The last time I visited my country (Cyprus) I talked with some old people from my village about spiritual matters. I showed them from the Scriptures that Christ has died for our sins and that it is by grace that those who truly trust in Him have been saved. But when I asked them if they agree that all people are sinners, they said ‘yes’, when I asked them ‘is it by believing in God that you can be saved?’ they would say ‘yes’. But when I asked them if they thought themselves to be good, they said ‘yes’. People often tell me that God is forgiving and though we are not perfect, God forgives our sins and helps us become good by trying to do our very best.
Do you see what happened? Though are they familiar with the words faith and repenting, they have missed the whole point of why Jesus Christ needed to come to this earth to die for our sins. And so many so called evangelicals today, I sense, have not been fully clear on what the Gospel is really all about. A Catholic will agree that God calls us to have faith, the Muslim will agree that Allah calls us to have faith, but faith in what? Who are we trusting for our salvation? Is it in ourselves? Or is it our religion?
All these questions need to be clarified because many who claim to be Bible-believing Christians are not only ignorant but are stealing the very truth that will set people free from the prison of evil. As Augustine rightly said “half-truth, is no truth”. It is a lost Gospel that we have to recover.
Recovering the Lost Gospel.
The Lost Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is found in two places in the New Testament, in Romans 3:21-23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. And the key word for both of these texts is the word righteousness Because God will only accept into Heaven those who are completely righteous. Righteous is a word we don’t often use in our English language, but it simply means to be completely blameless, to be spotless, guiltless, totally innocent. In the original Greek, the word is a legal term meaning to be justified and approved by the one who has the authority to judge. That is God.
You yourself may have a son or a daughter or grandchildren who you expect to behave according to your family’s standards. You may daily judge whether others are doing good and not wrong according to your own standards. But what about our standing before God? Can we be right according to God’s divine standards? Job rightly asked the question “how can man be in the right before God?”(Job 9:1). That is why it is important that we understand what it means to be right with God.
As I have written in earlier articles, man is commanded by God to stand in perfect righteousness before Him. But since we are born in sin we cannot be right with God. Then we can only ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness (read: The Fall of Humanity). But you might say to me ‘God will help us try and become good people’.
Let me give you a small illustration to consider carefully. Imagine if you were a shepherd and you’re called to protect the sheep. Then a wolf enters slowly into the field and slowly comes closer to the sheep to eat them. What should you do? There are two options. You can get your gun and kill the wolf. But what if you have chosen to build a trap and you have caught the wolf so that he can no longer eat the sheep? You see the wolf is in the cage and you say to me ‘that is a good wolf’ ‘he is reformed’. Then I would say ‘how can he be? Look at him.’ The wolf goes to his right and goes to his left saying ‘why can’t I just eat some sheep?’. You see what has happened? The wolf that was captured is still a wolf. He is not changed.
What I just described to you is man centred religion. Like the wolf, we are born with the desire to do evil. But when we follow a religion created by men, we do not change. We remain the same on the inside even if we outwardly look as if we are angels. Did not Jesus Christ warn us saying “the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17)? How can a good tree bear bad fruit? In the same logic, how can we expect a sinner to do good and right before God, if he is still happy to go on doing evil? If he is not born again (John 3:3) how can we expect him to become holy and show genuine signs of repentance? With man it is impossible. That which is made out of flesh is flesh, which is made out of the spirit is of the spirit.
So it is impossible for a sinner to build up enough righteousness to satisfy God based on his own works. God the Judge will see them all as nothing but filthy rags full of corruption (Isaiah 64:6-7). Even if you have scored 99% by obeying the Ten Commandments in your life, you still violate that 1%. And that is enough to condemn you to Hell. Did not Adam commit one small sin that condemned the whole human race under the judgement of God?
How then can anyone be right before God? His standards are too high and too perfect for us to attain. There is only one who was able to perfectly live a righteous life. He is the one who said “I am the way, the truth and the life”, He is the Lord Jesus Christ. The word of God says “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
This is the central message of the entire Gospel: you are not saved by your own righteousness, neither in believing in your own works to save you. You are saved by trusting and believing in the work and righteous life of Jesus Christ. When you believe, you are declared to be right with God because of the righteousness of His Son who died for you and rose from the dead for our justification. That is where we turn our faith to. Look upon that cross, upon Christ hanging on that tree, He is blameless, spotless and absolutely righteous before the Father. That is why the Apostle then writes as a conclusion “what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.” (Romans 3:27). If you still believe that you are capable of earning your way into heaven, then God will not allow you into His kingdom. The Gospel is to glorify the one who is worthy of all praises and that is Jesus Christ.