Summary: What hope is held out in the gospel? Colossians 1:23 (Title and material adapted from Ben Patterson's book, He Has Made Me Glad, chapter on a Christmas Carol)
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10, NIV.
Our problem is sin, not sins but sin. Individual sins are the symptoms of sin. Just a fever, headache and exhaustion are symptoms of the flu, so adultery, gossip, malice and the like are symptoms of sin. The Greek word for sin is taken from the world of archery and means “to miss the mark.” “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23, NIV. We all miss the mark. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.
Talking about joy off and on this past year. Joy is what we experience when we are grateful for the grace given us. Before Thanksgiving Day talked about gratitude and how we by nature are ungrateful. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:21, NIV. The ultimate missing of the mark is refusing to be grateful and give God his due. At its root, sin is ingratitude. Sin by its nature eliminates the possibility of joy.
An evangelist was asked if it was hard to get people saved. He said, “No, it’s not hard to get them saved. The hard part is getting them lost.” The guilt and misery associated with sin is absent in our culture because we deny there is such a thing as sin. C.S. Lewis said, “The greatest barrier I have met [in explaining the Christian message] is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin.” If people are unaware that they are sick from sin, the gospel means little to them.
It seems illogical, but the absence of a deep sense of sin in our modern society is one of the biggest barriers to real joy. Without sin and the misery that comes with it, the gospel ceases to be a happy thing. Many believe the gospel a good thing, but hardly a matter of “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). Jesus the Savior is good but not necessary.
We fail to comprehend the seriousness of our sin problem. A helpful comparison is leprosy. Dr. Paul Brand’s research among leprosy victims shows that the disfigurement of lepers is not a direct result of this disease. The problem is that leprosy takes away the sense of pain, so lepers do damaging things like putting their hand in fire. They don’t know what they’re doing and they do not care for their wounds, because they do not feel anything. Their misery is unconscious, but it is misery nevertheless and will show itself in burns, infection and deformity. The misery of sin does to the soul what leprosy does to the body.
Many want to compare themselves to others. Doing better than so and so. All of us have this sin disease. We are all terminal. We are all going to die eternally from this disease.
“The hope held out in the gospel” Colossians 1:23, NIV.
Thesis: What hope is held out in the gospel?
Through the gospel we know that we are in bad shape
The greatest misery is not to be miserable, but not to know we are miserable. It is not good to be bad, but it is better to know that we are bad, that we are sinners. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15, NIV. If we do not know or do not care that we are sinners, then we have no need of Christ.
Knowledge of our true condition is the first step toward the joy of the gospel. Not to understand the seriousness of sin is to miss the magnitude of grace. The gospel is like a song sung back and forth between two choirs. One choir sings of human sin and misery. The other choir answers with God’s grace and mercy. The louder and more fierce the first choir sings, the stronger, more beautifully and joyfully the second choir sings. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” Romans 5:20, NIV. To minimize sin is to minimize grace, and with it the gratitude and joy grace produces.
The gospel tells us how to be free from our sin
If it is true that the “wages of sin is death,” it is also true that the “gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The answer is not trying harder to be what we can’t. The answer is God’s gift, expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2 illustrates this: See step one in vs. 1-3, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” Ephesians 2:1-3, NIV. Do we remember this? This was all of us.