The cross and the world – what is the Gospel?

Author: Martin Holdt
This is the second part of the sermon, which is transcribed, delivered by Rev Martin Holdt, entitled, The cross and the world.

What is the gospel? It is what God has done in Christ. It is called by the apostle Paul “justification”. Just so that you can understand where we are at, because I don’t think that all of you have got this sorted out. Please allow me in as simple terms as possible to tell you.

Years ago I had a phone call from a lady I did not know. She said on the telephone: “Do you preach the doctrine of justification?” What a strange question, on the telephone, from a woman. So I said, just tell me why do you ask? She said: “Come and see me.” I did. Her husband had been transferred. She had lived for many years in Durban. Allow me to say it: I have got many friends in the Dutch Reformed Church and I love them to bits. She had spent her life in a Dutch Reformed Church and was becoming more and more miserable. Not because of the Dutch Reformed Church, but because of that one in particular. One day she could take it no more, so she went in search of something to satisfy her soul. Ahh, she thought the Pentecost church has got it. I need that fire. So she went to a Pentecostal church. She did everything she was told to do, but at the end of the day she was still disillusioned. Then she went to a church where a friend of mine, the late Fred Harnet, now in glory, not only loved the doctrine of justification by faith, but preached it. It was music to her ears, it was liberating. When her husband was transferred to Pretoria she said “I never want to be in a church where I don’t hear this wonderful gospel message.”

Pastors when last did you preach, as the apostle Paul did, the doctrine of justification? For the sake of those of you who don’t really know what it is all about, let me try as briefly as possible to set it out for you. It is all about the moral law, which is good and just, and it is all about the moral law before we all stand guilty before a holy and an avenging God and the hopeless, miserable failure of generations of Israelites to honour the moral law.
Then God sent Jesus Christ, His Son, to become a Man. To do what? To honour that law. He was baptised at the age of 30. He had lived for 30 years in observance of that law. After 30 years of living in Nazareth and moving in other places in Palestine, after 30 years, the voice of the Father breaks through the silence of the skies and says, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” as if the Father was saying: for the first time in human history a human being has honoured my law. Have you ever thought of that? Then another three years facing the contradiction of sins.
He lived a glorious, impeccable life, in obedience to the moral law. When a sinner puts faith in Jesus Christ, that obedience, called in the Bible His righteousness, not yours, is put down to your credit.
What about your sin? I’ll talk about it next time. When we talk about substitutionary atonement, which is under attack today. Well, we call that the passive obedience of Christ, as we call his life the active obedience of Christ. And your sins are imputed if you are one of the elect to Christ. So what do you have at the end of the day. God making a forensic statement. God declaring that man, that woman, that child who puts faith in Jesus Christ, my man both God and man. To that sinner is imputed the righteousness of Christ. In those 33 years, and those ghastly sins are imputed to Christ, who was made sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God.

I am going to tell you something so simple but I am always so anxious for people to understand this. Years ago we had an Australian come to the country. Some of them come with good things. He travelled the country. What happened in a friend of mine, Ron Naude’s church in Durban, was almost a revival. What he would do to people trying to communicate the glorious doctrine of justification. He put three things on the board. Why have you been accepted as a child of God if you call yourself one?
Number one: you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour.
Number two: the moral law has been honoured.
Number three: another way.
Those of you who chose number one to put up their hands. Most of them did.
Number two: nobody.
Number three: a few, because they thought it was a trick question so they sheepishly put up their hands.
As he was bound to say, more often than not, “You are all wrong”.
If you say I accepted Jesus Christ, which has become almost an evangelical cliché, which has become meaningless, you’re putting the emphasis on what you have done. But when you put the emphasis on the fact that Somebody honoured God’s holy law on your behalf both in living and dying you rest on a solid foundation. That is the gospel the world will have nothing to do with.

So let me tell you what I am going to do for you now, very briefly, in my attempt to get this through to those of you who perhaps need either a refresher, maybe for the first time. Just imagine for a moment that I drop dead here. God spare me for a few more years, I am married to a wonderful wife, we still want to enjoy each other for a few more years. I still hope to do something for the Kingdom of God. For a moment, just imagine that I stand at the portals of heaven. I just dislike all these things, Peter standing there and all that sort of nonsense, but just imagine an angel there. “Oh Martin Holdt, you have done with life!” Sure, well I mean, my times are in God’s hands, so as expected it happened. Yes, well let me come in. “On what grounds do you want to come in?” You ask? When I left earth I was busy preaching. I have probably done it by now a couple of thousand times. Come on! My private devotions. Formally, intact. Faithfulness to my wife, read my Bible. I would be told to depart.
But if I said I come only because, pointing to Him, the Lamb upon His throne, because of what He did, not just in dying, but in living and in dying, I have no other ground. All other ground is sinking sand. The portals will open wide and I will go into heaven and I will see, not a vast, back-slapping “Well done Chum you made it”, but there will be a vast chorus of voices. Worthy the Lamb. I am here on account of Him. Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die. Another’s life, another’s death I stake my whole eternity.

Let me sum up what I have just said to you. It excludes the world’s way of thinking. In the few examples I gave you, in all of those examples, whether it is Islam, Baha’i, Hinduism whatever it is, even Orthodox Protestantism, without the doctrine of justification, which sound ridiculous, but it is true, it is all a matter of what YOU do to get there.

The gospel of justification is this. Titus chapter 3 verse 4 to 7: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour so that being justified by His grace, we might be heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” That is the gospel. The gospel is what God has done. The gospel is what Christ has done. Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling. By the way, that finishes off false teaching.

I spent a couple of wonderful years in Phalaborwa, a copper mining town. One of the men in my church, the church treasurer, was a blue collar worker, but what wisdom. I don’t even think he had passed his matric. He was like a John Bunyan. He used to share with us remarkable insights. One day he told us about a visit of a friend of his, who was a Jehovah Witness. This is how Peter handled him. Sit down. Why have you come to see me? Is it because you are really, genuinely interested in my soul? Or is it because you are exercised about your own soul. Now before you answer, be honest.
There was a moment of silence. The man said: “Well, Peter, I am trying to get myself off the hook, because we are taught that the more houses we visit and the more efforts we put into spreading the Watchtower, the greater the likelihood that we’ll make it.” Peter said to him, well goodbye, I have Somebody else who stood in for me and done all that is necessary and I am hanging on to Him and by Him I’ll get there . Good-bye.

What does the world think of trials? How does the Christian think of trials? Poles apart. The world interprets trials punishment for sin. Pure accident; a cruel God – sometimes as far as that. The Christian interprets it completely differently. Being justified. Romans 5 verse 1 to verse 3: “We rejoice in our tribulation, because Christ has taken upon Himself on the cross the penalty of my sin.” Hear me through: God does not punish His children for their sins. That would be unjust. To punish His Son on the cross and then his children a second time. He chastises us, He corrects us.
I have got two sons here. One is in England. The one that is in England, when he was about eight. I believe in the use of the rod. I applied it. One day when I had done my deed, he flung his arms around me and said “Daddy I love you”. I say, Keith how can you so you love me, I have just hurt you. He said: “No, daddy, I love you because I know you love me so much that you want me to be good”. Out of the mouth of babes.

God will not punish sin, once in Christ and then in a believer. The doctrine of justification tells you that. That makes us people who are poles apart from the world. The world is crucified to us and we to the world. And it prepares us for death. Some of you may have that wonderful commentary on the Psalms, Banner Truth Publication by Prof. Dixon. When he was dying he was asked for his thoughts. Remarkable answer. He said “I have taken all my bad deeds and I have taken all my good deeds and I have put them on the same heap and I have run from that heap to Christ”.
Makes one think of Isaiah: All my, NOT unrighteousnesses but my righteousnesses are henceforth erased. That’s how believers die. But the world dies differently. See how we part ways with the world? There will never be a coming together as long as this world hangs on to its false system of belief.
The world’s attitude to sin is the next thing I want to share with you.
It loves it, it revels in it. God hates it. He hates it enough to have made Him forsake His beloved Son when He took it upon Himself the penalty of our sins. And we? Do you hate it enough to flee from it? If that is what it did to Jesus Christ how can you cherish it, how dare you allow it to find its way into your heart? Don’t forget what I said to you previously, when next you are tempted to sin, go to Calvary, take a long, hard look at Calvary. If you see what you are meant to see and understand what you are meant to understand, you will resist the Devil and he will flee from you.

Lastly, how do we differ? We crucified to the world and the world to us. That’s the world’s attitude to Christ. You know, in Paul’s time it was dreadful. One of the places where he mentions it is in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, verses 7 and 8. “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God which God decreed before the ages for our glory and then there is none of the rulers of his age that understood this. If they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Today the world thinks they know enough about Him. But they cannot go beyond the external. I had some Christians ask me: Pastor, did you go to see the Passion by Mel Gibson? They are so surprised when I say No. And I don’t want to. But pastor, why not? Well, I believe it is a violation of the commandment. You shall not make yourself an image of anything in heaven and on earth. But I want to tell you something else, it cannot tell you a fraction of the truth about the actual sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We look at that, next time. It can’t. I for one do not want my understanding of Jesus and his life and sufferings and resurrection to be in any ways spoilt because I have what God has given to me in Four Gospels. Quite apart from what we are told in the rest of the New Testament. Jesus experienced a God forsakenness we will never ever comprehend and you cannot depict that on the screen. You cannot. It cost Him more to pay the penalty for your sin than you will ever know. What our sin caused Him, grief beyond understanding and we love Him because He first loved us. Beloved, the world does not. There is a sense in which the world is still crucifying Christ.

Therefore, as I wind down and draw to a conclusion, listen to what John says in 1 John chapter 2 verse 15 to 17 “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes, and the pride in possessions is not from the Father but is from the world. The world is passing away with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. “
As you look at those verses and as you heard me read them don’t you see a clear, unmistakable, division and dividing line between the world and the believer? That’s why Jesus said, as a warning for His disciples and in fact for all of us: if the world hates you, which it will, if you stand up for the truth of the gospel of justification over against all the talk and clap-trap of pluralism. If the world hates you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would not love you as it’s own, but because you are not of the world and I chose you out of the world therefore the world hates you. Or as the apostle Paul put is: “Far be from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”

That is why when it comes to the things of God and it does its thing its own way, we have nothing to do with each other, except to evangelise and to warn them to flee from the wrath to come.

Well beloved, I hope I have helped you. I hope you are going to bed tonight, glorying in the cross, and thanking God that you have been liberated from the false philosophy and religion of a world which is under divine condemnation. Tonight, give God the glory and thank Him for the gospel.

Prayer: Father, to think that You have done all this for us. To think to consider ourselves crucified to the world and the world to us, what a mercy. Help us to keep it that way, to the end. Then to go to glory, to worship You for all eternity, because we ask this for Jesus sake. Amen.

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full access, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost, but I receive mercy for this reason that Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, Immortal, Invisible, the only God be honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen