Last weekend about 100 young adults went on what you might call a “mission trip” to share the gospel. Except there was no “trip” involved. They didn’t go to Africa, or some unreached corner of the Amazon rain forest. They didn’t even leave town. They just went out among their peers in Dallas and talked with them about the gospel.
You might wonder why. I mean, Dallas is in the Bible belt of America, which some people call a Christian nation. So surely everyone already knows the gospel, right?
But you might be surprised. In fact, some of you who even call yourself “Christian” may be shocked to learn that you haven’t even heard the gospel, or at least not understood it before now. I know that’s how it was for me for much of my life.
Gospel vs. Religion
I grew up a religious kid. Very much so, as I even went to a religious school and there won the “religion award” X years in a row.
Every religion in the world revolves around what you have to do to get on God’s good side, or be made right with Him. It’s about doing something to earn God’s favor, to be seen as worthy or “good enough” or somehow pay for the mistakes you’ve made. Depending on the religion, it might involve ritual sacrifice, penance, pilgrimages, cleansings, rituals, or simply following a long list of rules. It’s about getting what you deserve, and trying real hard so that you deserve something better.
And that’s what I thought it was all about. Following rules. Doing good, or at least not doing anything bad.
The problem was that I couldn’t always keep the rules. Couldn’t, or (especially as I grew older) didn’t really want to. Chose not to. My way seemed more fun.
Unfortunately, according to the rules of religion, that meant I would have been toast. Destined for some kind of punishment.
But that’s before I heard and finally understood the gospel.
The Good News
“Gospel” means “good news,” and for good reason.
As I had experienced myself, there was a limit to how “good” anyone can be. Nobody’s perfect, and most people really aren’t that close. That might be OK if God graded on a curve, but the standard is perfection. Sin even once, and you really don’t deserve the reward of an eternal paradise (Romans 5:8). There’s nothing you can do to make up for it or pay for your mistakes, since all you own and every ability you have is a gift from God in the first place. You’d just be giving God back His stuff; it wouldn’t buy you anything.
That’s where religion breaks down. And it’s where Jesus comes in.
The punishment for any sin is death (Romans 6:23), or lack of life. That’s the bad news. That’s the sentence we’re all under. The reason Jesus came, the reason He became a human and lived and died, was to take that consequence for us. As God’s Son, Jesus was the only person who never did sin, and who never had to die (2 Corinthians 5:21). So when He did die, in a public execution, he took on our punishment. He took our place and paid our price (Romans 5:28). And to further prove that He has power over death, He later rose from the grave.
So what do you have to do to be saved from death and “earn” eternal life? Jesus has already done it. It’s a free gift, already paid for. You just have to accept the gift. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Such an everything-for-nothing exchange can sound too good to be true, and that’s one reason why many people have a hard time accepting it. But that’s what an infinitely loving and good God would do.
If you want to do good works, great! This broken world could use your help. Just don’t make the mistake, as many do, of thinking you can do enough to earn your way to heaven. And you’d do well to avoid sin, because there are consequences you can avoid in this life. But such mistakes don’t separate you from God’s love, because Jesus has already paid the price to forgive you.
That’s good news! And that’s why 100 of my friends went out last week to tell everyone they could, and serve complete strangers to demonstrate the love they’ve been shown. It’s the same reason I’m telling it now, in writing, so that as many people as possible can hear the news that changed my life and changed my eternity.
If your life has likewise been changed by the truth of the gospel, tell others.
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)