At the heart of the Christian faith is a message of wonderfully good news to human beings. The word ‘gospel’, which really just means ‘good news’, is often used to refer to this message.
Some bad news
Before I say something about this good news, I actually need to spend a moment talking about some bad news that is also part of the Christian message. This bad news is a kind of prelude to the overpowering good news that follows it. It is a bit like a medical diagnosis of a serious illness that can be easily treated, something that is not pleasant to hear but necessary to know so that the remedy can be sought.
The bad news is that every human being in their natural state is in a terrible mess. We have all knowingly done things that are morally wrong, what is often referred to as sinning. And this means that we are guilty before God. (Those who are never able to be morally accountable, because they die at a very young age or have a severe mental disability, are not in view in this article.)
The seriousness of sinning cannot be overstated. God is infinite in size and goodness, so for a person to do anything bad involves a kind of infinite insult to him. Yet we have all acted in this way.
However, within us all is a keen sense that justice is a good thing. We know instinctively that doing what is wrong deserves punishment. And because sin is infinitely serious, every human being in their natural state is firmly on track for everlasting punishment in hell after death.
Crucially, it is not the case, as many think, that only especially bad people are on the road to hell. Every person who has committed sins has offended God and deserves to be punished.
So the bad news within the Christian message is that everyone who has committed sins is, in their natural state, on course for the most dreadful, everlasting experience after death.
The good news
But now comes the wonderful good news, which is that it is possible for people to have their sins forgiven and that it is easy to get hold of this forgiveness. There is an escape route from hell.
What happened was that God stooped down to enter our world by taking on himself a human nature to become the God-Man, Jesus Christ. As both God and man, Jesus was able to bridge the gap between God and people.
The way that he bridged this gap was by dying on a cross as a substitute for sinful human beings, bearing our sin instead of us. Then he confirmed that he had succeeded in this by rising from the dead.
The price for our sins has therefore been paid by Jesus on the cross.
We need to take hold of forgiveness
But there is one more thing. It is essential that we individually take hold of the forgiveness that can be ours. We need to believe that Jesus the God-Man died on the cross so that we could be forgiven. And we need to hold out our hand to him to receive the gift of forgiveness. This believing and holding out the hand to receive forgiveness is what Christians refer to as faith.
Whenever someone genuinely receives forgiveness by faith, that person will also always make a conscious effort to turn away from the sins in their life, what is often referred to as repentance. This repentance is not in itself what entitles us to forgiveness, but it always accompanies faith. Faith that is not accompanied by repentance is not real faith at all. It is a fake kind of faith.
Those who receive salvation by faith and repent will also always be baptized in water. And they will receive the Holy Spirit, God himself, to live inside them, who will make them God’s children and start to change them morally.
No room for delay
The heart of the good news of the Christian message, then, is that people are guilty before God, but they can receive forgiveness by faith.
So, have you taken hold of the forgiveness that can be yours? Jesus died for you and he wants you to be forgiven. But you as an individual need to take hold of this by faith. If you haven’t yet done this, make sure you don’t delay. You could die in your sleep tonight and lose your opportunity.