HOW TO SHARE THE GOSPEL IN A NUTSHELL
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone Bible Study on Wednesday, July 1.
Ephesians 2 shows us how to share the Gospel in a nutshell. Today's teaching is 100% Good News!
Before we go any further, let's read Ephesians 2:1-10. We covered verses 1-3 last time, so our focus today is verses 4-10:
(Ephesians 2:1-10) As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
HOW TO SHARE THE GOSPEL IN A NUTSHELL
SHARE THE BAD NEWS - verses 1-3
OK. So I fibbed about 100% good news. We have to review the bad news to make the good news really good.
Verses 1-3 remind us that we were dead in sins. We had walked away from God who is the source of life. We wanted to be independent and he gave us what we wanted.
We didn't die physically. We died to God. We cut him out of our lives. That's the worst kind of death. The relationship died because we killed it. We were dead, disobedient, and deceived.
The soundtrack of my college years was Fleetwood Mac's Rumors album. One of the songs was Go Your Own Way. It's the story of a relationship collapse. The singer tells his unfaithful partner, if you don't want to stay with me, you can go your own way.
Amazingly God let us do that to him. Sure enough, we went our own way. Which was a disastrous way to go. We spiral down into a life that is captive to Satan. We get addicted to self-centered, sinful lifestyles that base right and wrong on what the world around us dictates. And God is angry with us.
But that is not the end of the story. Death and anger are not the last word.
SHARE THE GOOD NEWS - verses 4-10
The good news is that God does not leave us our sorry, guilty state. He steps in.
There are three parts to the good news in a nutshell:
1. WHAT THE GOOD-NEWS-GOD IS LIKE
The Good-News-God is full of love, mercy, and grace.
These are characteristics of God in relation to us. This trio of words portrays God as overwhelmingly positive towards us.
This causes some push back from some folks. Surely God is at war with us, they say. After all, as we already discussed, we walked away from him. We cut him off and went on our own way (2:1-3).
But think about it. Did Jesus come into the world bent on revenge and punishment? No, he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). John's Gospel is clear:
(John 3:17) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Jesus was on a rescue mission, not a vengeance mission.
What are love, mercy, and grace? What do they tell us about God?
He is loving, which means he is always reaching out like a good mother to her children or a good shepherd to his sheep. Love is his impulse to connect with us for our benefit. And he has great love, so that impulse is really strong and he is willing to go to huge lengths to show it; think the incarnation and cross.
He is rich in mercy, which means that he is full of empathy for us in our struggles. He could have said to us, "You got yourselves into this mess, so you can get yourself out of it." But mercy says, "Here, take my hand. I'll pull you out of the mess you're in." His mercy is on vivid display at the cross. Jesus died there to rescue us from our sinful, rebellious decisions. When Jesus went to the cross, it was not nails that held him there; it was his love, mercy, and grace for us.
He is glorious (1:6) in grace, which means that he is showers us with his gifts. He says, "Here's the gift of forgiveness; here's the gift of new life; the gift of freedom from Satan's prison; the gift of cleansing from guilt and shame. Here's the gift of my Spirit. Here's the gift of power for living and serving. Here's the gift of adoption, of access to me anytime you want." Grace is gift after gift from God.
God is angry with us for walking out on him (2:3). But the loving, merciful, and gracious hand of God does not point fingers of blame. No, his hand reaches out to take our hands and, through Jesus Christ, lead us home.
A couple of years ago, one of our dogs, Joey, got lost. Kim and I were gone for the weekend, but our son Jamie searched for him for hours and hours. We were all sad, thinking a coyote got him. Joey can't see, so when we let him out into the yard, he can get confused and he goes wandering off. Then, he can't find his way back. When we got home, Kim contacted the vet to see if anyone had read Joey's tag and called him in. Yes! He was down the road on a neighbor's front porch. She found him one morning cold and shivering. Were we mad at him, did we shout at him, call him names, and tell him to stay away. Yup! Just kidding. No, we were so happy and we carried him home and hugged him. We were full of love, mercy, and grace.
2. WHAT THE GOOD NEWS DOES FOR US.
God made us alive with Christ - verse 5. God raised Jesus to new life. And that same resurrection power is at work in us. God raised us up from death to new life so we share in the same indestructible, eternal, resurrection life as Jesus.
Another way to say that is: God brought us back to himself. He restored the relationship and we entered into new life with him forever.
Jesus called this the new birth and everlasting life. It's a new life created by the Holy Spirit:
(John 3:5-8) Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
(John 3:14-15) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
God gives us new life in Jesus Christ, who is our life (John 14; Colossians 3:4).
(1 John 5:11-12) And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
But that's not all ...
God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him. God united us with Jesus in his death, resurrection to life, ascension into heaven, and his reign over all things from the throne of God.
Union with Jesus Christ is an extremely important component of the Christian faith. Although I speak about it often, I'm not convinced everyone gets it. I didn't for a long time. When I did finally grasp it, my Christian faith was changed me forever for the better. Here's why:
I went from believing that the Christian life is about me trying harder to live the new life, and working to earn more spiritual authority, and striving for victory over the devil. That made me tired and frustrated. I couldn't do it.
But the Bible teaches us something much better. God joins our lives to Jesus. When Jesus died to the power of sin, we died with him. When Jesus was raised to new life, we were raised with him. When Jesus was exalted to the highest place to rule over all the demonic powers, so were we. He is sitting on a throne and we are sitting with him. God has already given us new life, spiritual authority, and victory over the devil. As a pure gift. Receive it. Rest in it. Count on it. Live in it.
We are in Christ. That's our new reality. Permanently. All the time.
And it's all a gift from God. It's all so that he can according to verse 7:
7 ... in the coming ages ... show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
3. THE DIFFERENCE THE GOOD NEWS MAKES IN OUR LIVES
When we receive the revelation of what God is like and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we respond in two ways:
We respond in faith. Our passage reveals the connection between grace and faith - between what God has done and what we do:
(Ephesians 1:8) "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith ..."
We respond to all God has done for us (grace) by fully embracing Jesus and all he is for us (faith). Grace always comes first. Only then can we believe the facts and we trust in their power for us, personally:
"I trust that Jesus came into the world to seek and to save me. Jesus died for my sins. Jesus rose to make me right with God. Jesus is my life, my forgiveness, my cleansing. I receive Jesus as my God and I commit my life to follow him and his teachings."
We respond in good works. Our passage also reveals the connection between new life and good works. Verse 9 is a warning: good works do not make us new or alive. That's getting things backwards. If there's going to be any boasting (verse 9), it won't be about us. No, it will be aimed at God and his glorious, free grace.
Reality is this: God re-created us in Christ Jesus FOR good works, not FROM good works. Good works emerge out of, or flow from, our new creation. This was God's blueprint (Gk. poema = work of art) that he prepared in advance (verse 10) for the new humanity. He designed us to be people who do good as a lifestyle. That is an essential and unavoidable result of our new life in Christ. We'll study that lifestyle in chapters 4-6.
Jesus' parable of the father and his rebellious son reflects the deep insights of Ephesians 2. Let me read it to you and you'll see the parallels:
(Luke 15:11-24) Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The son rebelled and his father let him. Clearly, we all are the son and God is the father. The son spent everything and ended up in the pig pen, sharing food with the hogs. That's Ephesians 2:1-3.
The destitute, ruined, son realized that he would be better off at home even if he were a servant, not a son. The son believed there was a way home. That's the gospel in Ephesians 2:4-10. The good news is that there is a way home to God through Jesus Christ. God has made a way. It's his love gift to rebellious and undeserving people.
Now, notice the father's reaction in the parable:
Verse 20: His father was looking out for him, anticipating his return.
Verse 20: His father ran to embrace his lost son.
Verse 22: The father blessed his son with a robe, ring, and sandals - symbols of status, acceptance, sonship in the family; not a servant.
Verse 22: The father celebrated with a feast.
Verse 23: The father declared that his son had been dead but was now alive, lost but was now found.
The parable reveals God's love, mercy, and grace, on display in Jesus Christ. Rebels like us are welcome to come home. By faith, we turn for home, confident that we'll be welcomed and restored to the family. God does not let us down and we are met with his embrace.
The good news is a marvelous scandal. It devastates the claims of self-righteous people. And it soothes the fears of sinners who know they deserve nothing at all. All the glory to God alone. Receive his love, mercy and grace in Jesus Christ, right now!