George Foster and his wife Dolly were missionaries to Brazil for 25 years in several roles: pastor, publisher, writer, and National Director of Bethany Fellowship Missions. Presently George and Dolly oversee mission outreach in Europe and South America. George's writings have been published in several languages. George will be writing a regular column for Christian Literature Today.
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Copyright © 2001
A GOSPEL OF PEACE
1. SIN - GREATEST PROBLEM CONFRONTING HUMANITY
God, while upholding high standards of righteousness, provided a way to offer mercy and forgiveness to sinful humanity.
...We have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ROMANS 5:1)
Sooner or later most of us observe in life what is abundantly clear in the Bible: The greatest problem confronting humanity is sin. Sounds too simple, but it's true. Sounds naive, but it's essential. We've said it many times, but more needs to be said.
Whether it's hatred, greed, selfishness, jealousy, dishonesty, lust or whatever - the problem is sin and it brings about what has to be the greatest predicament of all.
2. GOD CARRIES OUT JUSTICE, YET FORGIVES US
Because God is holy, He cannot fail to uphold high standards of righteousness and justice. He must condemn sin and carry out the punishment that He, with infinite wisdom, has determined for it. Because we humans are sinful, we suffer sin's consequences.
But God loves us sinners as we are and loves us too much to leave us as we are. God's loving heart is broken over our sin and the consequences it produces in our lives. He longs to be merciful to sinners like you and me, to save us from our sin, and to fill our hearts with His peace.
The predicament is: How can God carry out justice and still forgive us of our sins? The solution is found in "the gospel of peace." What is it? How does it work?
3. THE GOSPEL
The Apostle Paul, after his dramatic encounter with Jesus, became the great biblical exponent of the gospel. His letter to the Romans articulates a clear and powerful message of salvation from sin.
He starts with a self-introduction that shows how thoroughly he identified with the message:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1).
Then he clarifies that his message is not one he is making up; it is inspired by God and was prophesied centuries before:
...The gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures (Romans 1:2).
Preaching the Gospel is not an avocation or leisurely activity for Paul. He speaks of total commitment to God, whom, he says...
I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of His Son (Romans 1:9).
Nor is preaching an option he can pick up or lay down at will; to him it is a debt he owes:
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome (Romans 1:14-15).
Paul's eagerness to preach comes from a passion for the message. He knows from personal experience how powerful it is:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16).
The gospel, he says, makes it possible for sinful humanity to enter into a relationship with a righteous God, making man righteous-not by working at religion but by resting in faith:
In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last... (Romans 1:17).
4. WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? WHAT KIND OF LOVE IS THAT?
What is the gospel? It's good news about God's love for us.
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
What kind of love is that? Though it's impossible to fully comprehend, it deserves an attempt to at least describe a few of its many facets. God's love is...
5. THE GOD WHO TAKES UPON HIMSELF THE PUNISHMENT
The Gospel is the wonderful news that God, while upholding righteousness, provided a way to offer mercy and pardon to sinful humanity. He did that by coming to earth himself, in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be born in human flesh, live a perfect, sinless life, and then take upon himself the punishment for our sins and die in our place., thus fulfilling the words spoken about Him on consecutive days by John the Baptist:
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).
6. THE ASTONISHING GOSPEL OF GOD SEEKING US
Paul shows us how astonishing this gospel is:
Very few people will die to save the life of someone else. Although perhaps for a good man someone might possibly die. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners. In this way God shows his great love for us" (Romans 5:8).
The Lord Jesus Christ did for us what no one else could do or even conceive of. He made complete and perfect atonement for our sins and now comes to us personally with life-transforming power:
I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you... That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred... Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, He appeared to me... (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
Paul, the writer of these words, was not seeking Jesus. Just the opposite was true: Jesus was seeking Paul. We may not be seeking Jesus, but Jesus is seeking us!
8. IN HOT PURSUIT!
Each culture has its own sense of what is a comfortable space between two people. During the many years I lived in Latin America, I learned that "Latinos," when conversing, get closer to each other than North Americans or Northern Europeans do.
A conversation took place between an American and a Latin in a long corridor. As they spoke, the "Latino" tried to get closer while the American backed away. Before they were done, they had gone from one end of the corridor to the other and back again.
Similarly, when God wants to get close to us it sometimes makes us uncomfortable. He draws near. We back away. He backs us up against a wall. We try to maneuver out. Sometimes He takes us to the ground as He did Paul. In that position it's hard do maneuver.
In the garden, when Adam and Eve sinned, they didn't go looking for God. God went looking for them. "Where are you?" He asked, "What have you done?"
When Jesus went to Jericho, a tax collector named Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus pass by-hopefully without being seen by Him. But Jesus knew where Zacchaeus was and called him by name. "Zacchaeus, come down. I must go to your house today."
Jesus ate with Zacchaeus who then had such a life-changing experience that Jesus was moved to say, "Salvation has come to this house because the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost."
Maybe the way Jesus seeks us can be best explained in His own words,
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20).
9. JESUS IS KNOCKING!
Look at Jesus' words, phrase-by-phrase. They speak to us across the ages: "Here I am." We may feel far from God, but He is close to us. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He takes the initiative to redeem us. He is ready to meet us and accept us at the moment we respond to His love by accepting Him.
10. AN OBSTACLE TO OVERCOME. WHAT PREPARATION MUST WE MAKE?
Here's the problem: The Bible says that our heart is wicked. "From the heart of man come the evil things that defile him" (Mark 7:21). So Jesus knocks at the door of a defiled heart. How can we expect the spotless Son of God to come into a defiled and rebellious heart? What preparation must we make? The Bible makes it clear.
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