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The Gospel Truth About Us

We are all human beings, and we’re all sick. We need help, we need a life preserver thrown out to us, but we can grab it on our own. We’re dying, but not dead.

The above statements are all false. They might be well-intentioned, but they are not biblical. They are not gospel truths; they are false gospel lies. Yes, we are all human beings, but we are worse off than “sick.” Yes, we need help, but we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) grab onto a spiritual life preserver if God threw it right around us. We are not just dying physically; spiritually, we are dead in our trespasses and sins without Christ (Ephesians 2:1). We need to realize just how bad off we are in our natural-born state. And we need to realize just how truly heinous sin is in order to truly begin to appreciate Christ’s work for us on the Cross. Greg Gilbert writes in What Is the Gospel? that sin is “the breaking of a relationship, and even more, it is a rejection of God himself—a repudiation of God’s rule, God’s care, God’s authority, and God’s right to command those for whom he gave his life. In short, it is the rebellion of the creature against his Creator.”

This rebellion first began in Eden many thousands of years ago. Paul writes in Romans 5:12 that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Sin entered the world by Adam’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” Not only that, but we continue to sin throughout our lives! In our natural-born state, we choose to live in direct rebellion against God.

… all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)

These verses clearly point out that “none is righteous.” No one on his or her own is righteous. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God (3:23). Not only do we willfully disobey God, but we also willfully turn away from God—“no one seeks for God.” So much for the notion that we, though we are sinners, somehow seek after God and on our own beg for forgiveness. No, it is as Jesus said: we must be born again (John 3:3) and be brought from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1). We cannot do this—“the flesh profits nothing”—we must be reborn by the Spirit of God himself, so great is our peril (John 6:63).

Our sin is not just a broken relationship or negative thinking; sin is not just adultery and betrayal, but rebellion and treason also (Gilbert, 52-3). We have infinitely sinned against the infinitely holy Creator God. We reject him, we mock him, we deny his existence and righteous judgment. We stand in just condemnation to death and hell (Romans 6:23)! Like the Jews of Acts 13:48, we “judge [our]selves unworthy of eternal life”!

Notice in Jesus’ own words what will happen to the saved and the unsaved, respectively, at the end of time:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” … Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” … And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46)

Greg Gilbert aptly notes: “The images the Bible uses to talk about God’s judgment against sin are truly horrifying. It’s really no wonder the world reads the Bible’s descriptions of hell and calls Christians ‘sick’ for believing them. But that misses the point” (57). It does miss the point. We must realize that our sin is rebellion against the holy God who created us all to worship him and enjoy him forever. We must realize that we condemn ourselves unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:48).

What, then, is the solution? The Bible reveals that our righteousness is as “a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). We don’t seek after God, and we are indeed dead in our trespasses and sins (Romans 3:11, Ephesians 2:1). Our only hope is in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross for our sins and was raised the third day for our justification (Romans 4:25). Our righteous deeds will not save us; rather, they will condemn us by our doing them apart from faith in God. We do not have an inherent righteousness. To be saved, we must have imputed righteousness, alien righteousness, the righteousness of Another, which we receive by grace through faith. (This last statement will be unpacked more fully in the following two posts.)

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