If you want a quick explanation of the good news of Christianity, you can’t beat two ways to live – the choice we all face. It’s a brilliant – and short – explanation of what Jesus Christ did, and how to respond to him.
In a nutshell . . .
We believe that there is simplicity about the Christian gospel. It is about discovering the person and significance of Jesus and then living in relationship with him, and allowing that relationship to shape and determine our lifestyle, our values and our decisions.
In other words . . .
St Jude’s believe in nothing more and nothing less than the straightforward Christianity which is set out in the Bible and which has been followed by faithful men and women since the days of the New Testament. In other words, we believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is declared to be the Son of God by the Holy Spirit.
So far so good then – we don’t believe anything wacky, and everything taught in our services is just as the early leaders of the Christian church themselves would remember it. But what is “the Gospel of Jesus Christ”? What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the “Son of God”? And who is the “Holy Spirit”? Allow me to explain…
Actually, before I start on the explanation, I’d better say that it’s all described a whole lot better in the Bible – quite often, in fact, by our old friends Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As this is an internet thing I suppose I’d better include a link to an on-line Bible… but really a good old fashioned hard copy is much better in the long run. If you don’t own a Bible, rush out now and buy one – it will be the best tenner you ever spent.
In our services at St Jude’s, we use the New International Version, which is a good modern English translation. There are numerous others: the New International Version is excellent, the Contemporary English Version uses easy to understand modern English, and the King James Version, although its beautiful language is now slightly dated, has been used to great effect for over 300 years.
Right, first question:
What is “the Gospel of Jesus Christ”?
Gospel means “good news” and the good news of Christianity is this: the opportunity of life with God, for ever. In other words, heaven – not the cartoon picture of sitting on a cloud playing a harp, but something unimaginably better – unending, true perfection. But before we find out how we can achieve eternal life, it’s best to spell out how we can’t.
Jesus was once asked which of the commandments given by God was the most important. He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Coming a close second was, he said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (You can read about this in Matthew, chapter 22, verses 34 – 40.)
Now, when you think about it, both those commandments are pretty difficult to live up to. In fact, nobody but Jesus himself has ever managed it. And if you say to yourself that you love God most of the time, or that you’re quite fond of most people more often than not, just pause for a moment to consider that half measures aren’t good enough. After all, Jesus said all your heart and all your soul and all your mind…
And it’s not just a case of doing your best, with the occasional forgivable slip-up. The Bible says that “whoever keeps the whole of God’s law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10)
So it’s no use trying to get to heaven by being good.
Now that leaves us with a big problem. God is holy, and we are not. God is perfect, and we are not. God can only have complete holiness and perfection with him in heaven, and we are not completely holy and perfect. And so we can’t get into heaven by our own devices.
That’s where Jesus comes in.
Jesus was completely holy and completely perfect. He did nothing wrong. He lived his life exactly the way God wants us to live our lives. He was, as the Bible puts it, sinless. And yet he was arrested on trumped-up charges, sentenced to death after a mockery of a trial and killed on a cross. His death, unfair as it was, paid the penalty for our sins, and allowed us to have the perfect eternal relationship with God that we can’t achieve by our own efforts. It’s as though we had committed a serious offence, and somebody else had come forward to take the punishment we deserved.
This is how the good news of the Gospel works: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
What do we mean: “Jesus is the Son of God”?
Again it’s best to spell out what we don’t mean. We don’t mean that Jesus was separate from God, or that he was some kind of deputy sent to do God’s work for him. No, Jesus was – is – God. He said himself: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) If you find it difficult to work out how Jesus and his Father can be one and the same, don’t worry! – you’re not the only one. But we shouldn’t be surprised to find that some aspects of God are more complicated than our limited human understanding can cope with.
But that’s not all. Jesus was both God and human. He knew what it was to go hungry, to lose friends through death, to be tempted. The only way in which he differed from you and me was that he never gave in to the temptations that came his way. The Bible is very frank about the failings of its heroic human figures, and tells us how Moses murdered an Egyptian, how King David committed adultery and how St Peter abandoned Jesus just when Jesus needed him most. But about Jesus it says: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22)
This is why faith in Jesus allows us to be reconciled to God. He was sinless, and he was God. His death paid the punishment we deserve.
Who is “the Holy Spirit”?
The Holy Spirit is what theologians call “the third person of the Trinity.” Theologians always seem to talk like that, and what they mean is that the Holy Spirit is God just as much as Jesus is God and God the Father is God. Again we’re still talking about one God, not three, and again we have to recognise that our small brains will never understand this properly, or at least not this side of heaven.
The Holy Spirit works to draw us close to God. It’s his doing when we start to feel an interest in the Christian message. He works to convince us that Jesus is the Son of God, convincing our sinful minds and overcoming our doubts. When we become Christians, he encourages us in our faith and helps us to understand the Bible. He is a source of great joy and strength.
What should I do about it?
Thank God that he sent his Son to die in order to deal with your sin. Ask God to forgive you through the death of Jesus Christ. Experience the huge relief of sins forgiven. And tell someone what you’ve done!