Burk Parsons, a pastor from Florida, tweeted this astounding truth the other day. He said, “the gospel is only exciting for sinners”.
What a true statement. The message of the gospel, that Jesus Christ died for sinners and rose on the third day, only sounds good to those who know that they cannot save themselves. It only sounds good to those who realize their own moral bankruptcy. It is only good news to those who know that they need …good news.
In contrast, though, to those who don’t think they need saving, this same powerful message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is utterly offensive. It is demeaning. It is a slap in the face. It is an insult. Paul tells us this, saying that “the word of the cross (the gospel) is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:18, 23).
Paul says that the message of Christ crucified is an offense to many.
And the reason it’s an offense is because this amazing gospel not only preaches a loving Savior who dies under our sins, but it also preaches the message that we are sinners in need of saving. The same message that shows the most incredible act of love also tells us the hardest truth: we are all sinners, worthy of wrath and condemnation for our offenses. The gospel by nature calls all people hopelessly sinful and unable to save themselves. For this reason, many respond with, “What folly! What a stumbling block! What an insult!”
Because of this, the gospel, though it is “logically” understandable, is rejected by many. But the simple fact is that if we want to be saved by Jesus, the first thing we must admit is that we are sinners. The first thing we must come clean with is the fact that we are unworthy, helpless, and in need. And it’s not until we realize our utter need before God that we can find freedom in Christ.
Paul says this in Galatians 2:17: “in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners”. What Paul is trying to point out here is that if we would be saved by Jesus, we must first admit our need for Jesus. We must first realize our sinfulness before God before we can be saved by Christ. This is simply the way the gospel works. If you would be given the righteousness of Christ, we must see that we are in fact void of our own righteousness.
Paul realized this, and he called himself “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). He described his own moral resume as rubbish when compared to the perfect righteousness found in Christ (Phil 3:7). He realized that even his best performance was sinful before God — and because of that, the gospel became not simply a logical concept, but a joyous and powerful salvation by the hand of God.
The gospel is only exciting for sinners, plain and simple. When we see our sinfulness before God, the gospel is changed from a mere religious doctrine to a powerful redemption. It becomes a powerful chain-breaking, righteousness-gaining, life-giving message in which all of our wretchedness is given to Christ, and all of his excellency is given to us. Who can appreciate this great deliverance but those who see their own need?
What we need is a healthy dose of reality: we are all sinners in need of rescuing. And this rescuing comes through Jesus. If we cannot admit that, the gospel will only be folly. It will be nothing but an offensive message insulting our own moral uprightness. As Luther wisely says, “a person who [thinks] that righteousness comes through [their works] does not understand what he is saying… Rather, he is deceiving himself…and in the end he brings himself to despair”.
We must realize our great sin before a great God. Then, and only then, can we joyfully take hold of the righteousness found only in Christ Jesus.