Most people think Christianity is about moral rule-following.
"Don't drink, cuss, or chew or run with girls who do."
But Jesus looked at the most moral religious leaders on earth and said, "The prostitutes enter the kingdom of God before you" (Mt 21:31).
How can a prostitute enter God's kingdom before a priest? Jesus explains in the next verse:
"For John came to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him" (Mt 21:32).
Prostitutes were entering the kingdom of God before priests because they believed John's message and the priests did not.
OK, so what was John's message?
John summarizes it with one verse: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29).
According to John, the way of righteousness, the way to God, is not through a code of ethics, but through a person.
Christianity says that every one of us, priests and prostitutes included, have a morality problem; a sin problem (Rm 3:10-12). All of us "drink, cuss, and chew," so to speak. Since the moment the doctor slapped our rear ends we have all rebelled against our Creator (Ps 51:5). No one merits salvation. No one climbs the ladder. No one follows the rules. No one gets to God by good behavior.
So, since we couldn't get to God, two thousand years ago in a manger in Bethlehem, God came to us. Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to solve our sin problem.
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15).
Though we rightly deserve punishment for our sin, Jesus, the perfect and sinless Son of God, took our punishment for us, in our place, on the cross. And through his death and resurrection, salvation comes to every person the same way: by grace, through faith, in Christ (Eph 2:8-9).
God's solution for our inability to follow the rules is not more rules, it's grace! The grace found at the cross and empty tomb of Jesus.
And anybody can get in on this.
If you're a prostitute, a drug dealer, a murderer, a liar, a whatever, you can easily enter God's kingdom before many preachers. How? Not by good works, but through faith in Jesus' good works (1 Cor 15:1-5).
This is the gospel. This is Christianity. It's not a morality project, it's a grace project.
Sadly, many Christians don't grasp the power of the gospel for their lives. They think the gospel is used to "get people saved,” and then after a person becomes a Christian, they can move on from the gospel. But the apostles explicitly warn against that. According to them, a Christian should never move on from the gospel of grace:
"Do not move from the hope held out in the gospel" (Col 1:23).
Obviously, salvation is one great benefit of the gospel. But there are many more benefits after a person becomes a Christian!
1. The Gospel Provides Balance
The gospel gives me balance between two extremes: On one hand, while my sins make me insecure and crush my spirit, the gospel reminds me that I’m loved and forgiven (Rom. 5:8). On the other hand, while my "successes" and good works inflate my ego, the gospel, reminds me that I’m loved and accepted by grace, not my works (Eph. 2:8-9). The gospel takes my head out of the clouds and my heart out of the gutter.
2. The Gospel Provides Confidence
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Notice, Paul is not presenting the gospel itself but something that is true “now” because of the gospel. He's explaining one of the gospel's benefits, and it is stunning! Because Jesus took my sin on the cross, I am totally free from the guilt and shame that sin brings. Now I can stand confidently before God, knowing that even though I still sin, God fully loves and accepts me in Christ.
"In [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (Eph 3:12).
3. The Gospel Provides Rest
Everywhere I turn I'm being told I'm not doing enough. Even the most genuine Christians and well-meaning pastors are saying I'm not reading my Bible enough, I'm not loving my neighbor enough, I'm not praying enough, I'm not giving enough, etc. But when is "enough" enough? And whose standard of "enough" am I supposed to use? It's confusing and stressful.
But the gospel floods my anxious soul with rest because I'm reminded that Jesus' message to me is not "Do better! Try harder!" but "It is finished!"
As it turns out, Jesus is enough. He's done all the work. He's checked all the boxes. He's earned all my righteousness (Phi 3:9).
"Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mat 11:28).