Most people assume Christianity is about behavior modification:
"Don't drink or chew or run with girls who do."
But Jesus looked at the most moral and upright religious leaders of his day and said, "The prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21:31).
How in the world 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" (Matthew 21:32).
The reason prostitutes were entering the kingdom of God before priests was that they believed John's message and the priests did not.
OK, so what was John's message?
"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:33).
According to John, the way into God's kingdom was not through a code of ethics, but through a person. The person, Jesus Christ, agreed, saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
You see, Christianity says we all have a morality problem; a sin problem. Since God is perfect (and you're not), you could never get to God through good behavior, no matter how hard you might try. So, since you couldn't get to God, two thousand years ago in a lowly manger in Bethlehem, God came to you.
Therefore, if you're a drunk, a prostitute, a drug dealer, a murderer, a liar, a cheater, etc., you can easily get into the kingdom before some priests, pastors, and TV preachers. How? Not through good behavior, but through faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sin of the world.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:16-17).
Literally anybody can get in on this.
No one merits salvation. No one climbs the ladder. No one passes the test. No one checks the boxes. Both the prostitute and the preacher deserve punishment in hell for their rebellion against their Creator. But Jesus Christ took our punishment for us, in our place, on the cross. Because of his death and resurrection, salvation comes to everyone the same way––by grace, through faith, in Christ (Ephesians 2:8). And he doesn't save us just so we can "get to heaven one day," he saves us so we can know him and enter his kingdom RIGHT NOW. We don't have to wait until we die to enjoy Christ.
This is the gospel. This is Christianity. It's not about you and all the things you should be doing; it's about Jesus and all the things he's done for you (1 Cor. 15:1-8).
Sadly, many Christians don't fully grasp the power of the gospel for their lives. They equate the gospel only with salvation, concluding that the purpose of the gospel is “to get people saved.” While it is true that salvation is one fantastic benefit of the gospel, there are many more benefits once a person becomes a Christian. The gospel works for both salvation and discipleship.
1. The Gospel Provides Balance
The gospel gives me a healthy balance between two extremes. On one hand, while my sins often make me insecure and crush my spirit, when I think on the gospel, my sins don’t crush me because I'm reminded that I’m loved and forgiven (Romans 5:8). On the other hand, while my "successes" and good works often inflate my ego, when I think on the gospel, my good works don’t make me self-righteous because I'm reminded that I’m loved and accepted by grace, not my works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
2. The Gospel Provides Power
The gospel empowers me to serve my neighbors. How? The gospel implies two truths: (1) I’m so sinful that Jesus had to die for me; (2) I’m so loved that Jesus wanted to die for me. Reflecting on (1) humbles me by reminding me I'm no better than my neighbors. I need grace just like they do. Reflecting on (2) inspires me to love my neighbors the way Jesus loves me. He gave his life for me; therefore, I want to give my life in service to him and the world he died for (John 3:16).