Originally published November 27, 2015, but slightly revised for clarity.
Today, January 20, 2023, marks 52 years since the Lord graciously saved me. Let me share my testimony — not as the Gospel, but as a small demonstration of His wonderful grace.
He had thick golden hair that sunlight would dance in. 52 years later, I can’t recall anything else about him, but at the time the slightest bit of attention from him produced exciting (and frightening) sensations that my 17-year-old body had never experienced. Thankfully, the severity of my disability held me back from making myself sexually available to him in the weeks before his deployment to Vietnam.
I fantasized that he’d get me pregnant so that he’d have to marry me when he returned from the war. As you might guess, however, he made no advances toward me. But 17-year-olds rarely live in reality, and so I clung to hope that I could have the sexual encounter when he came back to San Rafael, California (where I lived at the time). Once he wrote that first letter, providing me with his address, I could surely write letters that would make me irresistible! Couldn’t I?
We’ve changed our calendars, put away the Christmas presents and started trying to keep our resolutions. Our brand spanking new Bible reading plans invigorate us. As with every January, we find pleasure as we anticipate making a fresh start. And that pleasure can motivate us toward positive changes that actually do honor the Lord. So Happy New Year, ladies! Let’s pray that 2023 will be a year of wonderful growth in Christ for each of us.
If January is a turning point moving us into the future, perhaps it’s equally a time to reflect on our relationship with God. Most of us are genuine Christians who may have gotten so caught up in doctrine that we’ve kind of lost sight of the miracle of our salvation. Others reading this blog may believe you’re Christians, but are really false converts depending on your own efforts to either achieve or maintain salvation. And a few of you don’t claim to be Christians, and read this blog for your own reasons. No matter which group you fall into, this is an excellent time to think about the Gospel and our response to it.
Let’s begin this discussion by simply going over the basic Gospel message. I’m drawing my main points from my page, What Is The Gospel Anyway?, which shares the Gospel briefly and succinctly. I want to expand on that page a little, perhaps helping you gain a deeper appreciation of salvation. Note: I posted that page before I switched from the English Standard Version, so all linked references in this post will be from that translation, whereas quotes will be from the New American Standard Bible 1995.
The English word “gospel” means “good news.” With Christmas being just over a week ago, we easily remember that the angels announced the birth of Christ as good news to all people (Luke 2:10-14). And Mark begins his gospel narrative by saying that Jesus entered Galilee preaching the Gospel of God (Mark 1:14-15). Clearly, the arrival of Christ and the kingdom of God is good news that deserves proclamation. That being the case, we should understand what the Gospel is and how we should respond to it.
As a Christian blogger, I feel a different sort of pressure at this time of year than most people feel, especially when other bloggers start writing about Advent and Christmas before I can even digest my Thanksgiving turkey. I scratch my head at my reticence to join their ranks, particularly due to my fascination with the Incarnation. Wouldn’t you think that I’d be chomping at the bit to blog about the wonder of God becoming Man? But honestly, I’m just not interested in writing Christmas themed articles right now.
A lot of the problem comes from knowing that I don’t have anything original to say about the Incarnation. Or at least feeling as if I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. In my pride, I demand that I come up with a fresh angle on it to dazzle my readers — skillfully displaying both my cultivated talents as a writer (my college professors would be so pleased!) and my grasp of God’s Word.
Did you catch the phrase, “In my pride?” What an ironic attitude to harbor after my pastor, in preaching through Ephesians, recently did an entire sermon on humility! Look at this passage:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. ~~Ephesians 4:11-6 (NASSB95)
My pastor focused his sermon on the first three words of verse 2: “with all humility.”
Have you ever eaten a exceptionally delicious meal and remarked on how good it was? How about reading a particularly satisfying novel or watching a movie with just the right ending? We call these things good because something about them gives us a deep sense of gratification. Strangely, superlatives like “awesome,” “wonderful” or “fabulous” seem less appropriate than the word “good.”
For Christians, the word “good” takes on a special meaning because is applies uniquely to the Lord. Consider this exchange between Jesus and a man who came to Him:
Several years ago, John and I sat in an adult Sunday School class where the teacher asked if anyone could explain the Gospel. The church heavily emphasized evangelism, and sponsored a food pantry for the specific purpose of sharing the Gospel along with groceries. They also regularly visited a local nursing home as an evangelistic outreach. The wall of that Sunday School classroom sported a poster detailed the Romans Road. And those who had gone through the membership class had been required to share the Gospel with a friend or relative outside the church.
You would think people in that class would be stepping all over each other to answer the teacher’s question.
The silence was awkward, if not embarrassing. Finally someone answered, correctly using 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as the basis for her response. The teacher expressed his relief that somebody knew the answer, though later he confessed to me his discouragement and frustration over the obvious confusion people exhibited when he asked a question that he assumed each of us could readily answer.
Sometimes I wonder whether or not most evangelicals could explain the Gospel. Frankly, I seriously doubt they could. Popular teachers like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Beth Moore have mangled it so badly with false teaching and worldly additives that few professing Christians remember what the Bible says.
I’ve included pages entitled Statement Of Faith and What Is The Gospel, Anyway on this little website, and I pray you’ll look at them once in a while. Before ladies can develop discernment, or even grow in doctrine, we need to understand the Gospel basics.
In What Is The Gospel, Anyway I wrote:
In order to understand the Good News of the Gospel, we must first understand the bad news that all human beings (except Jesus) are sinners by nature and by choice (Romans 3:10-20, Ephesians 2:1-3). As such, every person rightfully deserves to spend eternity in hell (Revelation 20:15).
God, to rescue us from His own wrath, came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ and shed His innocent blood on the cross to atone for the sins of all who trust in Him (1 John 4:9-10, John 3:16). But He rose again, displaying His victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).
The Lord calls us to respond to His death, burial and resurrection by turning from sin (Acts 2:38) and by placing our faith in Him (Romans 10:9). Jesus bore all of God’s wrath on the cross so that we could be considered righteous (Romans 5:6-11).
Once someone becomes a Christian, we can expand on the Gospel by teaching the doctrines of election, the Incarnation and so forth, helping her grow in her application of the Gospel. We can join her in studying the variety of implications involved in receiving the Gospel, sharing our wonder at God’s incredible grace. Truly, the Gospel launches innumerable topics to explore and apply!
Sadly, we can often get so caught up in the glorious ramifications of the Gospel that we lose sight of the Gospel itself. We mention it on social media and in conversations rather casually, without considering whether or not our readers and hearers understand what we mean. I know that I refer to it in nearly every article on this blog, but I seldom take time to make sure my readers know what I’m talking about.
Of course I can’t explain the Gospel in every post I write. Especially if I link to every Scripture that teaches it. Most of the time, I need to operate on the assumption that my readers know the Gospel themselves and can pull up their big girl panties. And that’s usually true.
But I get emails notifying me of new readers all the time. Occasionally, these new readers are clearly not believers, and I suspect some might be false converts. These women may have never heard a solid presentation of the Gospel, particularly if they follow people like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Beth Moore. They may need help understanding their need for salvation, and what the Lord has done in order to provide that salvation. Consequently, it doesn’t hurt to go back and reiterate the Gospel from time to time.
Romans 1:16, the theme verse for this blog, calls the Gospel “the power of God to salvation.” With that being the case, Christians had better know what the Gospel really is and how to articulate it accurately. All sorts of people make reference to it — including false teachers. Good discernment, as well as good evangelism, therefore depends on understanding it well enough to explain it to other people. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to bring sinful souls to new life in Him.
Talking about the Gospel is wonderful. All of us should do it more often. But in so doing, all of us must explain it now and then.
Years ago, a member of my family suffered a serious injury. Almost immediately, she asked the rhetorical question, “What did I do to deserve this?” Her question is a typical reaction to calamity.
Over the past few years, I’ve been asking the same question, but in a completely different context. As the Holy Spirit has (finally) convinced me that I played absolutely no part in my salvation, I’ve been asking, “Why me? Why would He choose someone as stubborn and prideful as me?” As I look at myself, I simply can’t find any logical reason that He would want me.
People have suggested that my disability gives God opportunity to display His glory, which is true on one level. They point to my writing abilities as their evidence that the Lord uses me, in my disability, to compose essays that direct others to Him. They mention my faith. How remarkable, they gush, that I trust in His goodness as I sit in this wheelchair! They really believe God brought me to salvation because my cheerful attitude in the face of adversity glorifies Him.
Take a minute to think about the power of the Gospel in your life. Think about how Jesus rescued you from an eternity in hell and liberated you from slavery to sin.
The longer we’ve been Christians, the easier it becomes to forget how desperately we needed salvation, it seems to me. We get involved in whatever ministry God calls us into, and sometimes those ministries can make us feel pretty prideful. Over the years, memories of life before Christ dim a little… or a lot. Oh sure, we can give our testimony when asked, but often we word it in such a way that we present ourselves, rather than Jesus, as the heroes. And then we dwell upon all the wonderful things we’ve done for the Lord.
Certainly, we don’t want to go on and on describing our sinful lives prior to our conversions. Reliving sinful memories usually caters to our flesh, both by arousing old emotions in us and by distracting attention away from Jesus. As a new Christian, I’d frequently hear about my friends detail their past involvement in drugs, sex and alcohol, tacking on hasty comments about Jesus turning their lives around. I’d often wonder if I was genuinely saved, since I lacked such a sordid past. For years, I exaggerated my dabbling in astrologically, just to create a sense of contrast. Wallowing in our pasts, however, doesn’t really give the glory to God.
That said, Scripture indicates that we need to remember enough of who we were apart from Christ that we continually rejoice in His saving grace. Consider this familiar passage from 1 Corinthians:
Until recently, having Cerebral Palsy was little more than a nuisance to me. It always rather shocked me to hear people refer to me as having a severe case. Although I obviously knew that I can’t walk, use my hands or speak clearly, I focused on all my abilities and accomplishments to such a degree that I saw little distinction between myself and others. School and church friends pretty much included me in all their activities, allowing me to feel as if I had a sizeable amount of control in my life. Looking back, I’m forced to acknowledge that I developed quite a sense of pride in my apparent normalcy.
Lately, circumstances have changed my perception of my control. Possibly due to the current health and economic mayhem overtaking the world right now, I’m having trouble getting a weekend Personal Care Attendant, and my weekday PCA often has legitimate reasons for having to call out. The Lord always provides help at least once a day, but sometimes it means I can only get up to use the bathroom. Snowstorms especially confine me to bed, leaving me feeling helpless and vulnerable,
That vulnerability makes me wonder why I struggle so much with the sin of pride.
I personally know many non-Christians who just love Christmas. They’ll decorate their homes to the hilt, send out beautifully illustrated year-end newsletters wishing people peace and joy, and maybe even put up a cute nativity scene as an homage to the story of the first Christmas.
For them, Christmas is primarily about brightly wrapped presents, feasting on scrumptious food, and parties. Songs mentioning benign infants lying in mangers must be supplemented with other songs about jingling bells and an obese elf from the North Pole who sees us when we’re sleeping. And then there are the infamous office parties and their accompanying innuendos about who was nice and naughty.
Most of all, they’ll declare that Christmas is about children. Not so much about a specific Child, although some might give Him an obligatory nod, but children and their sense of wonder during this seemingly magical season. Visions of sugarplums dance in secular heads that watch children light up with joy at this most wonderful time of the year.
The secular traditions seem to increase every year, conveniently distracting culture from the powerful message that God became flesh and dwelt among us. Babes in mangers, after all, had better keep their place — especially that Baby!
Sometimes it’s difficult for Christians to understand why others work so hard to obscure Christ while celebrating Christmas. Let me suggest that acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ for Who He actually is threatens those who deny His authority over them.
Please run Colossians 1:15-20 through your brain for a few minutes.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
Think about this passage and its richness in portraying the Lord Jesus Christ as the Creator and Sustainer of this universe, from the vastness of outer space to the complexity of a single cell. Then remember that He became a Man in order to shed His blood on the cross to pay for our sins. Those of us who have experienced His love and grace rejoice that the Most High descended to earth to reconcile hopeless sinners like us to Himself.
For us, the wonder of Christmas comes as we contemplate Christ’s humble Incarnation against the backdrop of His majesty. The more we understand His deity and bow to His authority, the more we rejoice in His mercy to shed His blood for the remission of our sins. And therefore we celebrate Him as the glorious Christmas message!
That Baby in this manger was actually the Lord of all creation. Yes, even of created men and women who want to reject His claim on them. The world may try to obscure Him with magic reindeer and boughs of holly, but one day His light will obscure everything but Himself.
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus seems straightforward on the surface. Jesus said that, in order to see the kingdom of God, one must be born again. (John 3:3-7). At least, it did when I was a new Christian.
As a newly saved teenager, I latched on to that passage, zealously quoting it to family and friends in my attempts to strongarm them into salvation. At that time, I believed that I could claim credit for “accepting” Jesus, and I consequently thought I’d made the choice to be born again. I understood John 3:7 as an imperative command rather than as a cause and effect principle. In my mind, someone needed to make a decision to believe in Jesus so that he or she could experience the new birth. Much of the teaching I received back then only reinforced my misunderstanding of the passage.
During my college years, Jimmy Carter popularized the phrase “born-again Christian” as he campaigned for the presidency. One evening, as she got me ready to visit a neighbor’s church service, my mom asked me to explain what Jimmy Carter, my neighbor and I meant by this seemingly new terminology. I merely quoted John 3:3-7, secretly relieved that I didn’t have time to really explain it. Yes, relieved — because deep down I knew that, although I had been born again, I didn’t understand how it actually worked. The expanded passage frustrated me by failing to detail what a person needed to do to make the new birth happen.