The Gospel In A Nutshell
“For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes and has decided to trust in Him [as personal Savior and Lord] is not judged [for this one, there is no judgment, no rejection, no condemnation]; but the one who does not believe [and has decided to reject Him as personal Savior and Lord] is judged already [that one has been convicted and sentenced], because he has not believed and trusted in the name of the [One and] only begotten Son of God [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, the One who alone can save him].
John 3:16 is the most frequently quoted verse in the Bible. We see it sprayed on highway overpasses, held up on signs at football games, and printed on the bottom of cups at fast-food restaurants. Jesus’ words are so familiar that we run the risk of forgetting their significance. We are wise to look at the verse as if we’ve never seen it before.
The statement is shocking! We had literally nothing to offer God- no bargaining chips to twist His arm and no virtue to win His acceptance- but God didn’t wait for a better deal. Because He loved, He took the initiative to give and His gift brought the cleansing of forgiveness and the promise of being with Him forever.
We can measure love by how much the lover gives, and in this one verse of Scripture, we find God giving everything. Jesus had spent all eternity in Heaven being worshipped and served by a host of angels, but He stepped out of Heaven to earth for one purpose: not to live, but to die. And because He died for us, we don’t have to experience the excruciating separation from Him for eternity that the Bible calls He’ll.
Look at the words in the verse as if it’s the first time you ever saw them. He loved, He gave, He forgives, and He rescues. That’s the gospel in a nutshell.
You are not saved by a feeling, but by trusting God and accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior.
In order to create there must be a dynamic force. And what force is greater than love?
The truths of God are so basically simple that they are often overlooked. The drive that humans have to contribute in some way to their salvation has led to complex formulas that really can add nothing to what God has provided in Christ. We frequently try to get the cart before the horse by trying to change our lives or ceasing some habit or sin before we feel like we can be qualified to receive Christ. In a conversation with the Jew, Jesus made the comment, “The well need no doctor.” In other words if we could somehow become righteous enough on our own, then for God to send His Son was useless. The Old Testament people continuously sought to attain favor and acceptance by God through their own abilities of keeping the law and the many sacrifices and observances. In the conversation with the rich young ruler who stated the he had kept the law from his youth, Jesus gently told him that he lacked one thing. And we too, will always lack one thing and many of us like me will lack more than one thing. In the courtroom, guilty defendants “throw themselves on the mercy of the court.” And in reality that what we must do. In coming to Christ, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners and that we are guilty of sin. The beauty of this is that in God’s sight there is no sin too little nor too large. Sin is sin and the guilty face the judgement for that sin. There is no such thing a the “seven deadly sins” for all sin is deadly and we have no way to escape the consequences of sin. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death.” I’m so glad Paul didn’t stop there but concludes, “but the gift of God is eternal life.” That’s the gospel and that gospel has been made for everyone without exception. John in his letter of 1 John says:
“If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just [true to His own nature and promises], and will forgive our sins and cleanse us continually from all unrighteousness [our wrongdoing, everything not in conformity with His will and purpose].” (1 John 1:9)
How simple that is: we confess and God forgives and cleanses us. The gospel calls us to live in the constant state of repentance and confession, trusting in the love of God who gave up His Son for our sins. The Bible teaches that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, period. No other means and nothing more or less. To be born again is the work of the Holy Spirit who washes us in the blood of Jesus, adopts us into the family of God and writes our name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. When we yield our hearts to God this process occurs.
Now I know that some will say, “Well what about conduct and how we are to live as Christians?” Isn’t that important too? Yes it is but right living and right conduct is the outflow of a life that has been transformed and not some effort we have mustered up on our own. The Bible says that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” and I add to that, “out of the heart comes the conduct and actions.” When someone is born again they take on a new nature and as that new nature takes control, their lives, conversation, and action reflect the essence of Christ. James tells us that those who have been born again do not continue to produce ungodly conduct.
“Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”
Several years ago as I was working with a youth group, I shared an illustration of the progress of the Christian life and how important it is to pour the things of God into our hearts. I took a glass jar and filled it with muddy water representing our heart before we come to Christ. Then I took a jar of clean water representing the Holy Spirit and began pouring it into the jar with muddy water and little by little the water began to change colors and as I kept pouring the clean water eventually all the muddy ran over the sides and what remained was clean pure water. This is the simplicity of the gospel. Receive the gift of eternal life and let the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called “Living Water” flow into you and you will find your heart becoming more and more pure.
Finally, the gospel is really a story of love, the most powerful thing in the universe. God initiates the love relationship through the gift of His Son and we respond to that love by giving to Him our hearts. We chose our words, our conduct in the light of our love for God rather than trying to live up to some standard. Let me illustrate. When I was serving as a chaplain with hospice, I met many family members who were tasked with the care of a loved one. Their concern was whether they were doing the right things and providing the best of care. My advice to them was to always operate out of love. That love would set the level of care and that love would move them to seek wisdom and instruction when they didn’t know what to do. The same applies to us with our relationship with God. If you choose to live your life because you love God, you will always seek His wisdom and follow His instructions. Religion may function with rules and rituals but the Christian life thrives on the love of God toward us and our love toward Him. Happy is the one who falls in love with Jesus for even in their failure, that love will pull them back to Him.
Now that we know this simple gospel, sharing it with those who don’t becomes a matter of introducing them to Christ and letting that blossom into a full blown relationship. After all, isn’t that our story?
Dr. John Thompson