(Read Part 1)
The Gospel Is a Message that Makes Clear the Problem of God’s Judgment
The message about Jesus isn’t just uncomfortable because it rests on a Personal God and a risen Savior, but also because the Bible makes clear that the relationship between God and man is currently, on the whole, not a good one. Paul wrote it this way:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (NIV, Rom. 1:18-25)
The verses make plain a simple progression: Though God made us, many among us have decided to simply push God off the throne of the world in our own minds, and turn our lives over to ourselves. We do it because we want to do what we want to do—and we don’t want a God to tell us what we want is off limits, wrong or forbidden. We re-define freedom, not as the guilt-free life of pleasing our Creator, but as the “right to do what I want and ignore that I was created at all!”
Verses nineteen and twenty (1:19-20) argue that God didn’t keep Himself secret. In fact, it states that God hung the stars and gave us understanding of the exacting qualities of what it would take to make such a world and put life in it—so that we would conclude that He is there, and we would know more about Him by the observations we made of the world we live in. The problem came when we decided that with God came moral restraints—so we closed our eyes to the Heavens and decided to turn our attention only to little and controllable “gods” that we could invent, mold and worship.
In America, we worship a well-fashioned and ever popular “Mush God.” Nicholas Van Hoffman wrote about him:
The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions. The Mush God has no theology to speak of, being a Cream of Wheat divinity. The Mush God has no particular credo, no tenets of faith, nothing that would make it difficult for believer and nonbeliever alike to lower one’s head when the temporary chairman tells us that Reverend, Rabbi, Father, or Mufti, or So-and-So will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer, for this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hooker’s convention and he/she or it won’t be offended. God of the Rotary, God of the Optimists, Protector of the Buddy System, The Mush God is Lord of the secular ritual, of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that hush the divisive and derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are chiseled not on tablets but written on sand, open to amendment, qualification and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all our wars holy, all our peace agreements hallowed. (Nicholas Van Hoffman as quoted by Adrian Rogers in Ten Secrets for a Successful Family, pp. 29-30)
Man, generation after generation, seems to create a god that isn’t the one revealed in the Bible—but one he makes up to make himself feel ok about whatever new desires he wants to Christen as holy. What we are seeing today in the nation may be more brazen in its definition—but not new in its application. Paul continued:
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:26)
The gospel is not a message of tolerance, but a message of deliverance. It is not designed to make our sin seem less heinous, but our Savior more glorious. Its message demands all of us to face our record before God as He calculates it. The record God uses to measure us is not a comparison with other people. On the contrary, we are placed against the yardstick of absolute righteousness—a standard we cannot attain in our fallen state without God’s gift of salvation. The gospel is the grand message of that gift. It is summarily rejected by one who feels self-righteous, for they believe themselves to be in a position to negotiate their good with the Holy One. It is routinely ignored by one who feels God wasn’t overly serious about demanding that we receive the gift of His Son’s payment for sin at His Crucifixion. Yet, the message is one of rescue to the person who simply receives it—because they affirm that God is both Creator and Judge, and we are not His equal. I am set free from my debt when I accept God’s antidote and stop fabricating my own.
Herbert Lockyer said a generation ago: “At the old rugged cross we see man at his worst, but God at his best.”
Don’t let the hard words we just read throw you. The gospel isn’t all about how bad people are—it is about how needy people are. When we look inside, all of us are broken. We are all deeply selfish. We may not be open about our sin—but we know we have it. As a society, man’s brokenness is manifest in the angry world wide web, the filthy mouths of hate-filled citizens that demand me to both tolerate what they do, and want to force me to stop saying it is wrong. The problem with that is it is an abstraction. I am just as selfish and broken as any of them without God.
After all, what John R.W. Stott said is still true: “The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales.”
(Part 3 coming soon…)