Without this, you can’t understand Christianity…

A few years ago, I had the privilege of being the best man at my cousin’s wedding. We’ve been best friends for as long as I can remember, so it was a huge honor to for me.

They had a small ceremony on the beach in Wrightsville, NC. With beach weddings, you can’t set up too far in advance. When you get married in a church or some other type of building, you can set up the room before the big day. But because people still are using the beach, you can’t really block off that space for very long. So, the morning of the wedding, we hustled to get things set up and looking perfect.

You probably already know this, but there’s at least one responsibility a best man has for the ceremony that far outweighs anything else they are supposed to do. Do you know what it is?

Yup. You guessed it.

Keep the wedding rings safe.

The best man’s most important duty is to have the rings in his possession and present them during the ceremony.

As the bride starting walking down the aisle, guess what I suddenly realized I didn’t have?

Yup.

The rings.

You’re 2 for 2, so far.

“Okay, don’t panic,” I tell myself as I furiously check all my pockets for the fourth time.

Out of desperation, I lean over to one of the other groomsmen and whisper, “Hey man, you don’t happen to have the rings, do you?”

To which, he responds, “No, isn’t that your job?”

Cool.

What’s worse is I knew exactly where they were: back in the hotel room, about a block away. And the pastor has now had everyone take their seat and began the ceremony.

Awesome.

Finally, I get the attention of the mother of the groom (who is also my aunt, if you’re keeping up) and signal to her that I don’t have the wedding rings. With a look somewhere between bewilderment and fury, she understands my message and grabs the youngest brother of the family, Jesse. The next thing I see is Jesse doing his best Usain Bolt impression back to the hotel.

Godspeed, my friend.

Thankfully, he returns right in the nick of time, discreetly passes me the rings, and no one was any the wiser. Truly remarkable. Jesse is a hero.

Incidentally, I’ve never been asked to be a best man again.

Now, I could try to make excuses for why I didn’t have the rings: we had a lot of work to do that morning and I was busy right up until the time of the ceremony. But those excuses don’t really work, because if there’s one thing the best man is supposed to do, it’s be responsible for the rings.

There are lots of IMPORTANT things for a best man to do, but there’s one ESSENTIAL thing.

In the same way, there are lots of important teachings in the Christian faith, but there’s ONE essential message.

If you don’t grasp this central truth, you might have some other kind of faith, but you don’t have Christianity.

That one essential message is what Christians call, “the gospel.”

What is the gospel?

The word “gospel” means “good news.” It carries the idea of a messenger in ancient times delivering news of victory – the king had defeated the enemy! More specifically, the Christian gospel is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in our place (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). It is the good news of how Jesus defeated our sin and how broken people, who have rebelled against God, can be restored to God.

Why is it so essential?

The Apostle Paul writes “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The gospel teaches us that we can’t save ourselves. Religion can’t save us. Trying to be a better person or apply a few life principles doesn’t make a difference in eternity without the gospel.

But for many, Christianity seems a lot like any other religion. Many churches have taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that being a Christian is about what you DO:

  • Go to church
  • Read the Bible
  • Pray
  • Follow the commands
  • Help the poor

While all those things are important aspects of the Christian life, it’s not the essential message. When we put what WE DO before what CHRIST has already DONE, we turn Christianity into moralism. Many people believe that Christianity is just another religion designed to teach you to be a “good person.”

But the gospel teaches exactly the opposite. It teaches us that despite how good we try to be, we can’t fix our problem. There’s no one so good, they don’t need a Savior and no one so bad they can’t be saved.

A few verses before that passage, Paul writes, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesian 2:1). Being a good person doesn’t mean much if you’re dead. We need something or someone who can bring us to life. That’s what the gospel does!

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5).

The gospel shows us that our sin has separated us from God, but Jesus has become our substitute, paying the penalty of our sins by dying and rising again. The gospel serves as the only hope of sinful people to be restored to God. It is the core message of the Christian faith.

Paul says in another one of his letters that people who try and make the gospel about their own works are believing “a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.” (Galatians 1:6-7).

In other words, the gospel – the good news of Jesus paying the penalty for sin in our place – is the essential message of the Christian faith.

A Cross, Not a Ladder

I love how one church explains keeping the gospel central: “Our symbol is a cross, not a ladder. We preach good news, not good advice. Our message to the world is ‘it is finished,’ not ‘get to work!”

It’s that good news that serves as hope for both unbelievers and believers alike. We share the gospel so that unbelievers will believe and turn to God in faith. But the gospel is the hope of believers as well! It’s not our perfect obedience that saves us, but the perfect obedience of Another. We are secure in our relationship with God because of Christ’s work for us. Religion teaches “If I obey, then I’ll be accepted.” The gospel teaches, “In Christ, I’m accepted, therefore, I obey.” The gospel is our motivation to obey, not for fear of punishment, but out of love for the God who rescued us; it’s both the means and the motivation.

The gospel is not just important, it’s essential to your Christian life.

3 Resources for Going Deeper

Video: What is Salvation? (Jump to 10:36)

Book: Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, by J.D. Greear. A helpful look at how the gospel impacts our every day lives. “Could the gospel be lost in evangelical churches? [M]oralism and legalism have often eclipsed the gospel, even in conservative churches. Gospel cuts through the superficiality of religion and reacquaints you with the revolutionary truth of God’s gracious acceptance of us in Christ.”

Devotional: New Morning Mercies – 365 short reflections (each one is only a page long) on the gospel. It’s my favorite devotional to use & recommend to others.

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