Religion is man, by his own efforts, seeking to win the approval of God. This is true of all religions (Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, etc.). Biblical Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most think of Christians as people who seek to do good works for God in order to be saved; but this is wrong. Rather, a Christian is one for whom God has accomplished our salvation through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
From the biblical perspective, unsaved people are marred by sin and cannot cleanse themselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Human good and morality has no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Work is necessary for our salvation; however, it is not the works we do for God that save us, but rather, it is ONLY the work of Christ that saves. Only Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life in the sight of God (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5) and then died a penal substitutionary death on our behalf, bearing the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21). The death of Christ forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 John 2:2).
Salvation comes to us as a free gift (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9), paid in full by the Lord Jesus who bore our sin at the cross (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), and who offers us eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28-30), and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), by a simple act of faith in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). When the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Believing in Jesus means we look to Christ as our Savior and accept His atoning work on the cross as sufficient to make us acceptable in the sight of God. Once saved, the Christian is called to a life of good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14), but such works are the fruit of salvation and never the cause of it.
The Bible is a big book with lots of information. There is information about God, the origin of the universe, mankind, sin, salvation, Israel, the church, the future, etc. It’s my opinion that a good teacher knows the Bible well enough that he/she can delve into its depths and provide solid biblical answers to life’s biggest questions. However, I also believe a good teacher should be able to condense a lot of information and—without compromising accuracy—give a short answer in plain language (Charles Ryrie has impressed me with his ability to do this very thing). Over the years I’ve worked to take the essentials of the Gospel message and present it quickly and concisely. In one sense, the Gospel can be as simple as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, John 3:16, or Acts 16:31. However, these verses, as wonderful as they are, do not answer some of the issues that stand behind them. For example:
Why did God send His Son into the world?
Why did Jesus go to the cross and die?
What’s wrong with me that God had to act on my behalf?
Is there any way, other than the cross, that I can be reconciled to God?
To answer these—and other issues—I’ve condensed my Gospel presentation down to about two minutes. I’m hoping to make it even more concise in the future. Here’s basically what I communicate:
The gospel is the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Psa 99:9; Isa 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab 1:13; 1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom 3:10-23). We are sinners in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15). To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17-21; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and 2) He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10). The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9).