Somewhere along the way, I heard the gospel, the WHOLE gospel, and realized that life wasn't about me living a comfortable and problem-free life, trying to find what made me happy and "fulfilled" me (the most commonplace view of life in our luxurious, naval-gazing American culture). It was about this: where did I stand in relationship to a holy and just God? Where did I stand with this God Who made me, Who had a righteous claim on my life, and to Whom I would one day give an account? I came to understand that I had sinned against a high and holy God by breaking his commandments, and that because of this, I deserved death. I deserved not only death, but eternal judgment. I deserved hell.
Although I grew up in the "Bible Belt" and attended church faithfully with my family, I had never heard the true gospel message. Never. How was this even possible? I still wonder that sometimes, myself. How could I have faithfully attended church, year in and year out, walking every Sunday into a building that had a cross on top, without ever knowing what the gospel was? And yet, that is the reality. I grew up attending a church in which the gospel, the "good news," was never proclaimed. I heard about Jesus as a good person, a man who lived an exemplary life, a life that we ought to try our best to emulate. I heard that Christians should be kind, and seek to help others. These were partial truths, but these things are not the gospel message. Our church was known to have a huge mercy ministry outreach that gathered food and clothes for the poor in the community. Again......not the gospel. Kind and loving to do, but not the gospel.
What I had never heard before was that my good deeds were counted as filthy rags in God's eyes (Isaiah 64:6). I had never heard that all the "little" sins I had committed and rationalized away in my lifetime were actually offenses committed against a holy God. The times I had lied or coveted or dishonored my parents or displayed unrighteous anger, too many to remember or list, all these things were offenses against God. I had never been presented an image of a God of complete perfection and holiness and justice, with Whom no sinful being could dwell. When THIS God, the God of the Bible. was held up to me, I saw my sins in a new light. My eyes were opened, and I realized I needed a Savior. I needed Christ, and HIS perfect righteousness. Even though I had heard the name "Jesus" my whole life, I suddenly saw him in a new light. I had sung hymns about him and to him for years, and yet I had never understood why his death on the Cross was significant, because sin had never been properly explained to me.
You see, prior to hearing the gospel message rightly proclaimed, I thought of sin as something primarily "horizontal," as something I did to other people, but not as something "vertical," as actions I had committed against a perfect and holy and just God. But when I did, it was at this point that the term "good news" (which is what the word "gospel" means) had new meaning to me. The good news, the gospel, was that even though I was wretched and sinful beyond comprehension, the same God who is a Being of perfect, blinding holiness had, out of His great mercy and loving-kindness toward us, made a way for sinful creatures to be reconciled to himself. Two thousand years ago, He sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to live the life that I did not live. Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, never sinning in thought, word or deed, and then He willingly gave his life as an atonement for all those who would believe on his atoning death, and who would accept his imputed righteousness by faith. He lived the life we could never live, and freely offers it to all who will believe. This was an act of great compassion and mercy, and Jesus did this in order to act corporately on the behalf of sinners. What a good and loving God who would make a way for sins to be forgiven, and consciences cleansed! Is this not "good news"? Once I understood my own sinfulness rightly, I now saw this good news for what it was: the greatest news ever proclaimed in the history of the world. Sins could be forgiven! Only repent, and believe.
9/11 was the beginning of my conversion: from worldly wisdom and lies to truth, from death to life, from darkness to light. At some point in the months following 9/11, I was saved. I don't remember the exact day, but that doesn't really matter. What I do remember is my eyes being opened to the horrors of my own sin, and to my need, my desperate need, for a Savior. I didn't know much about the Bible at that point, but I knew enough to know that I was a sinner, but that God had made a way for me to be reconciled to Himself through the atoning death of Christ. What a good God!
In many ways, 9/11 was tragic and horrible, but I thank God for using it to open my eyes about the futility of life without Christ. I hope that those I love and care about who have not been born again might be encouraged today to think more deeply on spiritual things.
"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (Isa 64:6)
"Then said I, 'Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the middle of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.'" (Isa 6:5)
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Rom 1:18-20)
"From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matt 4:17)
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.'" (Matt 5:21)
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks upon another with lustful intent has already committed adultery in the heart." (Matt 5:27)
"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10)
"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30)
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt 7:13-14)
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6)
"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them." (Eze 36:25-27)
"Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20)
"Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of the world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness.'" (1 Cor 3:18-19)
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:8-9)
"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood, to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished." (Rom 3:25)
"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people." (Titus 2:11)
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8)
"Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." (1 Pet 2:24)
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:3)
"Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isa 53:4-6, prophesied 700 years before Jesus was born)
"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, 'If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" (John 8:31-32)
"So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." (Heb 9:28)
"(The lost) will face a reckoning before Jesus Christ who stands ready to judge the living and the dead." (1 Pet 4:5)
"So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God." (Rom 14:12)
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:14-16)
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, behold! all things have been made new." (1 Cor 5:17)
"For God says, 'In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor 6:2)
“The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life." (Rev 22:17)
Are You Soundly Saved? (Kirk Cameron)
Are You a Good Person?
6 Messages on the Gospel (Alistair Begg)