The Gospel-Centered Life: What the Gospel Is

Sermon by Derek Thomas on June 27, 2010

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

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The Lord’s Day Evening

June 27, 2010




2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2


“The Gospel-Centered
Life (2): What the Gospel
Is

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas



Praise waits for Thee in Zion, Lord, to Thee vows paid shall b,e for
Thou the hearer art of prayer, all flesh shall come to Thee.
Let us worship God.

Now if you weren’t here last Sunday evening I did something which I’m not
accustomed to doing and that is I gave the congregation homework.
And I have some of the answers here and others of you can give it to me
as you leave. (laughter)
You will not be allowed to leave until you give me the assignment.
And the assignment was, and I want to put these here to I don’t forget
them – the assignment was to write down in fifty words or less the answer to the
question, “What is the Gospel?” It’s
been a fascinating project. Some of
you have been corresponding with me in the course of this week.
I’ve been thrilled to bits by your enthusiasm.
It is such an important question.
If we get this question wrong we won’t get into heaven — life and death,
heaven and hell hang in the balance of this question.
I loved to see you quoting your favorite texts of Scripture and citing
some of the great Gospel hymns and songs that have more or less done the
homework for you because many of those Gospel hymns tell the old, old story in
fifty words or less.

I want you to know that Ligon did his assignment.
He has left early for General Assembly.
I didn’t let him go until he had done his homework.
And I’ve asked him — as you can imagine it was superlative and
definitive. I think he’d spent a
good bit of time on it, and I asked him if he would publish it in
First Epistle this week.
Now I need your answers before you read his.
Jim Packer says “One of the most urgent tasks facing the evangelical
church today is the recovery of the Gospel.”

Hard to believe isn’t it, that the most urgent task facing the evangelical
church today is the recovery of the Gospel.
Now that’s partly why this summer, over these next few weeks, we’re going
to look at this series together which I’ve called “The Gospel-Centered Life.”
Last week we spent some time looking at what the Gospel isn’t and tonight
I want us to try and address what is the Gospel.
And I’m going to do that from 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and I’m picking up
the reading at verse 16 and reading through to the first 2 verses of chapter 6 –
2 Corinthians 5 and beginning at verse 16.
Before we do so, let’s look to God in prayer.


Father, we know that what we are
about to do together is so very important.
This isn’t just an exercise in mental assessment, but rather it is an
exercise in life and death itself.
There is nothing in all the world more important than the Gospel, and we pray
now for a peculiar sense of Your presence as we focus our minds and hearts and
affections. We pray for Your
blessing as we read this Scripture.
We thank You for it and may the truth of it be written upon every heart here
tonight. For Jesus’ sake we ask it.
Amen.

This is God’s Word:

“From now on,
therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.
Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him
thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone
is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and
gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling
the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting
to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we
might become the righteousness of God.

Working together with
Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For He says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of
salvation I have helped you.’
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Now I want to focus my thoughts this evening in addressing this question, “What
is the Gospel?” on this passage of Scripture and focusing in particular on verse
21. And I want to make four
statements. And in doing so I’m not
saying that this is all that there is to the Gospel.
The Gospel is multi-faceted and not every text of Scripture says
everything we need to know and understand about the Gospel.
But in this particular text that we have before us tonight, four
fundamental truths emerge.

Firstly, that the Gospel addresses and answers the greatest and most fundamental
problem of all, and that problem is sin.
Secondly, that the Gospel is fundamentally about the Father’s love for
us. Thirdly, the Gospel centers on
the life and especially the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And fourthly, the Gospel brings about a fundamental change of status,
initiating a life that at every stage is dependent on the Gospel.
Now those are the four statements that I want us to explore.


I. The Gospel addresses and answers the problem of sin.

First of all, the Gospel addresses and answers the greatest and most fundamental
problem of all, and that is the problem of sin. You see it in verse 19 —
“trespasses.” Not counting their
trespasses against them. You see it
again in verse 21 — “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that
in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”


Our fundamental problem is a lack
of righteousness
.

Our fundamental problem is sin and transgression.
Man’s fundamental problem is not health, important as that may be.
Man’s fundamental problem is not poverty or inequality or wealth
distribution or injustice, as important as all of those issues are.
Our fundamental problem is not unhappiness.
Unhappiness is the result of another more fundamental problem.
Man’s fundamental problem is not the environment.
It is not, and don’t misunderstand me, it is not the oil pouring into the
Gulf tonight, devastating and horrendous as that is upon the environment.
But that’s not the most fundamental problem of all.
That is but a sign of a world that is out of joint because of sin.
Because of Adam’s fall and transgression.


Sin is the fundamental problem
.
Falling short of God’s glory is the fundamental problem.
Missing the mark is the fundamental problem.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
There is none righteous, there is none righteous, no, not one.”
That’s the fundamental problem, that we lack that righteousness, that
integrity to come and face our sovereign Lord and God.
Sin is the problem. Jesus said
whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.

And the problem here in this particular text is addressed along a very
particular line of thought. Now
sometimes, in the apostle Paul for example, he might employ the language of the
law courts and see that fundamental problem in terms of the use of a word like
justification, that we need to find ourselves in a right standing, in a right
relationship legally with God. That
is our problem. We need to be
justified. We need to be in a right
standing with God. Sometimes Paul
uses the language of the temple. You
come to the temple because you are unclean.
You come to the temple because you have to bring a sacrifice, because
blood has to be shed, an animal has to be killed.
God needs to be propitiated.
Atonement needs to be offered.

Sometimes Paul, in addressing this problem, uses not the language of the law
courts and not the language of the temple, but the language of the marketplace,
that we are debtors and we need that debt to be paid and redemption needs to be
offered — the redemption price needs to be paid.

But here in this particular text the metaphor is taken from the language and the
society of human relationships, societal relationships.
And the fundamental problem is here as Paul addresses it, is that we have
been alienated from God. We need to
be reconciled to God over and over.

In these verses 16 through 21 of 2 Corinthians 5, Paul uses this word
reconciliation. Paul has a ministry
of reconciliation. He issues the
imperative — “Be reconciled to God” because
sin has alienated us from God.
That’s the fundamental problem
.
It’s the problem of every man and woman and boy and girl in the entire
world tonight, that by nature we are children of Adam.
By nature we are sinners.
By nature we are trespassers.
By nature we are alienated from God.
There is a barrier. You know what
it’s like when you are alienated from someone.
Even within the society of a marriage when there is a moment of
alienation when two people are not communicating and conversing and relating to
each other as they ought, and there is this barrier, this non-speaking
unfriendly relationship. And that’s
the metaphor that Paul is employing here — the fundamental problem is the
problem of sin, the problem of transgression, that has alienated us from our
Father in heaven. That’s the first
thing.


II. The Gospel is about the Father’s love for us.

The second thing I want us to see here is the Gospel is about our heavenly
Father’s love for us and is fundamentally something that He does for us.
The Gospel is not about what we do.
The Gospel is not about some kind of
human cooperative relationship. The
Gospel is not, first of all, something
that we initiate.

The Gospel
is,
first of all, something that
God does, God the Father in particular does.
It addresses the problem. The problem is sin.
The problem is our inability as a consequence of sin.
We cannot save ourselves. At
one level you understand the problem is God.
I want to put it that way. At
one level, the problem tonight is God.
It is God’s holiness. It is
God’s righteousness. It is God’s
inability to look upon sin. Sin
cannot reside in the same presence as God.
God is holy. God is holy.
At one level that’s the fundamental problem.
The fundamental problem is not our dysfunctionality.
It’s not, at one level, our inability to get along with each other.
Our fundamental problem is our
inability to get along with God,
and until we see that we can’t appreciate
the Gospel.

You remember the rich young ruler?
“Good Master” — he comes to Jesus saying, “Good Master, what must I do to
inherit eternal life?” The very form
of the question is telling, “What must I do?” as though he could do something to
inherit eternal life. You remember
Jesus’ response? He took him to the
Ten Commandments. He took him to the
law. And the rich young ruler’s
response was to say, “All these I have kept from my youth upwards.”
And so Jesus took him to the tenth commandment, the commandment about
covetousness and tells him, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor,”
knowing you see that he loved his riches more than he loved the idea of being
right with God. And he could not do
that because that young man had no concept, no understanding, no appreciation,
no conviction of his real problem – the problem of his heart, the problem of
sin, the problem of his transgressions.
He had no sense of sin and therefore no sense of the holiness and the
righteousness of God.


God takes the
initiative
.
God takes the initiative.
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Look at verse 19 — “In Christ, God was reconciling the world.”
It is not that we reconcile ourselves to God.


God reconciles Himself
to us. That’s the Gospel
.

Verse 21 — “For our sake, He (that is God) made Him (that is Christ) to be sin
for us.” The initiative is God’s.
It’s John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave His only
begotten Son.” For God hath done
what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sends His
Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. God does it.
The initiative here is God’s.
That’s good news because we are dead in trespasses and in sins.
We are wholly unable to do anything about our salvation.
We’re not just lost, we’re not just sick, but we are dead in trespasses
and in sins.

And the good news of the Gospel
is
God has stepped in – the
initiative, the determination, the power of a sovereign God at work going into
the far country to seek and to save that which is lost.


III. The Gospel centers on the life and especially the death of our
Lord Jesus Christ.

But there’s a third proposition here, and that is that the Gospel centers on the
life and especially the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now in this text it’s not just, it’s not just the fact that Jesus died.
That in itself is not good news. Hundreds of thousands of people die
every day. That’s not good news.
That a particular man called Jesus died two thousand years ago upon a
cross, that is in itself not good news.

I was reading this week, from someone who should have known better, to be
honest, in a book where he says “The Gospel is not a set of propositions.
It’s a story.” Well excuse
me, but it is a set of propositions, too, because the story of the Gospel has to
be interpreted. Because otherwise,
what is Calvary
but the death of a Jew upon a cross?
That’s all it is unless certain propositional truths are attached to that
specific death.

Now notice what it is that Paul says here in this text in verse 21.
First of all that “He knew no sin.”
You understand, all of you understand that could not be said of you.
Not a single one of you could that be said of.
This can only be said about Jesus.
Of all the millions and millions of people that have ever dwelt upon this
earth, that statement can only be made of Him, of Jesus.
He knew no sin. He was
sinless. “Which of you convinces Me
of sin?” Who has the audacity to
stand up here tonight and say which of you can convince Me of wrongdoing, of
sin, of transgression, of breaking God’s law?
He wasn’t guilty of actual sin.
He never committed a sin. And
more than that, He wasn’t guilty of original sin.
He didn’t have the desire to sin.
He didn’t have the proclivity to sin.
He didn’t have the propensity to sin.
He didn’t have that inner lust to sin.
He didn’t have, what Augustine calls
concupiscence,
that bent, that desire to sin and break
God’s law. He didn’t have it.
He was tempted, tempted in every point like as we are, yet without sin.
He was the sinless one, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.
Not a blemish. Not a mark.
Perfect. Absolute perfection.
Not just a good man; not just a great man; but absolute perfection.

They say, don’t they, “To err is human.”
No, not necessarily because Jesus was human but He did not err.
He never sinned. He never
ever sinned. He was perfect in
thought and word and deed and Paul says, “God made Him to be sin.”
He made Him who was without sin to be sin.
In the legal sense, He reckoned Him a sinner.
In the whole course of His life He had lived absolutely perfectly.
He had never transgressed, never.
But on the cross God made Him,
reckoned Him to be sin.

He treated Him as though He was a sinner.
No, my dear friends, He treated Him as though He was the worst sinner that ever had
been.

Who killed the Lord Jesus? Who
killed Him? It wasn’t the Jews out
of envy, it wasn’t Pilate out of spite, it wasn’t Judas out of greed; it was our
Father who did it. God made Him sin
and punished Him, cursed Him. That’s
what crucifixion meant — the curse of God.
“Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a cross.”
God did not spare Him. He
didn’t spare Him. He gave Him up for
us all.

Now Paul gives an explanation here.
He tells us in verse 19 — “In Christ, God was reconciling the world” made up of
sinners like you and me — “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself,
not counting their trespasses against them.”
That’s good news, isn’t it?
That’s the kind of God we want to believe in, isn’t it — a God who doesn’t count
trespasses against us? There are
millions of people in the world tonight who think that’s the Gospel.
“You know, God doesn’t count sin against you.
I may be a sinner but who’s perfect?
But God doesn’t count sin against you.
God forgives because that’s what He does.”
Like they said at the time of the French Revolution, “You know, that’s
His business. God doesn’t count sins
against you.” My friends, that’s not
the Gospel. That’s not the Gospel
and that’s not the way Paul is addressing what God did at
Calvary in His Son here in 2 Corinthians 5.
It is not simply that God doesn’t count sin against us. He doesn’t count
sin against us because He counts our sins against Christ.
Paul isn’t saying here that God just forgives like that.
In order for our sins not to be counted against us, they have to be
counted against His Son.

Did you have the word, or at least the idea, of
substitution in your
definition of the Gospel? “For our
sake, He made Him to be sin for us” — for us.
It’s just a little preposition — for us.
But as Luther was wont to say, “The Gospel is all about prepositions.”
Me in Christ, Christ in me — God reckoning my sins against Christ,
reckoning His righteousness to my account.
Look at verse 21 again — “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no
sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The problem, the fundamental problem is the lack of righteousness.
How can we have that righteousness which is necessary to enter the gates
of heaven, to stand before the judgment seat of God, because as He tells us in
this very chapter “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”?
Every one of us must stand before God one day and give an account, and we
must give that account either clothed in our own righteousness which is filthy
rags, or clothed with a beauty of the righteousness of Christ, reckoned to my
account.

Do you see what Paul is saying about the Gospel here?
It’s about the great exchange.
My sins are reckoned to Christ.
His righteousness is reckoned to my account.
That’s what was taking place on the cross.
What did we just sing?
“Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders, ashamed I hear my
mocking voice call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there — it was my sin that held Him there —
until He cried, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”
As though He had lost entirely His self awareness of who He was, the Son
of the living God. He can’t even say
from the cross, “My Father, My Father.”
But as our sins are now reckoned to His account and the judgment of God
is poured out upon His Son and He is cast, He is cast away from His Father’s
presence into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of death, and
my dear Savior is in the place of the wicked damned.

It was my sin that held Him there.
It was for me — His enduring, not just enduring, His exhausting the wrath of God
that my sins deserve. He exhausts it
until there is none left so that my sins can never ever be punished.
They can never get what they deserve because it’s been exhausted upon His
Son.
God made Him sin for us so that we might
be reckoned the righteousness of God,
that in Christ we have the
righteousness of God.
This is the Gospel of substitution and
satisfaction.


IV. The Gospel brings about a fundamental change of status.

But there’s a fourth thing here, that this Gospel brings about a fundamental
change of status.
It releases us from our guilt.
If you trust this Gospel, if you believe this Gospel, it releases you
from your guilt because you are
reckoned the righteousness of God
and there can be no guilt.
There’s nothing to answer for.
There’s
nothing to answer for because He has answered for it all.

Horatio Spafford, when his wife and four daughters had left
Chicago to sail to England
on the ship, the Ville de Havre, and
it went down in the mid-Atlantic and his four daughters were killed, drowned,
his wife, when she got to
England
sent that little telegram to her husband, “Saved alone.”
He made the journey across to be with her and at the very point where
that ship went down, they stopped and he wrote those extraordinary lines — “My
sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, is
nailed to that cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O
my soul!” My guilt is gone.
You stand before the judgment seat and you hear those words, “Not guilty.
Not guilty.” – because we are in Christ.

And not just that, you notice what he says earlier in verse 17 — “If anyone is
in Christ…new creation” — a new creation.
As though Paul is saying that something of the new heavens and new earth
and of that future life has already begun to dawn in our present existence.
We are no longer what we once were.
I am no longer in Adam. I am
in Christ now. That’s my fundamental
identity.
I am in Christ and I am a new creation.
Do you notice how Paul puts it in verse 20?
“God making His appeal through us, we implore you on behalf of Christ, be
reconciled to God.”

Are you here tonight because you were invited by a dear friend who loves you and
wants you to hear the Gospel? Well
let me quote Paul’s words here. God
is appealing to you through me — through me tonight.
God is appealing to you, be reconciled to God.
You may die before the day is through.
You may be brought before the judgment seat of Christ before the day is
through, and God is appealing to you.
His heart overflows for you.
Be reconciled to God.

Believe
in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
That’s the Gospel
.

It’s not about what you can do.
It’s not about your performance. It’s not about some kind of model
reformation. It’s not about the promises that you can make tonight.
They are worthless. You come
with empty hands, with empty hands, and you say, “Nothing in my hands I bring.
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked look to Thee for dress.
Helpless look to Thee for grace.
Foul I to the fountain fly. Wash me
Savior or I die.”


Father, we thank You for the
Gospel. We never get tired of
talking about it and singing it and thinking about it and pondering it in our
hearts. Tonight, as we bring this
Lord’s Day to a close, we want the Gospel, its sweet melodious tones to make
melody in our hearts. Father, we
pray for some perhaps who are here who really don’t know the Gospel, who are
still in their sins, who are still in Adam.
Bring them out of Adam and into Christ by the sovereignty of Your
Spirit’s call, for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

Please stand. Receive the Lord’s
benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with
you all.

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