This is a challenge to our team going to Italy, but I share it because it is a challenge to all of us. We all are missionaries; we all have a mission from God.
We have been called by God to the ministry of sharing the Good News that God forgives sin, and asking people if they are interested. The Gospel is not that God wants you to have a happy life, feel better, get your marriage straightened out or your life headed the right direction. The Gospel is that God will not overlook any of your sins, and He will not let anyone into Heaven that is not reconciled with Him. We don't reconcile to God, He reconciles with us.
God left us here to tell people that there's a way in which all their sins can be forgiven forever.
The Gospel: God Forgives Sin!
When we witness or share the Gospel, we go around and tell people, "God will forgive all your sins. Are you interested?"
Heaven is a place of perfect holiness, and Hebrews 12:23 says that only the perfect go to Heaven.
- Religion is the way of human achievement. It gives a way for people to perfect themselves by doing good works. All of the world's religions have one thing in common: they are all human achievement based.
- Revelation (or God's Word) is the way of Divine Accomplishment. It offers free and unmerited justification by the once-and-for-all time death of a perfect substitute. By simply falling humbly before God, repentantly confessing my sinfulness and helplessness to ever save myself, I can have the free gift of everlasting forgiveness and life. Only the Bible presents the way of salvation, religions never can.
So all of us have a dilemma, we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). We all are thus infected with what I like to call:
The S-I-N Virus
The Bible makes it clear that all people are sinners by nature and by action.
The most deadly virus is not the HIV Virus, it's the SIN virus. The HIV Virus kills everyone it affects and so does the SIN virus. However, there is no cure for the HIV Virus, but there is a cure for the SIN virus. And God Himself has provided the cure.
Open your Bible to 2 Corinthians 5:19. How does God save us? By:
The Act of Justification
God who was in Christ, verse 19, reconciling the world to Himself, did it this way. Verse 19, by not counting their what? Trespasses against them. That's how He did it. So that's justification. He declared them righteous.
It doesn't say He doesn't know about them, He does. It doesn't say they aren't there, they are. "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account," Romans 4 says.
So, the only way that God can do this, His plan, is if He forgives you and never holds your sins against you. Fully forgiven and you're declared to be righteous the instant of salvation. That is the Good News.
Now, about going to Italy where 99% of all the people are Roman Catholic. Let me share:
A Short Course in Romanism
Roman Catholic theology works like this: You want to be justified, made right with God? Then you need "infused grace". God infuses it into you, it's righteousness and it's the grace of Christ and the righteousness of Christ and it's dumped into you. The infusion of grace takes place through the sacraments, and there are seven of them:
Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist/Mass, Penance, Holy Orders, Marriage, Extreme Unction.
The Sacraments of the Catholic Church are: "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131)
The first dose you ever get, you get at infant baptism. That's why infant baptism is absolutely required because it is the first dispensation of infused grace. And according to Catholic Theology, at that point, grace is infused into you.
That grace becomes an energy in you, moving you toward justification, toward righteousness as you cooperate by good works.
Every time you go to a Mass, every time you do penance, every time you say your beads, every time you go to confession, every time you do any of that you get more infused grace.
That's why some Roman Catholics go to church seven days a week, because they need lots of infused grace. They operate under fear - that's why they go to confession. Not because they want to tell the priest all their sins, but because they want the infused grace that perpetuates them on the process to righteousness.
If, per chance, as you move along the road you're getting closer and closer, you commit a mortal sin. There are two kinds of sin in Catholic theology, venial sins (which don't count like big ones), and mortal sins which are really big. Any time you commit a mortal sin you're back to zero again in the process of justification. It's as if you just had infant baptism, you go all the way back to ground zero.
Commit a mortal sin and you're back to square one again and you start the process over. Do that when you're 75 years old and you die when you're 76 and you've got a long time in Purgatory.
Purgatory comes from the word "purge". And Purgatory is where you go because you didn't make it to justification. You didn't make it to righteousness but you're a good guy and you tried really hard and we can't send you to Hell, so you go there and over a period of 300-400 years, you get purged. And finally you get righteous and then you can go to Heaven. And you can get aided because there are some folks who had more righteousness than they needed.
In fact, they were so good, they had extra righteousness and when they died their extra righteousness was put in what's called "the treasury of merit". The treasury of merit is a big, hypothetical box.
And God, at His own discretion, can take some of that out and give it to you while you're in Purgatory and move you faster along. And you just keep hoping you're going to get finally to righteousness.
What's Wrong With Romanism?
Roman Catholic Theology teaches: God justifies only the righteous.
The Bible says: "God justifies sinners."
Roman Catholic Theology says: you'll get justified when you get righteous.
The Bible says: you'll get justified when you fall on your face and acknowledge you're a sinner .
Justification is not a process that finally culminates in Purgatory. It's an act that occurs in a moment of time when God declares you righteous and forgiven. That is a huge difference. One view saves, the other damns because it's a system of works.
The way God justifies a person is not by infusing grace in them so they can become perfect, rather He saves by not counting their what? Trespasses against them.
It's just a matter of God saying, "Okay, I'm not counting those anymore against you."
You say, "What's the actual message?" Well, it comes down to this, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will saved," Acts 16:31.
Believe that Christ came into the world clothed in human flesh and born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death on the cross, rose from the grave, ascended to the right hand of the Father having accomplished our redemption as our High Priest and coming King. That's what I call the drive train of the Gospel.
We just call sinners to believe. But how can God do it?
The Greatest Verse in The Bible
Look at the next verse:
2 Corinthians 5:21 is the answer, and it stands as the greatest verse in the Bible. Fifteen Greek words. If you understand this verse, you understand the Gospel. Fifteen Greek words that define the meaning of the reconciliation message.
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Here comes the key, the Greek says, "He made Him who knew no sin, sin." His sinless son in whom He said, "I am well pleased." His sinless son who Peter calls "the just for the unjust" was made sin.
On the cross Jesus was NOT a sinner. He never was a sinner before. He wasn't a sinner then. And He never will be. And God did not make him a sinner on the cross.
What Happened On The Cross? Substitution
Isaiah 53:4,6 says, "He was wounded, not for His transgressions but for our transgressions."
On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe.
Did you get that? God treated Him as if He committed, personally, every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe, though the fact is He committed none of them. That's the great doctrine of substitution.
God just unloaded His fury for all the sins of all the people who would ever believe in Him in the history of the world. He unloaded all His fury against all their sins on Christ.
He was without sin. But sin was credited to His account as if He had personally committed it and then God punished Him though the fact is He never committed any of it. That's imputation.
The Perfect Life of Jesus
Have you ever asked yourself the question, "When Jesus came into the world why did He have to live all those years?" If I was planning the plan of redemption I'd have had Him come down on Friday, die, rise on Sunday and go back to Heaven Monday. Why 30 years? Why 30 silent years?
Jesus lived a full life: That He might live a complete life absolutely without sin, so that that perfect life could be credited to your account.
On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He lived your life so He could treat you as if you lived His life. That's the Gospel. That's substitution.
He treated Christ as if He'd committed all your sins and lived your life and He treats you as if you lived Christ's life. That's what happened at the moment of faith. That's the Gospel. That's what we need to tell sinners.