How to Understand Scripture – Part 3

This is the third part in our series aimed at helping folks understand Scripture better.  Why?  Because when it’s vague or confusing it can be somewhat boring and turn into a chore.  If you haven’t read the other posts, go check em’ out!  Today, we discuss why truly understanding the Gospel is important to how we read all of Scripture.  Let’s get started…


Rule #2      

G.U.A.R.D.   Understand the Gospel

Proper understanding of the Gospel

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood…

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.     Romans 3:25 and 27-28

 As most of us know, the word “gospel” means “good news”. There is only one message that is truly the good news, and that is the news that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, He was paying for the sins of His people. He was taking the punishment for crimes He did not commit, and it was a punishment that must be paid if the judge is a just judge (which He most certainly is!) Take a long, hard look at the passage above. The Bible is crystal clear…we can do nothing to save ourselves, or even help ourselves. We are saved by someone else, and this salvation is realized by our faith in that savior. For helpless and condemned people like us, the news of this rescue is indeed “good”!! But while this is the Good News according to Scripture, there are a lot of false messages out there that are also being taught as the “Good News”.

Take yet another look at those passages and notice what the Gospel is not; the good news is not that we get another chance with God since we blew it the first time. Why? Because another chance to be perfect (when we’re completely unable) really isn’t good news. And the good news isn’t that if we clean up our life (stop drinking, stop looking at pornography, start attending church, etc.) then we’ll be in a better standing with God. Cleaning up doesn’t pay for past sins. Past sins are crimes, and the punishment must be paid.  The only news that can truly be called “good” is that as sinful and utterly helpless creatures who fully deserve the punishment inevitably coming our way, we will instead be rescued by someone willing to take the punishment upon Himself. Now that is good news!!

Now that we understand both law and gospel, let’s take a quick look at a popular scripture passage where this knowledge will help us understand what is truly taking place. We will take a look at the conversation Jesus had with a young man commonly called “The Rich young Ruler”:

Matthew 19:16-22

16  And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,

19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22  When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

What do we see here? It seems as though Jesus is telling this man that if He obeys the law, He will be in right-standing before God, right? Well…yes. And if a man were to be born pure and actually live a sinless life from birth to death (as this man was claiming) he would indeed be in right-standing before God. So what Jesus is saying here is true. But Jesus is also saying something much deeper.

With the exception of Christ Himself, no one has ever lived a sinless life, including the man talking with Jesus in this passage. When the man asked how to acquire eternal life, Jesus tells him to obey the law knowing the man has already broken it. Since we now know that the purpose of the law is to show us our need of a savior, we would expect to see alarm and concern come about in this man. He should be scared at this point, knowing full well he has broken the commandments. Instead, the man insists that he has kept them perfectly! The law that should frighten is instead arrogantly dismissed. So what does Jesus do? He turns up the “volume” a little! He was just making the commandments “talk” before, now He would make them yell.  The first commandments Jesus gave him were horizontal, that is, they were commandments telling us how we are to relate to each other. After those are casually dismissed, He then uses the vertical commandments (laws pertaining to how man is to relate to God) to bring out the man’s sin and put it in full view.  The young man loved money more than the Lord, and as soon as he was told to sell his possessions and follow Christ, he stopped the conversation and left. So not only had he not kept all the commandments, he didn’t even keep the first one!

When the law stated “You shall have no other gods before me” the man demonstrated that he loved his god (money & possessions) more than Jesus Christ (God in human flesh). Jesus used the law to expose sin, and called on the man to recognize his self-righteousness. But the young man refused to change his mind…it seems as though for him, repentance wasn’t an option!  Our Lord also called upon the man to follow after Him. When examining the full gospel message clearly laid out elsewhere (such as in Romans 3), it isn’t hard to see that here Jesus was using the law to convict while delivering the good news that trust in Him is what saves.

Another point of interest in this passage is how Jesus started the conversation. He told the young man, “…there is only one who is good”. So from the moment He was approached until the time the young man chose to walk away, Jesus was trying to explain that in the eyes of God’s law, no one was “good”. He was using the law to point out sin and calling the man to repent and follow Him. Now that we understand the categories of law and gospel, we can see this was Jesus performing evangelism, not Jesus teaching us how we can earn our way to Heaven by being good boys and girls.


The Gospel is the “Good News” of what Jesus has already done on the Cross. It is the news that Christ died for the sins of His people so that they may be declared in good standing before the Just and Holy Court.

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