Christ, the Heart of the Gospel

Christ is the heart of the gospel. Without Christ and his perfect righteousness, there is no good news. There is no gospel. But to appreciate Christ and what he has done, we must consider his work against the dark backdrop of the fall and sin. Our sin. We must consider the Holy One against whom we have sinned. 

Who is this God against whom we have sinned? This is the God who created a most beautiful heavens and earth; something so intricate, so majestic, so vast, so perfectly interconnected and intertwined as the universe we live in. From the tiniest particle smaller than an atom and the mysterious forces that govern it, to the vast heavenly bodies with the incomprehensible violent heat that comprises the stars, God made them from nothing and perfectly controls every last one of them, directing them to exist in space and pass through time (both of which he also created). At the head of that creation he placed man, who in himself is an astoundingly complex creature. God made man as one who could have sweet fellowship with him—a finite creature dwelling with the holy, perfect, infinite Creator. 

And yet, man rebelled against this God of amazing power. Man listened to the lie of the devil, who said, “God is not right in what he said.” Man said yes, where God said no. Can you think of anything more foolish? More horrific? A puny creature of the dust rebelling against the majestic Creator of this vast and glorious creation! Sin against an infinitely holy God. Our sin. 

That sin plunged us into death. Life is to have sweet communion with this great God. Separation from that fellowship is death (Ps. 73:27). A man will not have any joy dwelling on this earth while knowing God is against him, though he may try mightily. In the short breath of this life, he cannot figure out how to live in true happiness, to have a purpose that is not vanity. He has abandoned and rejected the laws and ordinances of his Maker. Even if he wanted to live in obedience (which he does not), he cannot, because his lusts and his heart drag him continually to sin and keep him in bondage. He is in utter misery. Life on this earth quickly is shown to be vanity, to be drowned in entertainment, a hobby, or some other idol. Physical death is a terror to him because he knows it will bring him naked before his Maker in judgment. 

Because of sin, all seems lost. Even if we could start keeping God’s law perfectly from this moment on, we couldn’t restore that sweet fellowship with our Creator. We couldn’t gain his favor and have his face shine upon us in love. We have an impossible debt of sin we’ve accrued against that awesome Creator. No unholy thing can dwell before God’s face. Thus we stand by nature, outside of Christ: miserable, wretched, hopeless, with only eternal death before us. Do you see that, O sinner? 

Against that awful, seemingly hopeless backdrop is Christ and his perfect work. Against that darkness of the world, the Light enters and shines gloriously (John 1:9). A man, who is also very God, humbles himself to walk this earth. In a way that seems entirely foolish to men, he suffers throughout his life and ultimately gives up his life on a cross, making the payment that we cannot. He does it in perfect love toward the Father, and in love for his people who had rebelled. 

As Messiah, Christ accomplishes a most amazing salvation for his people. Those rebellious sinners have their debt paid by the one against whom they sinned. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them as a gracious gift. They didn’t have to improve themselves in some small way before God would look upon them in mercy and impute Christ’s righteousness to them. This is the “hinge on which salvation turns.”1 Not my obedience, but Christ’s. Righteous by faith alone. Nothing I could ever do, not even the smallest thing, could earn that. What a breastplate against the attacks of the devil (Eph. 6:14)! This was what freed Martin Luther when he agonized over whether he had done enough to be saved. Faith in Christ’s righteousness alone is what protects our heart when the devil would accuse us and fill us with doubt. 

Yet that is not all. Not only does Christ erase our debt, but he also regenerates and sanctifies us. That work of regeneration in itself is mysterious and amazing! The Canons of Dordt call this work “supernatural…delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable,” meaning there are no words to describe it.2 It is compared to God’s act of creation. Remember how we previously have contemplated the amazing nature of creation? The new life we have in Christ is not unlike that! 

As sanctified, we have been born again into life and are able—in a small way—to serve God and walk in his statutes. Remember how miserable it is to walk in wickedness. It may be enjoyable for a season, but man was not created to walk in those ways. Those ways destroy him and lead him to destruction. We were created to walk according to God’s ordinances. Before our salvation, we couldn’t walk in those ways even if we wanted to. But now God works the gracious blessing of sanctification as we go through this life.  

This gracious renewal is no cause for pride, but further reason for praise as we see that we are “enabled to believe with the heart, and love [our] Savior.”3 We can do this without worrying if it makes us good enough to earn our Father’s love, simply focusing on showing our gratitude to God for his great gift. And even more amazingly, our glorious Creator, in his marvelous way, is pleased to use our new life to work more miracles of new creation, which happens when others are gained to Christ by our godly conversation.4 In heaven that work of sanctification will be completed to perfection, so that we will be able to serve God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—forever! 

That is the gospel. Do you begin to see the wonder of Christ’s work? Do you know that work by faith? Christ came to save sinners. As God reveals to us what he accomplished, we cannot but marvel. In eternity, we will sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:12), because in all of eternity we will be unable to exhaust reasons for praise as we contemplate detail after detail of what God wrought in Jesus Christ to save his people. 

Jonathan is a civil engineer in California. He and his family are members at Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, CA.