Part 1: God
Today we are beginning a new 5-week series called “What is the Gospel?”
And I hope that the title to this series is self-explanatory. This series is all about answering the question, “What is the gospel?”
But the first thing I want to address today is answer another question, which is, why are we doing this series? Why did the board and I agree that it was a good idea for us to do a series that was all about answering the question, “what is the gospel?”
So I’m going to open up today by giving you four answers to that question. Four reasons why we are doing this series about the gospel.
1) The first reason why we’re doing this series on the gospel is that as a church we should always be regularly talking about and explaining the gospel here in our Sunday morning services. We should never ever assume that everybody who ever comes through these doors on a Sunday morning knows what the gospel is.
We never want to become the kind of church that assumes the gospel. Church history tells us that when churches assume the gospel, they are not far away from losing the gospel. And I guess I’ve kind of given two reasons there. But the big idea is that we don’t want anybody who spends time here with us to ever miss the gospel.
2) The second reason we’re doing this series is that Christians regularly need to hear the gospel. Do you know that? Do you know that the gospel is not just a message we need at the beginning of our Christian life? The Bible shows us that the gospel is a message that Christians need all along the course of their lives.
Just think about the letter to the Philippians we just went through, and how many times the Philippians were reminded of the truths about Jesus’ death and resurrection,
and how those truths were the thing they needed in order to keep growing in joyful maturity as a church.
Like one author said, the gospel is not just the ABCs of the Christian life, it’s the A to Zs. We all need to keep growing in our understanding of the gospel so that it’s power can continue to be unleashed in our lives. So that’s the second reason for this series: we never stop needing to hear and better understand this message.
3) The third reason why we need to understand this gospel clearly is so that we can be discerning with all of the false gospels, or the almost-gospels, or the gospel-plus-this-or-that that are floating around the Christian world today.
There have been false gospels competing with the true gospel from the beginning up until now. So it shouldn’t surprise us today to discover that there is a lot of confusion out there about what the gospel is.
A few years back a popular Christian author asked a number of her favourite authors and theologians to answer the question, “What is the gospel?” And every single response was completely different. Some didn’t even mention Jesus. Several of them sounded good and used some of the right words, but ended up putting the pieces together in a very different form than the gospel of the Bible.
One of the scariest things in the world would be for us to ever accept or share something that we think is the gospel but what is really a false gospel, or just an almost gospel, or something that adds to the gospel. And so it’s a part of my burden for us as a church that we’d be able to discern between true and the false gospels.
And the best way for us to do that is to keep studying what the real gospel is. I’m sure you’ve all heard about how federal agents at the Bank of Canada are trained to detect counterfeit money. They do that by studying legitimate money so thoroughly that they can tell a counterfeit right away.
So that’s the third reason we’re doing this series. Studying the real thing so that we’ll be able to spot the counterfeits.
4) There’s a fourth and final reason we’re taking 5 weeks to answer the question, “What is the gospel?” And it’s for evangelism. We all know that as Christians, we need to share the gospel with people who don’t know it. But I think we also know that just because we ourselves believe the gospel doesn’t mean that we feel confident explaining the gospel to someone else in a way that makes sense to them.
I remember that so clearly one day when I was working on the construction site. Everybody there knew I was a Christian, but most people didn’t really know what that meant. So one day me and one other guy were working together, and out of the blue he says, "So, what does God need to forgive us for?"
Seriously, he asked me that. The perfect question. And he asked me. I had the perfect opportunity.
And I fumbled it. I wasn’t ready to share the gospel on the spot. I got nervous, and I didn’t know where to start, and I started to trip over my words, and then he got awkward, and then the conversation was over. I fumbled a perfect opportunity to share the good news with a guy who had asked me the perfect lead-in question.
So that is the goal of this series: having the gospel message so crystal clear in your mind that you can confidently share it with someone else. But my goal is more specific than even that. By the end of this series, I want you to be able to explain the gospel to someone else, clearly and biblically, in two minutes or less.
Does that sound like a lofty goal? I don't think so. I think that should be a bare minimum for any of us as a follower of Christ.
So those are the four reasons we are doing this series. We want to clearly and thoroughly understand the message of the gospel, and be able to explain it to someone else, for the sake of church, for the sake of our own souls, for the sake of discernment, and for the sake of evangelism.
Now let me share a little bit about the layout of the series. I was back in grade 7 at a youth retreat where I first heard the idea that there are four basic components or building blocks to the message of the gospel. And our youth pastor actually had us do push ups as we memorized those four components.
- The first one is God. Who is God? That’s where we need to start to understand the gospel.
- The second building block is us. Who are we, and what’s our problem? What is the problem that the gospel is a solution to?
- The third building block the solution. What has God done to fix this problem?
- And the fourth building block is our response. How do we need to respond to what Jesus did? What do we need to do to get in on this salvation that we’ve just described?
Every time we share the gospel, these four building blocks are there. They are like big empty boxes that need something to be put in them. And we can put the right things in them or we can put the wrong things in them.
Even false gospels include these four boxes. Every false gospel or almost-gospel says something about God, about our problem, about God’s solution to our problem, and about our response. They just say the wrong things about some or all of them.
And if we ever share the gospel and don’t put anything in one of the boxes, people will fill in that box with their own assumptions.
So, for example, if we say all the right things about God and sin and Jesus, but we don’t say anything about how we need to respond to this message, then people will fill in that box with their own assumptions. They’ll either thing that everybody gets saved so they don’t need to respond at all, or maybe they’ll think they need to clean up their lives and work hard so that God will save them, or whatever their thinking is.
So in terms of clearly understanding the gospel, and being able to discern false gospels, and being able to share the true gospel, we need to understand the four building blocks, or the four boxes. This is probably one of the most important ideas you can take away from this series.
This idea of the four categories is going to form the layout of this series. Because the first four weeks of this series we’re going to take one week each to think about one of those four building blocks, one of those four components. And as we go along we’ll see how they build on each other and all fit together to complete the whole message of the gospel.
So today, we're going to be looking at this first important component of the gospel message: God. Who is God? Who is God in relation to us? What do we need to know about God to really understand the gospel?
This is where every explanation and understanding of the gospel must begin.
The answer to the question “Who is God?" is really as big as the Bible itself, but the Bible does zero in on a few key elements of God's nature that are crucial to understanding and communicating the gospel.
And one of the ways we see that is by looking in the Bible at places where people explained the gospel to others. And we can just ask: what did they say? What was important to them?
That’s what’s going on in our passage today from Acts 17. The setting of this passage is that Paul was in Athens, which was the intellectual centre of the world of that day, and he got to share the gospel with a bunch of people who had never heard it before.
What would you share in that setting? What do you think would be the most important things about God that these people needed hear?
What we see in our passage is that Paul shared four main truths About God with these people. Four truths about God that build on each other and flow into each other. So let’s take a look at what these four truths are.
1) God Is the Creator
The very first thing that Paul shares with them is that God is the Creator. V. 24: “The God who made the world and everything in it.” We see that again in v. 26: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.”
The single most important truth about God that helps us understand who He is and that helps us understand the gospel is that He is the creator. He made the world and He made us.
This truth is important for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that it establishes God’s identity in relation to this world and to us. If God is the person who made this world and who made us, then this all belongs to Him. And we belong to Him.
If He is the creator, than that must also mean that He is the Lord.
2) God Is the Lord
And this is the very next point that Paul made in verse 24: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth.” Because He is the creator, He is the Lord. This is His world and that makes Him the king.
Here in Canada we are unfortunately used to the idea of having a monarch like the queen who is more of a symbol than anything else. Our country runs pretty well without her direct intervention.
We’re not used to a lord or king who is actually involved in running the affairs of their country, and does so with complete authority and sovereignty.
But that’s what God is like. He is an active king. He is actively involved in running and ruling the world that He has made.
We see that in the last half of verse 25: “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” He didn’t just make us in the past, but he is actively giving us life and breath and everything today.
Take a breath- that’s from God. Your heart is beating- that’s from God. Everything we have comes from God.
And we see His sovereignty come out again in the last part of verse 26, which says that He has made “every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”
God is sovereignly ruling over his world down to the arrangement and places of nations and people groups. The country we were born in and the place we live today were determined by this God who is creator and king. He is so closely involved with us.
That comes out in the amazing statement in verse 28: “in him we live and move and have our being.” Because God is the one giving and overseeing every part of our lives, he’s close to us, not far away. We live and move and have our being in Him.
So God is the creator, and therefore God is the active king. These are the two most important foundational truths about God that these people needed to understand.
3) God Is Greater Than Us
The third truth that Paul shares with them builds on these first two. If God is the creator and king, then that means that God is greater than us.
That’s kind of an obvious point, but we see it explained clearly in the last phrase of verse 24: He “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything.”
The God who made this universe, and who made is, is not Someone we can control or manipulate. He isn’t served by us in the way that we so often think. He doesn’t need us, He doesn’t need our love, and he doesn’t need our obedience. He’s not served by our hands as if he needed anything. He is greater than us.
4) God Deserves Our Worship
So, three truths. So God is the creator, which means He is the king, which means He is far greater than us. And now there is one final truth that builds on these first three that is the final point people need to understand in order to really understand the gospel.
And it’s this: If God is the creator and king and is greater than us, then He deserves our proper worship.
This whole passage has been painted on the background of worship. It started back in verse 16 of this chapter which says, "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”
Paul got involved in Athens because he was bothered that they were worshipping idols and not the one true God. So then in verse 22 he says, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”
So this whole passage is about Paul correcting their false worship and telling them that they should be worshipping the one true God in the proper way instead of through their man-made religions.
We can see that if we go back to verse 24: God, the creator, “does not live in temples made by men.” He says that as he’s surrounded by temples. “You guys are going to worship in all these temples but that’s not where God lives. You’re worshipping the wrong things.”
We see this again in verse 29: "Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”
Again, he says this as he’s surrounded by images of gold and silver and stone, images that came from people’s art and imagination. Once again we see that he’s not telling them that they shouldn’t be worshipping. He’s telling them that that they’ve been worshipping the wrong things.
So this fourth truth he’s communicating to them is that they should be worshipping the one true creator God in the way that He deserves. Or, put another way, the one true God deserves their appropriate worship.
So there we have these four major truths about God. He’s the creator, He’s the king, He’s greater than us, and He deserves our worship. These are the things that they needed to know.
Now one of the best ways that we can confirm that we’re on the right track is by turning over for a couple of minutes to Romans 1:19-20. This is a passage that is very different from Acts 17, because it’s addressed to people who are already Christians. But it’s very similar to Acts 17 because it’s also explaining the gospel, starting with the very basics. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see these same basic truths show up here in Romans chapter 1.
So look at what verse 19 says about all of humankind: “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”
What can be known about God is plan to every single one of us because God has shown it to us. How and where has he done this? Verse 20 tells us:
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [which again is all of us] are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to Him.”
And what we see here is at least three out of the four truths that we saw in Acts 17. God is the creator of this world. God is therefore great- his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived in the created world by everyone. And therefore God deserves our honour and our thanks, words that sum up “worship.”
So these are the key truths about God that we need to know in order to understand the gospel message. God is the creator. God is the king. God is great. And God deserves our honour and thanks and worship.
What About Love?
So a little ways back in the message I asked you to imagine yourself standing there in Athens, and to think about what you would say to those people about God. And here in North America, what do we tend to talk about first when we start to explain or share the gospel message?
Love. God is love, right? Isn’t that how the gospel begins? God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?
So does it surprise you that these Biblical presentations of the gospel in the Bible don’t start by talking about God’s love?
Why do you think that is?
I think that the reason, or at least one of the reasons, is that people don’t really understand what “God loves you” means until they understand who God is, and how sinful we are, and what God has actually done to show His love for us.
“God loves you” is a really good summary of the gospel, once we have those building blocks in place. But until they are in place, it’s a statement that is so open to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
And that’s why in the book of Romans, for example, God’s love doesn’t come up until chapter 5, after a whole bunch of the basics have been explained. Because by then we’re able to understand what that actually means, instead of filling in our own definitions about who God is and what loves means.
So God certainly does love us. But in order to understand what that means we need to know that God is the Creator, and God is the king, and God is greater than us, and God deserves our honour and thanks and worship.
Conclusion & Application
So that is our first building block in the message of the gospel. And we’re going to see next week how all of the other truths of the gospel build on and flow out of this central truth.
Now even though there’s still a lot more to come, I think we can stop even here and think about what this truth means for us this week. God is our creator. He made us and the world around us. And our appropriate response to Him should be honour and thanks and worship.
Here in Nipawin, we have more opportunities to see the beauty of God’s creation than most. Coming from the city, we’re still amazed at how well we can see the stars at night and the beauty of the landscape around here.
And that’s part of why people come here. Think about all those snowmobilers zipping around. There here because it’s beautiful here
And what Romans 1 tells us is that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in the things that have been made. We all see it. We all know someone made this, and if He made this, then He must be unfathomably great and deserve all of our worship.
Many people choose to suppress that truth and worship other things instead. That’s the sad truth we’ll explore next week.
But if you do know God, and especially if you live here in this part of the world, you should be a worshipper. We should see that every spruce tree is a signpost saying “Worship God.” Worship the one who thought this all up. The one who makes the rain fall and the sun rise and the trees grow and the fish swim and the deer run. Worship the one who thought this all up and made it all and gives it all life and breath and everything.
Nipawin’s Christians should be the best worshippers because of what we get to see and enjoy every single day.
So let this be our posture as we go into our weeks. Every time you look around you and see something that makes you say “wow,” every time you look at yourself or another human and are amazed by the design that God put into them, give God the worship He deserves. Determine that this week you will not just enjoy the beauty around you but you will thank and honour and worship the person behind it, the person who loves you and has saved you with the incredible message of the gospel.