Col. 2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
When I use the term “gospel,” I have in mind what God has revealed to us about our redemption. Therefore, I’m using the word “gospel” in a broad sense to include all that the Bible has to say about our restoration as a fallen race.
This sermon will be presented under three points. First, we will review a portion of Scripture in which we learn why the gospel was needed. If the gospel, broadly defined, has to do with the restoration of man, we must know what it is about man that requires a restoration.
Second, we will look at the provision of the gospel. Under this point, we will see what God has done in response to man’s need.
The third point will be the exclusivity of the gospel. Here, I will concentrate on the unique nature of God’s provision for our need.
1. The Necessity of the Gospel
In terms of the necessity of the gospel, we are all familiar with the fall of our race when Adam disobeyed the Creator in the Garden of Eden. I’m not going to take the time to read from that particular event, but will summarize what happened before we turn to God’s provision.
As we know, the Biblical description of man’s origin is composed of two primary elements, his creation and his disobedience. The Scripture tells us that God created the first man and, like the rest of God’s creation, he was perfect.
In addition, because this creature was made in the image of the Creator, he was morally upright. In the beginning, therefore, Adam, the first man and father of our race, existed in a state of innocence. He was what God intended him to be and was positioned to continue in fellowship and service to his Maker indefinitely.
In this original environment, God designed a circumstance in which Adam would be tested regarding his willingness to abide by the implications of the Creator-creature relationship. The Maker established an enduring reminder of Adam’s origin and his duty when He granted Adam access to all that the Garden of Eden had to offer with one exception.
Adam was forbidden to eat the fruit that was found on one particular tree. This was a simple arrangement, yet one with profound implications. This command taught Adam that he had to submit to the Creator in all things, no matter what, and it taught him that continuance in this pure state required obedience to God.
This was a perfect environment. We know that God and man existed in harmony; we know that all of God’s creation was what He intended it to be. But into this picture came the deceiver and without giving any detail about his origin, the writer relates the appearance of the serpent whose goal was to disrupt what God had created.
If we ask, “What happened in the Garden of Eden?”, the uncomplicated answer is that the command of God was broken—and this is the fundamental definition of all sin. Perhaps this is why this important event is recorded in such a simple fashion.
Anyone can listen to these words and know that Eve and then Adam disobeyed the Creator. They did what He commanded them not to do; they disregarded His will in this one instance, but that was all it took.
Adam and Eve did what they were forbidden to do and, as a result, their relationship with God was ruined. This is the story of the beginning of our race. From this time forward, Scripture teaches, every descendant of Adam and Eve is conceived in the state of alienation; every descendant is born in that state of estrangement from God.
And this is a state that has painful, frightening, and eternal implications. What I mean is that the creature cannot exist in a state of alienation from the Creator without incurring the displeasure of God. God does not allow rebellion to go unchecked. At its core, the action of Adam and Eve was rebellion. They both substituted their will for God’s will; they both ranked their wisdom above the wisdom of God.
This story is, as I remarked, so simple and straight-forward. However, we know from later revelation that the transgression of Adam and Eve had a most extreme impact upon their natures. Soon, we are told about the banishment of our first parents from this place of fellowship with God.
We must not miss the significance of this action. Life in the Garden meant fellowship with God; it meant that all was right and that all relationships were what they should be. Banishment from the Garden meant just the opposite; it meant that fellowship with God had been broken and that things were not right and all relationships had been adversely affected.
There is much said in Scripture about the state of man’s soul following Adam’s rebellion. I will refer to one passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans which seems to be his summary of our condition as fallen creatures:
3:10 There is none righteous, not even one; 11 there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. 13 their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; 14 whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; 15 their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 and the path of peace have they not known. 18 there is no fear of God before their eyes.
What a tragic description of those made in the image of God! How painful it is to contemplate what was and what now is. From a blessed existence to a cursed existence; from peace to disorder; from fellowship to antagonism.
This is man, the one made in the image of the holy God! This is man who was formed from the dust of the ground by the Creator and brought into existence in a world made and ruled by God. Now he is at odds with God, now he is God’s enemy, now he struggles under the weight of guilt for having disobeyed.
Man comes into existence now with a rebellious heart and throughout his miserable life, he gives continual expression to the corruption of his soul. This is the doctrine of man’s total depravity. Every facet of his existence, every faculty of his soul, is marred by sin.
Depraved man will not and cannot restore what has been lost; he knows only the way of defiance because his soul carries in it the seed of corruption. This is fallen man; this is ruined man. This is man in his state of alienation; this is man in need of restoration. This is man before the gospel.
Returning to the Genesis record, we know that something else was said before our first parents were banished from the Garden. Following His denunciation of the serpent, the woman, and the man, God gave a wonderful promise of a coming restoration:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel. (3:15)
Here is the first indication that God, the One offended, would undertake the rescue of His special creatures.
This is the promise that unfolds throughout the rest of the Bible. This is the first announcement of the gospel and it comes here in Genesis, in the midst of man’s ruin.
Unless we have these facts in mind, we will not fully understand or appreciate the gospel by which we are being saved. A plan of restoration was necessitated by the events that transpired in the Garden of Eden. God’s mercy, God’s love for mankind, God’s grace became evident when He announced His intention to save us.
2. The Provision of the Gospel
We have seen what necessitated a plan of redemption; now we can see what God meant by His promise to send a Deliverer. What must be kept in mind is fallen man’s need. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, that spot that symbolized fellowship with God and harmony in relationships.
An offense occurred; our parents sinned against God and that offense required satisfaction. And, as I have stated, this injury went to man’s soul. After his sin, Adam’s nature was affected so that he bore the guilt of his first transgression and, in his damaged condition, was prone to further acts of rebellion.
What was true of Adam is true of all men since. So this is man’s problem: he has an original quilt inherited from Adam and, as his life progresses, he has an increasing debt consisting of offenses that he, himself, commits against a holy God.
Man’s need, then, is great; it is almost beyond comprehension. However, God’s provision is also great. The provision of God in the gospel centers upon one concept: substitution.
For fallen man to be reconciled to God, two things had to happen: one, fallen man had to render unto God a perfect life and thus do what Adam failed to do; two, fallen man had to provide a payment for his sins. The problem, of course, is that fallen man is incapable of providing what is absolutely necessary for his redemption.
Remember, Paul described fallen man as a creature lacking righteousness, as a creature who has no understanding, as a creature who will not seek God, as a creature who knows not the way of goodness, and as a creature who is consumed with manifestations of his corruption. On top of all this, the same writer adds in another place that we are “dead in [our] trespasses and sins...” (Eph. 2:1)
Without going into great detail, let me state that one aspect of man’s total depravity is his inability to do anything about his condition. Man was not just wounded, spiritually speaking, in the Garden of Eden, he was killed.
A sinner is a walking dead man when it comes to spiritual matters. He can do nothing about his circumstance and does not care to do anything about his circumstance. What, then, is the solution? It is what I mentioned earlier. The solution, the only solution, is substitution.
Either the sinner pays the debt of offending God himself or he has a Substitute pay for him; the sinner either lives a perfect life—a perfect life—or he finds One to live it for him. To be restored to a right relationship with God, fallen man would have to have One who would act for him and pay his debt for him. Given his depravity, this is fallen man’s only hope.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes:
2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Here is the substitutionary payment for our sins; here is the satisfaction of our debt before God. Notice that Paul reminds us that we were “dead” in our fallen state; however, God made us alive in and with Christ.
Jesus Christ is the provision for our salvation. He is what God had in mind when that glorious promise was made in the midst of the ruin of the Garden of Eden. According to these verses, God was willing to let Jesus Christ take our sin-debt to Himself and bearing it, be nailed to a cross where He gave His blessed life in our place.
So great was the quality of that life, Paul teaches, that the debt we owed to God is “taken out of the way.” It is not forgotten nor is it ignored for a time—our sin is paid for by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in our place.
This is, as you know, the beginning of the doctrine of justification. Fallen man’s need is justification; his need is a state of acceptance before God. When Christ paid for our sins, that was one component in our restoration. The second component is something I mentioned already, namely, a righteousness of our own.
Having our sins paid for does not, at the same time, make us righteous in the eyes of God. Therefore, a second component in man’s restoration—or the sinner’s justification—is the provision of a righteousness.
Once again, let us hear from Paul:
Phil. 3:8… I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith...
The context of these verses is Paul’s recollection of his accomplishments and zeal as a Jew prior to coming to a knowledge of Christ. Paul understood now that the primary issue for the sinner is his justification before God. How is this to be achieved?
The apostle had done as much as any man could do to earn the right to be restored to God’s favor, but he now realized that all of his efforts were worthless. After his conversion, Paul understood that the needed righteousness cannot be earned, but must be imputed. The sinner’s hope is not only that Christ will pay his sin-debt, but also that Christ will credit to the sinner the perfect life He lived while on this earth.
Therefore, Paul rejects the notion of self-justification or any idea that the sinner can restore himself. Instead, Paul embraces and teaches the idea that the righteousness that the sinner must have is not his own and cannot come from himself; the needed righteousness must come from One able to provide it and that One is Jesus Christ.
Not only does Christ become our Substitute in His death, He also becomes our Substitute in His life. All that is required of the sinner is supplied by the sinner’s Substitute. Payment for sin is made and righteousness is given and both things are grounded in the Savior.
The need of man was such that no alternative existed. Without Christ, without this provision, mankind would have remained in rebellion against God only to experience His judgment.
This brings me to the third point of this sermon, which has to do with an aspect of the gospel that needs to be stressed frequently. I just said that there was no alternative to man’s restoration. Either we would have a Substitute to pay for our sins and earn our needed righteousness or we were doomed.
God’s character would not allow disobedience to go unpunished. If this is true, then the aspect of the gospel that I have in mind should be clear to all. Man’s need necessitated a particular provision, which God supplied in Christ. This means that the manner in which fallen man is restored to God’s favor is singular, narrow, and restricted.
3. The Exclusivity of the Gospel
By this heading, I mean that there are not many avenues to restoration; there is only one and that is the one designated by the offended Party, namely, the God of this creation.
I want to refer to a definitive statement regarding the exclusivity of the gospel made by Paul in 1 Tim. 2:
5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.
In the context of these verses, the apostle is urging believers to pray for all who are in authority, regardless of rank. His reasoning is that God would have all classes of men, the rulers as well as the ones ruled, to come to the knowledge of salvation (cf. v. 4).
Then Paul makes a restrictive, intolerant declaration:
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
Two parties are envisioned here, God and fallen man. Standing between the two, as it were, is a Mediator, One who is able to bring the two together. To be more precise given all the Biblical data, this Mediator is bringing the one party, man, to the other, God. It is man who needs reconciliation and this reconciliation is achieved by One and only One Mediator, Jesus Christ.
This provision for our redemption is exclusive in the sense that it is the only provision given and accepted by God. As Paul implies here, if a man is to have fellowship with God, it must be by way of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. No other means of restoration for fallen man is ever mentioned in God’s word because no other means of restoration exists.
To all sinners, Christ declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6) This is not a debatable issue! There are sinners and there are saved sinners in this world and the only thing that separates one category from the other is the Substitutionary mediation of Jesus Christ.
There are not many gospels, there is only one gospel and this one gospel is from God and makes known to us our need, God’s provision, and the exclusive nature of that provision.
If the Biblical record is to be believed, then man’s need is great; it is so great that only God could help fallen man. The needed help came in the Person and work of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ. He became our Substitute in every sense of the term.
Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. Therefore, let us sweep away all the mental clutter that may have accumulated in our minds where this subject is concerned. The gospel is a simple message; it is one easily understood by all who hear it.
We are conceived in a state of alienation from God and our only hope is the substitutionary life and death of Jesus Christ. Fallen man is incapable of doing or desiring any good whatsoever, as far as his restoration is concerned. He is a creature absolutely dependent upon the grace of God.