The Gospel Changes These 3 Relationships

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re wrapping up now a five-week series called Start Here. It was originally designed to just help people who really didn’t understand the gospel or didn’t really understand the Bible, to answer some very basic questions. I’m going to do a little review for you and tell you the questions that we’ve answered over the last five weeks.

We first answered the question, this word gospel that’s tossed around all over the English language, what does this word gospel really mean? And why does everyone on the planet (question number two) need the gospel? Then we just started to get real with each other, so we spent two weeks answering, what is it going to cost me if I respond to the gospel, if I give my life to Jesus? -and then (it’s not a selfish question, it’s absolutely appropriate to ask is) what do I get out of it in return?

Here’s what we’re going to answer today, and I really think this is probably one of the most important questions you’re going to have an answer to. This is the question of, how exactly does the gospel change me? I know it’s supposed to make things different, but what is different, and how exactly does it make things different? If I believe what you guys are teaching, what the Bible says, what does that do inside of me?

In order to set this up for us today, we’re going to look at just three verses in the Bible. But first, let’s just talk about social distancing for just a second. If you’re like me, all of humanity, everybody on the planet, has gone through some form of social distancing over the last six months. For most of us, this has really been difficult, because I’m one of those guys who really likes to give a guy a handshake, and now I feel like I’m going, “Oh man, you know what? I’m sorry. I didn’t even mean to do that.” 

I’m a guy who likes to give a lady a side hug and now I feel a bit like a creeper because I start to hug and she starts to back away. I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m supposed to hug or if I’m supposed to run away.” It feels like I’m at the high school prom, except for I’m slow dancing from the opposite side of the room with somebody.

Social distancing really feels like this to me. That’s what it has felt like over the last six months. If you feel the same way, this two meters of separation that the world has gone through really, really hurts. Maybe you feel close in the heart, but distant physically. 

Or, maybe you feel distant in the heart.

In other words, maybe you’ve been fighting with your family. Maybe you’ve been frustrated with some friends. Maybe you’ve been fussing with a spouse, and this really causes a struggle for you. Here’s the overarching answer to the question, how exactly does the gospel change me? Here is the whole sermon in one sentence: The gospel changes you in such a way that you never have to be two meters apart again.

The gospel means never standing 6’ apart again!

Now, there are three relationships that are radically, fundamentally changed by the gospel, and all three of these relationships are found in 2 Corinthians 5. We’re just going to look at three verses very, very quickly today, but I want you to hear the gospel in a nutshell from 2 Corinthians 5. Here’s what it says:

2 Cor 5:17–19 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! 18 Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us. 

How many times in this passage did you hear the word reconciled or some version of it? It’s four times in two verses, 18 and 19, that this word reconciled shows up in these very short passages.

Jesus fixes your relationship with God

Here’s what the Bible is trying to tell us, and we’re going to work in reverse today. The first thing that the gospel does, the first change that it makes, is the gospel is like the superglue that fixes relationships. It fixes all relationships. It takes two meters apart, and it makes us intimate again. It fixes the relationship. The number one relationship is, the gospel fixes your relationship with God. When this relationship starts to get fixed, all other relationships start to fall into place.

Now the Bible is going to use for us a word here called reconciled. We’re going to do a little Bible word study on this one, because it’s a really, really important word and I don’t want you to miss what it’s saying. What 2 Corinthians is describing for us is, there is something broken in our relationship between us and God. That broken part of our relationship is not six feet apart, not two meters apart.

Think about it like the distance between the earth and the moon. That’s how far sinful man is from a perfect, Holy God. So God takes the initiative and closes the gap and comes to sinful men and women to rescue us, to clean us up, to fix our relationship with Him. The Bible word reconcile appears more than 1,500 times. Usually the word refers to other (the other team, the other people, the other town). That’s how this word is almost always used in the Bible, but there are six times there’s a variation of this word used in the Bible.

It’s used very differently than all of those other hundreds of times. I rarely do this, but it’s the Bible word katallassō. This word is used once in the book of Romans, once in 1 Corinthians (check this out), and four times in the verses that we just read. It’s the only time this word is used this way in the Bible. What this word is really describing is not just the other. It’s actually describing the enemy.

Now, you should right now be thinking to yourself, “Wait a second, Jeff. Are you saying that God considers me His enemy? I’m not an enemy of Jesus. I don’t have anything wrong with Jesus. I think Jesus is a pretty cool guy. I just am busy and don’t spend my time reading the Bible. I don’t spend my time going to church. I don’t spend all of my time praying. But that doesn’t mean that I’m the enemy of Jesus.” 

What the Bible is trying to say is, “Wait a second. There can only be one person with first place in your life. If you’re not careful, you will take first place in your life. This is called idolatry, and idolatry is worshiping self instead of worshiping Jesus.This is exactly the kind of person that the Bible is talking about in 2 Corinthians 5. The enemy of God is not somebody who’s doing something because they hate God. It’s somebody who just has placed themselves in God’s position in their life. 

What Paul is saying is, God went to reconcile His enemies and to clean them up and to bring them into a relationship with himself. Now get this: now you’re no longer his enemy. Now you have become his friend. Or better yet, now you have become his son or daughter. 

I’m going to give you a quick example of this. Let’s talk American baseball for just a second. For those of you who just don’t understand American baseball, I’m going to explain it to you. Baseball in America is basically just like cricket. There’s a bat, and there’s a ball. That’s about the only thing that’s the same with American baseball and cricket.

In American baseball, you have two leagues, and these two leagues play baseball very differently from one another. You have the American League and the National League. In the league that plays real baseball, the pitcher has to hit the ball. He doesn’t get to sit on his rear and eat sunflower seeds the whole time that he’s off of the mound. This guy has to do something for a living (that’s the other league of baseball). 

So let’s say that you live in Chicago.There are two teams from two different leagues: the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. Now nobody in the city of Chicago cheers for both the Cubs and the White Sox. You can root for one or the other. But you don’t cheer for both of them. In American baseball, the teams play in their league until you get to the number one team in the American League plays against the number one team in the National League in what’s called the World Series. It’s a best-of-seven series.

What the Bible is saying is, to understand and embrace the gospel is such a radical change in your life, it would be like going from the Chicago White Sox to the Chicago Cubs in game two of the World Series. You totally switch teams, and now you’re not on the opposite team. That’s what the word reconcile means.

Now you’ve been recruited by the general manager to play for the right team, the Chicago Cubs. That’s what the word reconcile describes. -God going after enemies and recruiting them to play on His team and calling them sons and daughters. It would be like somebody leaving their team to go to play for the opposite team in the world championship of baseball. That’s how big of a deal this change is that the writer of 2 Corinthians is trying to describe for us.

I went through a change like this. Many of you went through a change like this, and it can happen for you too. Wherever you’re at, whatever your past, he can radically, completely change you, and now you’re no longer on the opposite team. Now he’s called you into a relationship with himself and because that relationship has changed, it also changes your relationship with other people.

Jesus fixes your relationship with others

Let’s just be honest, all of us on planet earth, I don’t need to know who you are, I don’t need to know where you live, all of us have people problems. These people problems are part of the human condition, and because the gospel fixes our relationship with God, now it starts to work on us and it starts to fix our relationship with other people. I literally don’t know a boss who hasn’t said, “The most difficult challenges that I deal with are people problems. I would rather lose a million dollars in revenue than have to deal with people problems at work, because these problems are so difficult, so heartbreaking.”

Maybe you feel like you’re going through those people problems right now. Maybe you live in the same home and sleep in the same bed, and although you’re not six feet apart at home, your hearts are really halfway around the world from each other. The gospel is supposed to move in and make an impact on you. And because it starts to change you, it changes your relationship with other people.

You see, what’s happening here in 2 Corinthians is the reason why we call ourselves 2 Cities Church. The logo that you see on the screens, the name 2 Cities represents exactly what you’re reading in 2 Corinthians. The first city that it refers to is the city of light, the city of God. And it says that God has made us a new creature and cleaned us up and made us into a relationship with Him.

That’s city number one, and we now belong to the heavenly city. But He has also given us the message of reconciliation. That’s city number two. That’s the city of darkness, and until He calls us home to be with Him, we’re supposed to be about the business of reconciliation wherever you live.

Maybe a great way of describing this in 2 Corinthians is that God is cleaning people up. God is making people new. God is fixing broken relationships. This relationship problem between people, it started all the way back in the book of Genesis, all the way back in Genesis 3. When God created people, he made us perfect, and then sin entered into the equation. The first two human beings, these first two perfect people, when they committed the first sin, now they have immediate people problems.

Now, immediately they start to hide themselves from each other by sewing fig leaves together. If you read carefully Genesis 3, what you’ll see is, Adam starts to point his finger at Eve. Eve starts to point her finger at somebody else about the problems that are going on. These people problems, they started in Genesis 3.

Listen, get one chapter further in the Bible, and now all of a sudden their two sons, Cain kills his brother, Abel. That’s how bad the people problems get because of sin. The gospel eradicates sin, which makes it possible for two broken people to become intimate with one another again. I’m talking about problems at work, problems in school, problems at home, all of those problems are fixed. They’re all changed because of the gospel at work inside of you.

I got a letter this week from a guy who’s in basic training. His roster number is 214. His first name is Joseph, and Joseph asked a simple question. He said, “I’m a Christian. I just started basic training here on Fort Benning, and I just want you to know it’s absolutely terrible.” Basic training is supposed to be terrible. Basic combat training in the US Army, is supposed to be tough. 

Here’s what Joseph said: “It’s 11:14 at night. I’m on fire guard in the barracks in Fort Benning, and I don’t know who to turn to. I found your booklet with your address and Jeff, I have a question for you.”

Now, I remember fire guard because I went to basic training here on Fort Benning in wooden World War II barracks. Each one of those red boxes on the posts there, those are little fireboxes. Everything about the barrack says, if you drop a match, it’s going to go up in flames in 30 seconds or less. Now Joseph is going to basic training in a barracks that’s made out of wood, metal and brick. But you know military tradition. We’re going to make you stay awake and watch for fire even though there’s never going to be a fire in this room.

Here’s what Joseph’s letter said (exact words): “I’m trying to live out my faith. I’m trying, working hard to be [listen to these words] loving, patient, and kind  [these are Bible words], but I am absolutely surrounded by people that are hateful and frustrating and full of negative, bad emotions.” His letter asks me, “How do you do this? How do you be kind and loving and patient when you’re surrounded by negativity and hostility and bad emotions?”

I ordered a little book that I can send to Joseph in the mail, but there’s a one- word answer to this question, and you already know what it is. It’s the word gospel. And until the gospel changes the hearts of the people that Joseph works with, it’s always going to be a struggle. Until the gospel really gets to work in human relationships, there’s always going to be problems. The gospel and only the gospel can fix the things that Joseph is dealing with.

My guess is, you’re dealing with these problems where you work or where you live too. Please listen to what I’m saying. The President of the United States cannot fix the people problems in America; only the gospel can. The next Justice of the Supreme Court, as important as that decision is about the future and the morality of our nation, it will not fix people problems. People problems exist at the heart, and until something changes the heart, nothing changes between people.

What Paul, the writer of 2 Corinthians is telling us today is, my heart was changed by the gospel. Your heart can be changed by the gospel. And the people that you have problems with, their heart can be changed by the gospel also. If this has never happened to you, and your heart has never been changed before, let me know so I can talk to you about having this new creation, new birth, miracle of God, change your life.

Remember, we’re answering the question, “How exactly does the gospel change me, Jeff?” Well, it changes the relationship first, your relationship with God, and it changes your relationship with others. But if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Okay Jeff, wait a second. You’re saying the gospel changes everything, but tomorrow when I get up, I go to the same office and I have to deal with the same boss. I’m in the same classroom, and I have to put up with the same professor. I have to live in the same dorm with the same roommate. I have to spend my time around the same people, so you tell me, how exactly does it change that?”

Jesus fixes your relationship with self

Here’s the answer to the question: The gospel changes everything because the gospel changes you. It ultimately deals with you, and because you’re different, every other relationship, every other circumstance is now different as a result. What you have in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a picture of God recreating a new human being.

Verse 17 says, “God created, He created it pure, and He created it perfect, and then Satan entered into the equation, and it broke what God created. As a result, God had to step in and do a miracle.” This is the miracle of new creation, making something that was broken now into something totally new. I need you to hear this, because he’s not just talking about an upgraded version. He’s talking about completely, totally new.

When the Bible says, “All things are being made new; he makes us into a new creation,” it’s going to affect your relationship at home and at work and at school and at play and every other relationship. That’s why this relationship impacts them all. If you’re honest, you don’t have to say it out loud, but maybe you are honest with yourself and you would say, “Man, I’ve made some mistakes in my past, and I wish that those failures would go away.” The gospel and the gospel alone can fix those failures.

If you’re saying, “Jeff, I’ve got some real struggles. There are some flaws that I know are inside of me, and I wish I could fix them. But I try as hard as I might, I keep falling off of the wagon. I keep going back to the same old sin. What can possibly fix me?” The gospel and the gospel alone can change that. It can change your frustrations. It can change your future. It changes everything because it changes you.

You see, here’s what I’m trying to say: I’m afraid some people read the Bible and go to church and miss the gospel. Perhaps the best way to describe it is, the gospel is like having eye surgery. Before eye surgery, you could see, but what you could see was cloudy and dim. It wasn’t clear. Then all of a sudden, God does a work, and he recreates and fixes your eyesight. And now that you can see clearly, everything becomes clear. 

You see, what the gospel does is, it changes everything about you. It changes everything about the way that you see the world. It changes all of the relationships. If the gospel hasn’t made that kind of impact on you, perhaps you’ve never really believed the gospel. Maybe you’ve just accepted a set of Christian doctrines as true, but you’ve never really embraced the gospel. It makes a radical, total change in a human being. 

Nobody had the right to say it more than the guy who wrote this passage. If you don’t know his story from the Bible, Saul was a Pharisee, a religious leader who hated Christianity with a passion and was willing to do whatever he could to stop Christianity, to include killing Christians. He was a first-century version of an ISIS terrorist. Saul the Pharisee was on a road to the city, the capital city of Damascus, when Jesus met him and radically confronted him with the gospel. Then Saul the Pharisee changed so much that he became Paul the Missionary, perhaps one of the greatest spokesman for Christianity in all of human history apart from Jesus Himself.

Multiple times Paul would tell the story of that encounter with Jesus along the road, and he uses the language that he was blind, blinded by the light. Then God cleared up that blinding, and he could now see. The same gospel that radically changed Saul the Pharisee into Paul the Missionary and changed a 13-year-old kid like me, it can change you. If you’ve never really understood, never really accepted Christ, it was the broken body and the poured out blood of Jesus Christ that Paul had no answer for when he was confronted on the road to Damascus.