Good News: God is One of Us

By Rick Booye

 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18

 When Paul says “The Message of the Cross” he is using a shorthand phrase referring to the body of knowledge of reality that starts with understanding just who Jesus Christ is and what He really did.  It is the Gospel.

“Gospel” means “good news.”  It is the news of something that has happened; something that God has done in time and space, in history and geography.  You and I did not do it.  God did.  Single-handedly.  Christ’s entire earthly life and ministry (often referred to simply as “The Cross”) is an objective historical fact that has changed the metaphysical structure and destiny of the universe and everything and everyone in it.  Jesus Christ is now Lord of creation and has changed reality in both the spiritual and material dimensions.  This is a fact whether people understand it or not.  Announcing this news is preaching the gospel.  It is not as simple as it sometimes sounds.  There are five stunning facts that we affirm when we tell people about the gospel.  Time and space here allow us to meditate on only the first if these five. It all starts with the incarnation.

God has become, and remains to this day and forever, a human being.  This is tangible, material incarnation (John 1:1-5, 14; Col 2:8-9; Phil 2:5-11; Heb 1:1-3).  The more we think about this the more astounding it becomes. It is literally stunning—the Creator God entering his own creation, becoming a permanent resident in the material realm!  And Jesus of Nazareth was not just acting or appearing human as the Gnostics believed.  He was real flesh and blood, with a true human soul/ spirit, including all the limitations and weaknesses that are part of life in this age.  After his death and resurrection he retained risen, spiritual/ material human form.  It boggles the mind.  No wonder the church took five hundred years to even describe (They never actually explained it.) what they understood by the dual nature of Christ.  We still wrestle with this mystery.  There is no other message in history that even comes close to this.

The incarnation tells us at least two things:  First, Reality is about God before it is about us.  Which means that materialism (the notion that physical matter is all that really exists) is not true.  Yes, Jesus was born in the natural way, but he was not conceived in the natural way.  It is clear that he pre-existed.  God precedes the material world.  Matter is here because it came from His Mind.  The material universe is the product of the invisible, spirit realm.  This is an arresting assertion in our era.  Society simply does not see it this way.  Most people assume that God is a concept that was born in the mind of humanity.  We inherited this idea from two 19th century thinkers, Ludwig Feuerbach (early 19th century) and Sigmund Freud (late 19th century), both of whom were basically materialists.  Their philosophy is the foundation for almost all of what we learn in public school about origins, religion and ultimate reality.  But Feuerbach and Freud were simply wrong.  They were the products of their age, the modern enlightenment “Age of Reason,” which rejected the non-physical realm entirely.  The truth is that Reality starts with God—not with us.

Second, the incarnation tells us that Redemption has an anchor in time and space. This means that all the neo-spiritualities are mistaken.  Many people in our world consider themselves “spiritual” but adamantly reject any “doctrine” or “organized religion.” They opt instead for one of the many off-brand, homegrown, disorganized paths to enlightenment that present themselves to our world.   Central to the doctrines (for they certainly are doctrines and dogmas) of these groups is that historical data is not important.  What is important is personal, mystical, transcendental enlightenment.  Ancient Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism taught this.  What mattered was “the teaching” or “the mystical apprehension.” Whether anything happened in the material world was, well … immaterial.  One reaches enlightenment by direct contact of some sort, not connected to any historical or geographical reality in the material realm.  These spiritualities essentially deny the physical.

The gospel makes more sense than this.  It interfaces deeply with the material creation, human history and reality as we currently experience it.  God has intervened and is currently at large in our world.  Furthermore, He is renovating the entire material and spiritual universe in Christ.  This gives meaning to all of life, including its joys and griefs.  People who grasp the wisdom of the incarnation will live lives that are so heavenly minded they will be of tremendous earthly good.

Take the time to meditate on the incarnation.  Christians these days tend to emphasize the things they should do rather than what God has done.  But too much emphasis on us – our activity, effectiveness, busyness and productivity – produces Pharisaism.  The church is full of people who sign off on the incarnation, but who believe that physical life is useless and meaningless.  They waste some of their best days in guilt for not being more “spiritual.”  The incarnation anchors God’s grace in our material world in a way that sets us free to live fully in this age while profoundly looking forward to the next.

The message of the Bible: God’s Plan of Redemption

The Bible is the account of how humanity and the creation itself came into being, fell into destruction, were redeemed by God in a decisive event in history, and will be renovated by God spiritually, materially and eternally. It is God’s view of the human story from creation through eternity future. It ends well. A brief outline of the biblical message is as follows: Creation; Fall; Redemption; Renovation.

  1. Creation: God created a good world with good people in it, rightly related to and receiving life from Him. It was good because it was rightly related to God in a covenant of creation. Gen.1-2
  2. Fall: Man decided to trust himself instead of God, thereby rejecting God’s authority, love and relationship and separating himself from God’s eternal life. Death began because of rebellion against God, the author of goodness and life. Ultimate judgment (hell) is required by God’s justice and humanity seems to be bound to it. Genesis 3
  3. Redemption: God initiated a plan to rescue humanity and the material universe from the now inevitable divine judgment for evil. Genesis 3:15 through Revelation 20
  4. Renovation: God creates new heavens and new earth; both invisible and visible realms are completely re-created in perfect beauty and harmony. Revelation 21-22.

How the plan of redemption unfolds in the Bible.

  1. God promises from the beginning to someday crush evil and rescue humanity. Gen.3:15
  2. God initiates a redemptive covenant with Abraham based on Abraham’s simple trust in God and His promise (Genesis 15:6); through Abraham comes Israel; from Israel comes Christ (the Seed) and through Christ the entire human population will be offered entrance into God’s plan of redemption by shear grace. Genesis 12-15 and the rest of the Old Testament. John 1:1-18; Matt 28:18-20
  3. As Messiah (Christ), God in human form allows Himself to be killed under His own wrath, in humanity’s place, as a sacrifice for the sin that humanity has committed. This allows God to embrace any people who trust Him (like Abraham did), releasing them from the penalty and power of their sin, effectively grafting them into the Abrahamic Faith Covenant. John 3:16; Rom 3:21-30; Gal 3:29
  4. Christ is raised from the dead and demonstrates that death has been defeated by appearing to several hundred people over a period of about six weeks. Luke 24; Acts 1:1-11; 1 Cor.15:1-11.
  5. Christ explains that He is now the true King in God’s creation, bringing God’s kingdom into this dark and doomed age. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49; Colossians 1:13-14
  6. Christ pours out His own spirit on repentant believers, regenerating them, forgiving them and insuring their eternal life. Acts 2; Titus 3:5-8
  7. Christ returns to judge the world and condemn all evil and people who have refused to turn and trust Him. Hell was created for Satan, but many people will join him there. Matthew 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 19:1-20:15
  8. God in Christ recreates the entire universe in righteousness and goodness and dwells among his redeemed people forever. Revelation 21-22

Sobering facts about the human condition.

  1. We have sinned and done evil in more ways than we can possibly comprehend. Rom 3:23
    1. God will judge every thought, word and deed. Rom 2:16; Heb 4:12; Matt 12:36-37; Luke 12:1-3; John 5:25-29
  2. We cannot, in our own power, alter our emotional and spiritual slavery to the evil that we live in because we deeply love the darkness. John 3:19; Eph 2:1-3; Titus 3:3; Rom 6:16; 7:14-24; 8:3.
  3. God rightly responds to evil with wrath and a determination to destroy it all. Matt 10:28; Rom 1:18-32; 6:23; Rev 20:11-15.
  4. His wrath (Hell) is real and the greatest threat to the human soul. Matthew 10:28; 13:36-43; 25:41; Mark 9:42-48; 2 Thess 1:5-10; Rev 20:11-15.

The Gospel: Jesus Christ is the risen Lord of all creation—God in Christ offers free salvation to all people today by bringing them out of the kingdom of evil and into the kingdom of God. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24: 46-47; John 20:30-31; Acts 17:30-31; 26:18 Rom 3:23; 6:23; 10:9-10; 8:1-2; Col 1:13-14.

  1. He calls us through the message of the gospel, the news of who Christ is and what God has done for us. Rom 1:16-17
  2. We exercise simple, repentant faith in Christ. Mark 1:14-15; Jn 3:16; Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8-10.
  3. He declares us righteous immediately and begins to renovate our souls, transforming our character and eventually our bodies to be like Christ. Rom 6:5-7; 8:1-2; Gal 4:14; Phil 3:20-21; Titus 3:3-7.
  4. He adopts us and makes us a family under His grace and in His name, thereby bringing us into His eternal kingdom, under His reign, right now. Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7; Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14.
  5. He uses us to bring many more from all over the world into His grace and kingdom. Matthew 28:18-20.

People respond to the message of God in one of three ways. Only the last one brings a person into God’s plan.

  1. Crass Idolatry: Outright rejection of God in favor of worshipping the Self or some created thing. Rom 1:18-32.
    1. Self-worship/creation-worship often presents as simple “neutrality” in people. It does not appear as blatantly idolatrous as it really is. If pressed though, this position is seen to be an unrepentant unbelief in the Creator Himself.
  2. Humanized Religion (refined idolatry): Human-centered attempts to earn God’s favor or appease and avoid His anger by a system of human works, religious or otherwise.
    1. This is sometimes done in the name of Christianity, but is not the actual message of Christ. Matt 5:20-48; Rom 2:1-3:20; Gal 1:6-10.
  3. Gospel Faith: Repentant personal faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as the risen and reigning Lord of creation and the Savior of the fallen universe. Jn 3:16; Rom 3:23, 6:23, 10:9-10, 8:1-2; Heb 1:1-3; 11:1-6.
    1. This is a complete rejection of any and all human achievement with regard to becoming a part of God’s plan of redemption, His kingdom. It is throwing oneself utterly on the mercy of God in Christ. Eph 2:1-10
    2. It results in a transformed and transforming life of loyalty to the real King, the Lord Jesus Christ and his purposes. Matt 28:18-20; Eph. 2:10; Phil 2:12-13.

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is a piece of astounding news of an event that God has brought about in time and space, and that has changed the destiny of the universe and every soul in it. The gospel is the announcement that Jesus Christ is the risen and gracious Lord, Master, King and Savior of both the material and spirit dimensions of the cosmos. It is the factual news that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, God in the flesh, who has died for our sins, been physically raised from the dead, and currently rules human history as a resurrected human King. God has done this to offer forgiveness and his own eternal quality of life to fallen, evil, and dying humanity by bringing his kingdom into this fallen material world (Mtt.6: 9-10; 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-47; Rom.10:9-10; 1 Cor.15:20-28). His kingdom is already here in an invisible form and will be brought into the visible material realm in the future when He judges the present order and brings about an entirely new creation, a new spirit/material universe (Mtt.19:28; 24:27-30; Acts1:11;17:30-31; 1 Cor.15:20-28; Rev.20-22).

Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. “Preaching the gospel” then, is essentially proclaiming Jesus Christ as the new, reigning and gracious Savior/King who died for our sins and was raised for our justification, and explaining and applying this reality (Mtt.28:18-10; Luke 24:44-48). Of course, implied in the proclamation is the command to respond in faith to the gospel by turning from evil to God, believing this news about God in Christ and to submitting to Jesus Christ as Savior, Master, and King in God’s kingdom (Mk 1:15). This is what it means to repent and be converted. (Mark 1:14-15; Acts 26:18; Col.1:13-14).

The gospel good news contains at least the following six elements:

  1. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.
    1. Jn. 1:1-18; Luke. 1:26-38; Col. 2:8-9
    2. This is the entry of God permanently into his created, material universe to redeem and renovate it.
  2. The perfect life of Jesus Christ under the God’s Law.
    1. Mtt 5:17; Gal 4:4-5; Heb. 4:15
    2. This is the life we should have lived and that he has lived on our behalf. 2 Cor.5:21
  3. The atoning death of Jesus Christ under the God’s Law.
    1. Rom 3:21-28; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21
    2. This is the death we should have died and that he died on our behalf. Gal.3:13.
  4. The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ following his crucifixion.
    1. Mtt. 28; Mk 16; Luke 24; Jn. 20; 1 Cor.15:1-9; Acts 17:31
    2. This is the beginning of the new reality, the new creation into which we enter when we come to Christ the King. 2 Cor. 5:17-21
  5. The risen lordship of Jesus Christ as the king in God’s kingdom. Mtt. 28:18-20
    1. The physical ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father. Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor.15:25; Eph 1:20-21; Heb 1:3; 12:1-2; 1 Peter 3:22
    2. This means that Christ is the Commander in Chief of God’s army (Lord of Hosts), the king in God’s kingdom here and now and forever.
    3. When we come to the King, we become his apprentices in kingdom life. Mtt.11:28-30; 28:20.
  6. The physical return of Jesus Christ from the heavenly realm to renovate the material realm.
    1. This is for the purpose of judging and renovating the universe and establishing God’s eternal kingdom among humans on earth forever. Jn. 14:1-6; Mtt 24; Mk 13; Luke 21; Acts 1:11; 17:31; 1 Cor.15; 1 Thess.4:16-5:11; 2 Thess.2; 2 Peter 3:1-13; Rev 20-22.
    2. This tangible, material, future hope is the focal point for the Jesus-apprentice that gives perspective to the present suffering. John 14:1-6; 2 Cor.4:16-18; Rom.8:18-28.

We must understand that God saves us by his personal grace in Christ, supplied by Christ’s obedience and sacrifice at the cross, not on the basis of any religious or moral activities in which we may engage. This is not simply an abstract doctrine, but a dynamic personal relationship that involves covenant loyalty, love and God’s unmerited favor given to evil people who never could deserve it (Rom.5:8-10; 8:1-9). When people put simple, personal, repentant faith in Christ as the Saving Lord, God freely makes them members of his eternal kingdom here and now. He puts his own Spirit, his Mind and Life into them, birthing them from above so to speak (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:3-7; Eph 2:1-10; 1 Pet.1:3, 23). Christ’s morally pristine life and his atoning death are both permanently credited to the Christian’s personal identity, replacing the former identity of evil, rebellion and punishment (Eph 2:1-10; Gal 3:13; 2 Cor.5:21). In this way, the Lord eternally and legally forgives all their sins, making them his children forever. (Titus 3:3-7; Rom 8:1-38; Gal 4:4-7).

Almost all of the letters of the NT are expansions and applications of one of these central themes of the gospel, or the practical ramifications of them. It is important that we proclaim the whole gospel consistently and clearly because false spiritual messages and misstatements of the gospel proliferate in this age (Gal 1:6-10).