Perhaps important is an overused word. It is important to eat breakfast and important to make it to school on time. It is important to do your best for the sake of the team and important to get a plate of brownies to the neighbor for watching the dog. It is important to read my Bible and important to get home in time for my favorite TV show.
Why is the gospel more important? Because of its content. While we place value on things only because of an emotional tie or the fact that it delivers a momentary break from the “busyness of life,” the gospel stands above the routines of life. First Corinthians 15:3 gives us our boundary markers for it all: “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
The gospel is not an attitude of trying harder or the will to accomplish more religious work on behalf of God. It is not even a willingness to be a great minister or missionary. If we are simply trying to be better persons, no matter the motivation, then we’ve misunderstood the fundamental nature of the gospel. The gospel is what is of first importance: believing and receiving “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Once we understand the gospel, then the change of life will follow. However, it is a devastating mistake if we get the cause (gospel) and effect (changed life) out of order.
And this is where the love of Christ comes in: “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath.” (Romans 5:8–9).
We can never show the love of Christ until we understand the love of Christ. And we can never understand the love of Christ until we understand His death. And we can never understand the death of Christ until we understand why He died. And we can never understand why He died until we understand His holiness and our sin.
We are God’s enemies because we choose to live in opposition to Him. We choose to live our own ways and, as a result, we go to war against God in our hearts. But He has a plan. God displayed His love for us by dying for us when we were His enemies. To understand that plan, we have to go on a brief, but important, journey.
God shows His love and deals with our sin through justification. Justification is a theological term that relates to our salvation and has a wonderfully simple meaning. Justified means that, despite my crimes, God is willing to acquit me because of what Jesus did for me. We get off the hook because Jesus takes our place in judgment.
Everyone is outside of a relationship with God and placed under judgment. God’s wrath is more horrible than the human mind can imagine—a total separation from any relationship with Him due to their sinful nature. On earth, we suffer without His personal presence but enjoy a common grace given to all human beings. In eternity, however, His absence will be felt in a place of never-ending pain, sorrow, and darkness— a place in which not even a wisp of His grace is present.
We all are under the judgment of God because, as long as we are outside the faith, we are His enemies. You and I are not God’s friends until He affects our relationship with Christ. “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!” (Romans 5:10).
So what is “most important”? It is that God demonstrated His love for us through the Cross. We have turned love into an indefinable emotion, a quiver in our liver, a sweet feeling of enjoying someone’s company. It is so much more. How did Christ demonstrate love? By dying.
Death is a relatively simple concept. Thought ceases. The heart stops. The body halts. Why would anyone allow this condition to be forced upon them? We would die for our children. We would die for our spouses. I hope I would die for my faith. But that’s about where it ends.
Christ dies for the rebellious. The one divine and perfect man dies for everyone who is mortal and broken. What could motivate such an act? Christ’s death was born out of His love for the crown jewel of creation: us. Dispatched by the Father on a mission, Jesus arrived and died so we might live. “We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7–8).
We are saved by the wealth of unmerited favor lavished on us, but it begins with blood. Blood spilled on a hillside of death. The Son of God suffers under divine wrath so you and I can receive eternal redemption.
What is redemption? Only coupon clippers use the word redeem anymore. Every time we visit the grocery store, the clerk asks, “Do you have any coupons to redeem?” Redeem means we are making a purchase with a substitute. At the store, the manufacturer authorizes that a piece of paper clipped from Sunday coupons is just as good as currency. In effect, they give up on some of what the consumer owes them in purchasing their product. The scraps from the newspaper are used in lieu of that which has real value. It’s a way to buy something without personal cost. The payment needed to escape God’s judgment was made on our behalf. Scraps cut from newspaper flyers might get us half price for a can of soup, but Christ paid the full price for our souls. That was Jesus’s mission.
Think again about the heroic firefighter who runs into buildings while others are running out. Firefighters risk injury and death because they value the lives of families in their community. Jesus values us even more. He didn’t die just to prove we were worth saving. His death was for our full redemption. By His blood, we are made fit to enter a personal relationship with the One who is “the High and Exalted One” (Isaiah 57:15).
As missional Christians, we must decide what will be most important and receive our undivided attention. Christ dying in love combines the power of life and death. It was not then—and is not now—politically correct or culturally expedient to express love through death. Yet that is the example we have in the Son of God.
(an excerpt from Compelled: Living the Mission of God, chapter 3)