is not the amount of their faith that take them to Japan. It is the plane that takes them to Japan. Are you with me? It is not the amount of our faith but the object of our faith that saves. The security of our salvation in Christ is not based on how strong we are but how strong Christ is. Your faith might be as big as Himalaya or as small as an ant, but Christ won’t fail to save those put their faith in him. This is the gospel.
Ephesians 2:10 – 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Let me end with this. When you understand the gospel, it is impossible for your life to remain the same. Paul calls us God’s workmanship. The Greek word for it is “poiema” from which we have the word poem. We are God’s work of art. We are God’s poem. I love it. It means that everything about us, our past, our failures, our weaknesses, our accomplishment, our successes, our strength, our family, our ethnicity, our gender, all of it is part of God’s poem. And it is not a purposeless poem. God allows everything in our life for good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in them. God does not make a mistake. We are his work of art. And we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. Don’t miss the order. We are not saved because of good works but we are saved for good works. Encountering the gospel changes your life. If the gospel does not change your life, you do not understand the gospel. How can your life remains the same when you were brought from death to life? When you were freed from slavery of sin and seated on Christ’s throne? When Christ took the wrath of God for you that you might experience kindness forever? This is the wonder of the gospel. If we only say thank you for the gospel, we have not truly understood the gospel. The gospel is the power of God that radically transform our lives.
- “We only celebrate the wonder of good news to the degree we understand the severity of the bad news.” Give some xamples of this truth from your life.
- Explain the difference between the Bible’s and the world’s diagnosis of human condition.
- Is someone who is morally good and religious guaranteed to be spiritually alive? Discuss with your MC members.
- What does it mean for us to be seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus? How does it empower us to fight sins?
- Explain the relationship between grace and faith. Is it correct to say that grace is God’s part and faith is our part? Why and why not?
- What is the role of good works in our salvation?
- If someone comes up to you and asks you “what is the gospel?” and you only have few minutes to answer, how would you answer it? Discuss with your MC members.