It’s good to see you have taken time to consider the Bible’s message. Perhaps you are cautious of religion. Going to church, performing rituals, following traditions. And we would quite agree with you. The Bible teaches that God lives in the heart of men and women who listen to His words. The only ceremonies we should follow are those the Bible itself clearly explains – and there are very few of them in the Bible. Being baptized by dipping in water and breaking bread every week in memory of Jesus are the two main ones.
Or perhaps you’re just an ordinary person who wants God in your life, but doesn’t want to go any deeper. Now this is probably true of many of us who would read a religious leaflet, come to a lecture about the Bible, or have a discussion about it. It’s wonderful that we believe that God is; for surely He does exist. But there is so much more waiting to be discovered – by studying His word, the Bible, we can come to know Him and have a part in His eternal plan. That book was written by His Spirit influencing the people who wrote it – it isn’t just the words of men, like any other book. So this is why it’s so worth studying.
Or maybe you think you know it all. You’ve looked at the Bible, you figured it out. But if you are very, very honest, something is missing. There’s that hollow feeling still, that fear of the future, that lack of certainty about our final destiny... that doubt that’s like the black dog that follows most men and women till their grave. And to you, we’d say: Give it one more try. Perhaps human interpretations have got muddled up with your consideration of the Bible. Get back to the Bible text itself.
Or maybe you see Christianity as “just another intellectual adventure”, another hobby to play with for a while, another fascination, another town along a road – that leads to the grave all the same. Life is too short to have this kind of cynical attitude. One day you will be laid down in your grave, one day the terrible finality of death will close in on you. Give the Bible text a fair hearing now. Please, purely for your own sake, spare a few minutes of your life to at least consider what it says.
So can I address the question, What Is The Gospel?
Please open your New Testament to Matthew 1:1. This is the beginning of Matthew’s explanation of the Gospel. We read:
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
It’s not quite what we’d expect. He says Jesus is the descendant of David and Abraham. And this, for Matthew, is the beginning of the Gospel. Paul saw it the same way. Have a look at Galatians 3:8:
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
So, the Gospel is what was promised to Abraham. That’s what Paul says. So, if we can understand what God promised to Abraham, we can understand what the Gospel is. So let’s go back to the Old Testament, and see what God told Abraham. We’ll go to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, Genesis 17:8:
And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
So Abraham was told that he and his children would live for ever on this earth. So, eternal life is an idea that comes up in the Old Testament. Note that – because the essential message of the Bible is the same all the way through. How could this be? Turn on to Genesis 22:17,18:
"That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice".
Abraham was to have a son who would be the source of blessing for the whole world. Now the way to understand the Bible is to see how the Bible itself quotes itself and gives us the interpretation. Now these words we have just read are quoted in the New Testament – in Acts 3:25,26. Let’s go there and find the interpretation.
"Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities".
So, who is the seed of Abraham? Jesus. And what are the blessings he would enable for men and women of the whole world? The blessings of forgiveness of sins and salvation. Let’s go further. To Galatians 3:16:
"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."
So, the seed of Abraham was one man, singular, Jesus. But how could that one man become so many, as many as the stars in the sky? Let’s read Galatians 3:27-29.
"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."
So, only those who have been baptized into Christ have a part in these promises – the promises of eternal life here on earth. This is why we must be baptized if we are going to be saved! Paul said that his hope was “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). As he faced death, this was his hope – the hope of Israel. What is baptism, then? It isn’t sprinkling. The New Testament is written in Greek, and the word translated ‘baptism’ means really to dip. It was used about a ship sinking, being submerged, or a piece of cloth being dyed from one colour to another by immersing it. Have a look at Mathew 3:13-16:
"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him."
Jesus went “down into” the water and came “up out of it”. He was baptized
as an adult, not as a baby; by dipping, not sprinkling. That’s why it was
done in a river. And if He was baptized, so should we be. This dipping and
rising up signifies the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that we have
decided to make His death and resurrection our own.
This is why it has to be by immersion, not by sprinkling. Have a look at Romans 6:3-5:
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection"
This is why we appeal to you to be baptized – make it your aim in life, to accept Jesus Christ! By being baptized into Jesus, we become part of Him, and therefore the promises apply to us. Therefore when He returns, we will be resurrected, judged and then, if we have lived faithfully according to God’s word, we will be given the eternal life which He now has. Then we will live for ever in God’s Kingdom here on earth. If you believe this, then life has a new meaning. Whatever material problems we have, we will realize that they are only temporary, and when Christ returns He will give us a new and eternal life. This is why in the Bible and in Christ there is real HOPE. The hope ahead is so great that our present problems do not seem so great.
But how can it be, that this man Jesus can save us? He was our representative, and this is why we must be baptized into His death and resurrection; because He was just like us. Have a look at Heb. 2:14-18:
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted."
Notice in passing that the devil is not an animal or a dragon. It is used
here as a personification for sin. “The wages of sin is death”
(Romans 6:23), but here we read that ‘the devil’ “has the power of death”.
We need to struggle against our own natures, not against an invisible being
outside of ourselves. Verse 14 says the same thing several times – He,
Himself, likewise, partook, the same nature as us. Yet most ‘Christian’
groups teach that there are three Gods in a trinity, and one of them was
Jesus. But this isn’t what the Bible says. And according to Hebrews, it is
very important we get our understanding of Jesus right. He was exactly of
our nature. The writer stresses it 4 times! He was tempted like us.
And how are we tempted? By our own human nature. Have a look at James 1:13-15:
"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."
This means that Jesus had our human nature. God can’t be tempted, it says, but Jesus was tempted, Hebrews says. So Jesus wasn’t God Himself. He was a man, the Son of God by birth, the descendant of David and Abraham through Mary. Likewise, God can’t be born; but Jesus was born. God can’t die; but Jesus died. We cannot see God; but men saw and handled Jesus. Jesus didn’t exist before His birth, either. He was the son of God through Mary. Have a look at Luke 1:31-35:
"And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
Notice all those future tenses! He will be the Son of God, Mary will conceive in her womb – this is where Jesus began, although the idea, the logos of Jesus, had always been with God from the beginning. Notice that Mary was just an ordinary woman. Jesus was the descendant of Abraham and David, and this could only have been because his mother was their descendant. If Jesus was God, then Mary is the mother of God, and she wasn’t an ordinary woman. If as the Bible teaches Jesus was the Son of God and also “son of man”, the descendant of Abraham and David through Mary, it is evident that Mary was an ordinary woman. So it’s all or nothing – a system of true belief, or a system of wrong belief. It is important to believe the right thing, because doctrine affects how we live. Have a look at Hebrews 4:15,16:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Because Jesus was of our nature, therefore we can pray with confidence through Him to God. We don’t need a human priest, church building or pastor to make our prayers acceptable.
So can I just summarize the things we have spoke about:
1. There is only one God, not a ‘trinity’
2. Jesus is the Son of God, not God Himself; He didn’t exist before He was born. He had all our temptations and human experiences, but He never sinned. He gave His life for us in a painful death, but then, because He never sinned, God resurrected Him from the dead.
3. Through baptism into Christ by the dipping in water of an adult, we share His death and resurrection
4. So when Jesus Christ returns we will be resurrected, judged and given eternal life in His Kingdom – which will be based here on this earth. This Kingdom will be like the world was in the garden of Eden, when God first created man – and even better. All the problems which are now on earth – war, famine, sadness, even death itself, will be finally ended – for ever.
5. After death we are unconscious – ‘hell’ means just ‘the grave’.
6. The soul is not immortal; we are made of dust and return to the dust. The spirit is the power of life within us, which God takes back when we die. We don’t go on existing in any conscious form after death.
7. ‘Satan’ is a symbol for the evil human desires inside us, against which we must struggle; it is not the name of a dragon or monster that exists. God is 100% powerful; He doesn’t share His power with ‘satan’. All our problems come from God, not satan, and therefore there is a positive spiritual purpose to them.8. By reading the Bible for ourselves we can find the true way to God.
I do appeal to you, to study these things, and give yourself no rest until you have come to surely know the true Gospel. I do so hope you will study our free Bible study course; and set yourself the aim, to be baptized one day, by dipping in water. Then you will surely have the hope of eternal life. OK we can’t imagine eternal life. I can only suggest we imagine a long, long line, with no end, stretching on into the distance; and we in this life are just a few millimetres at the start of it. This really is our hope, if we are baptized into Jesus and live in Him. I plead with you, to take all this seriously, and not treat it as mere religion, as just something ordinary.
Our modern civilization [so called] with its addiction to money and power has left so much unaddressed; our need for beauty, for poetry, mystery and dreams, to find love, the meaning of life, for personal contact with God. The rush of modern life has left each of us with the niggling conscience that this is the sort of life we want to have, indeed, that we ought to follow. But not only do we not follow our conscience; we don’t know where to find something, some philosophy, some religion, which somehow synthesizes all these needs together. But I’m bold enough to suggest that in God and in His Son, as the Bible reveals them, stripped of all the theology of men, the accretions of nominal Christian culture… we find just what we need and were unconsciously looking for all our lives. I can only say ‘taste and see…’. For all other commentary or persuasion would be bathos compared to the real Christ and the real God as they truly are.