You Never Outgrow Your Need for the Gospel

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We are starting a five-week sermon series called Start Here. What we’re going to try to do is just give you the very basics, the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Actually, what we’re going to try to do is explain the word gospel, and I’ll give you a definition of that word in just a second. 

To set up this sermon, let’s talk about type one diabetes. If you know somebody who was diagnosed with this at a young age, it’s often called juvenile diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 200,000 children a year are diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and you find out that you have this at a very young age. Juvenile diabetes, type one diabetes, is often also called “insulin-dependent” diabetes. You see, there’s more than one type of this medical condition, and type two means that you just have to be really careful what you eat and how much you eat and when you eat. But in type one diabetes, you are dependent on insulin for the rest of your life. 

Many years ago, if you were diagnosed with this, it very well might kill you because we didn’t understand how the pancreas works. We didn’t understand how it produces a hormone that makes it possible for the cells to absorb sugar. And if you had type one diabetes as a young child, you very possibly would have died from it.

 

Now we get it, but here’s why I’m using diabetes to describe the beginning of this sermon series: If you have type one diabetes, for the rest of your life, it doesn’t matter how much you eat; it doesn’t matter when you eat; it doesn’t matter what you eat. For the rest of your life you are going to be dependent on insulin. There’s no cure. There’s no prevention. If you have type one diabetes, you’re going to have it until your dying breath. 

And this is the reason why I’m setting up what I want you to hear from the Bible today. We all have a type one need. That type one need is actually for the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We never outgrow it. You never get beyond it. You never become Christian enough or understand enough of the Bible to the point that you don’t need the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

So let me just tell you where we’re going to go. Just like type one diabetes, just like the necessity to have insulin with you for the rest of your life, just like that, here’s what I want you to hear from the Bible today: We never graduate from learning how much we need the gospel. You never get to the point that you don’t need the word that we’re going to talk about today, that you don’t need the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. 

We never graduate from learning how much we need the gospel.

Now, I just want to caution you. In fact, I’m going to do a disclaimer right up front, because some of you, what you hear today is going to hurt a little bit. I’m not making any of this up. We’re going to take a couple of key passages from the Bible, and it’s going to sound like this is personally directed towards you. Please don’t feel guilt, or please don’t feel like I’m pointing you out personally. In fact, when I first started working on this sermon series, I started each sentence with me. I am this kind of person that we’re going to describe today.

 

I’m telling you this, because I’m asking you, don’t stop reading because you got your feelings hurt. Just hang with me. What I’m going to do is describe the word gospel, which in essence means good news, the good news that God has done something on your behalf to rescue you from this condition that we have and continues to rescue you from this dependency. This need for the gospel today is going to sound like a lot of bad news because the good news only makes sense when you understand it in context to the bad news. And then for the next four weeks, you’re going to hear some good news. For the next four weeks, we’re going to unpack just how great this news is.

 

Without the gospel we all are spiritually worthless.

Here we go. We’re going to learn a little bit about why we never graduate. You never get to the point that you don’t depend on the gospel like a type one diabetic depends on insulin. Here’s the first thing that I want you to understand. I’m including me in this sentence because it’s true of everybody. Without the gospel we are all spiritually worthless. 

I realize that word hurts. Bear with me for just a second. I didn’t make this word up. This isn’t my word; this is God’s Word to describe people outside of the gospel. This comes directly out of the book of Jeremiah. And what Jeremiah is going to say to us today is how all of us, every human being on the planet, including me, is a sinner in need of the gospel. This comes from Jeremiah. We’re going to be in chapter two and start reading at verse 5. 

Jeremiah 2:5-8 This is what the Lord says: What fault did your ancestors find in me that they went so far from me, followed worthless idols, and became worthless themselves? They stopped asking, “Where is the Lord who brought us from the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines, through a land of drought and darkness, a land no one traveled through and where no one lived?” 7 I brought you to a fertile land to eat its fruit and bounty, but after you entered, you defiled my land; you made my inheritance detestable. The priests quit asking, “Where is the Lord?” The experts in the law no longer knew me, and the rulers rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal and followed useless idols.

 

Jeremiah is describing what it was like when the people of God got to the point where they felt like, “You know what? I don’t need God anymore. We’ve reached our limit. Or, we’ve reached the potential where we’re just going to take care of ourselves. We’re good. We’ve got everything we need. We don’t need God anymore.” 

And God, speaking through his prophet, uses the words useless and worthless, today. Does the word worthless hurt a little bit? Because when I read this passage, it hurts me a little bit to hear this word. I kind of want to say, “Wait a second, God, I’m not useless. I’m not worthless. There’s some stuff that I can do. So when you say useless, when you say worthless, that just doesn’t sound accurate to me.”

 

Here’s what I need you to understand: What the Bible is describing for us today is not physical. It’s not talking about mental; it’s not talking about emotional. The Bible is using this language to describe people at the spiritual level. In fact, the Bible talks a whole lot more about the spiritual side of a person than it does the physical or the emotional or the intellectual. And what God is saying today is that we all, all human beings, all of us who sin (that includes all of us) have become worthless or have become useless.

 

Here’s why God is using the word worthless today. You were created in the image of God. When he originally made our first parents, Adam and Eve, he made those parents to represent him. It’s in theological terms. The Latin phrase here is the Imago Dei, the image of God. And what the Bible says way back in Genesis 1 and 2 is, “I made you…” God is telling people, “…to be my representatives. You were supposed to be morally pure. You were supposed to be morally perfect, and then you messed up.” 

And our first parents and every person who has ever walked on planet earth after them, except for the Lord, Jesus Christ, has followed in their footsteps and committed sin. And now that you’ve sinned, you’re no longer pure. You’re no longer 100% perfect. No human being is crazy enough to say, “I am perfect, always have been. Never messed up.” And when you make that first mistake, now you’re no longer worthy.

 

Listen to the word, “Now you’re no longer worthy to represent God like he created human beings to represent him.” This is why he’s using this painful word for us today, the word worthless. Now he’s sitting there thinking, How do I come up with a description that would help people understand what it’s like to be a worthless representation of the image of God? 

And I was thinking, well, you know, when your cell phone breaks and the screen’ is cracked or when it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do? But that really doesn’t get the point across, because even when my phone is not doing what it’s supposed to do, it still does some things right. It just doesn’t do everything right.

 

So here’s the better image of it. Here is the better picture in your mind. Imagine that you bought a bottle of perfume, very expensive perfume on Amazon. Or guys, you don’t wear perfume because that would be weird, so you bought cologne. And when the package was in shipping, you know the ACE Ventura delivery guy started kicking this thing down the street and the perfume broke inside the package. And it all spilled out inside the package. Now, when you open the box up, you have nothing but broken glass and this overwhelming smell of cologne or perfume. That bottle is worthless. That package is worthless. I can’t do anything with it.

 

I mean, if I were to call Amazon, I would have to tell them the best I could do is rub the cardboard across my body because this package is worthless. I need to completely replace it. It can’t be fixed. That’s the condition that God is describing in Jeremiah 2. That’s what God is saying about me. You’re hearing it about Jeff Struecker, today. And he’s also saying this about every person who has ever made a mistake, ever committed a sin. The good news that Jesus Christ gave His life to save sinners. Spiritually, all of us are worthless.

 

Without the gospel we all are spiritually helpless.

But look at what the Bible says next. Matthew 9 tells us that without the gospel, not only are we worthless, but we are all spiritually helpless, unable to do anything personally to fix our condition. There are a few basic needs that every human being has. We have the need for food, shelter, clothing and water. God is speaking to humanity through his son, Jesus (Matthew 9). And Jesus addresses how helpless we are spiritually. Yeah, you can get some food to satisfy your hunger. And yes, you can build a shelter to protect yourself from the elements, but you are spiritually helpless. 

Matthew 9 says it this way in verse 36, And I intentionally used the new revised standard version:

Matthew 9:36 (NRSV) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 

Now, this passage is found in the New Revised Standard Version. Your Bible, probably if you have a different English translation, uses the phrase to refer to people that they were distressed or they were dejected or some combination of those two words. Those are good words to describe what the Bible is saying here. But the New Revised Standard Version uses the word helpless on purpose, because it’s saying in this word, we are unable, incapable of fixing our spiritual condition. I told you that stuff is bad. I told you that it’s not good. But I also need you to know that you can’t make it better.

 

And so, the Bible makes this amazing statement that, “When Jesus saw the crowds of people like this, He felt compassion for them.” Now, I need you to understand what this word compassion is saying to us today, because the Bible word compassion is referring to a physical reaction to the emotional or the spiritual condition that Jesus sees. In fact, if you get your heart broken, when you’ve been through a breakup, we use physical language to talk about our emotions. We say that our heart is breaking. It’s not really breaking, but this is our way of describing how bad this hurts. Or, my friends and I would use the language, “This was like a punch in the gut,” when something really bad happened to you.

 

The Bible is literally saying that Jesus just went through a punch in the gut when he saw the crowds of people, when he saw the physical or the spiritual condition of these people around him, because they were helpless and they could not fix their own condition. So Jesus has compassion on them. Now, this crowd can get their food. They can find clothing. They can build shelter. But they cannot fix their spiritual condition. They are helpless to fix it.

 

A long time ago, I used to teach college at the University of Louisville. I used to teach ROTC students, and I put a sign on the door outside of my office. It was just a conversation starter. And I’ll tell you, this sign got a lot of conversation. It had the recycle symbol. And then I put on this sign, “Jesus recycles people.” 

What I wanted those college students to understand is that when you get done using a plastic bottle or an aluminum can, you throw it in the recycling bin. And now that can is worthless. That bottle is helpless to fix itself. It has to go through a very painful process in order for an old plastic bottle to become a new plastic bottle, an old can to become a new can. That’s why Jesus uses the language (it’s from John 3) of being born again because you and I were helpless to be born the first time, and we are helpless to be born again. I refer to this as the miracle of new birth because only God can make that kind of significant change in people. I put this sign up there because I wanted these college students to understand their spiritual condition is worthless and it’s helpless apart from Jesus Christ. But with Him, just like a plastic bottle or an aluminum can, He can radically, totally change us and make what was old and broken into something new and beautiful.

 

Pause for just a second and picture in your mind, who was in the crowd that day in Matthew 9? Just like today, there is no question there were some moms in that crowd who were trying to take care of their kids. And on the surface, it looked like they were able to keep everything going. But in reality, deep inside, they knew that they were barely hanging on to their marriage, and their family is just barely hanging together. They were terrified about tomorrow. 

In that crowd were some businessmen and businesswomen, they had all of the nice clothes, and they were climbing up the corporate ladder and it looked like they had everything going for them. But deep inside, they know they were shallow, and something was missing. They just didn’t know what it was.

 

When Jesus had compassion on that crowd, there were probably some students. Students have a rabbi, students have a teacher, maybe some college students like you, who were dealing with all of the temptation that goes along with being in that kind of environment, the sexual temptation, the substance abuse temptation, even the selfishness or the self-sufficiency temptation. And Jesus sees this crowd and He knows they’re helpless. They can’t fix themselves. 

And Jesus, his heart is broken because he knows, way back in Genesis 1, this is not what I made people to be like. They’re not supposed to be like this. And the Son of God has compassion on them. How much compassion? He decides, “I will do what it takes to rescue them. I will give my life in their place.” You see, all of us, I’m talking about Jeff today, are spiritually worthless and helpless. 

Without the gospel we all are spiritually lifeless.

And without the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, all of us are also spiritually lifeless. We’re going from bad to worse today. This whole sermon is designed to talk to two categories of people. I’m preaching to the person who doesn’t understand the gospel, has never embraced faith in Jesus Christ. But today, I am also preaching against the person who maybe went through this religious ceremony a long time ago when they were a little girl or a little boy, and then somehow, some way, they got themselves to the point that they started to act like, I don’t need Jesus anymore. 

Do you know we have a word for people like that? We call them hypocrites because all of us need Jesus all of the time, all humanity, absolutely. We never get to the point that we are no longer type one dependent on Jesus.

 

Here’s what Ephesians says about our spiritual condition before God steps in and does a miracle. And you cannot miss the first few words, we are lifeless. Ephesians 2, starting in verse 1:

Ephesians 2:1-3  And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.

We were helpless, and we were worthless. But, it gets from bad to worse in Ephesians 2, “Without Jesus, we are lifeless.” And I like Ephesians 2 because there’s no mincing words here. Dead equals dead. You can’t do anything to bring life back to a dead person. No one can do that. But God can. The same power that raised Jesus up from the dead, also turns a dead soul, jumpstarts a dead soul and makes a dead soul alive through faith in Jesus Christ. 

That same power sustains the human soul and keeps us going every day, longing for and looking for the grace of God and the gospel to change me today more than it changed me yesterday. That’s why when I get up in the morning (I hope you feel the same way), I get up and make a simple prayer to the Lord.

 

“God, here I am again. You know what a mess I made yesterday. And God, without your strength, without your help, without your ability, I’m going to make a big mess today. And I need your gospel today as much as I needed it on the first day of my Christian journey.” The guy who writes this passage is describing new birth for us. 

I need you to understand something about the guy who writes Ephesians 2. His name used to be Saul. He was a Pharisee, which is one of the most religious people on planet earth. And if there was a guy who knew all the right answers to all of the test questions, Saul the Pharisee did… until he started walking down a road to Damascus one day, and Jesus met him with the bright light and radically changed him. That’s the moment that Saul the Pharisee, became Paul the Apostle who writes Ephesians 2. That’s the moment where Saul realizes, “All of my religious work doesn’t change the fact that I’m still dead on the inside.”

 

And this is the experience, the “I saw a light” experience. Not S-A-U-L light. I S-A-W a light. We get this phrase from what happened to this extremely religious man who knew all the right answers, but was still dead on the inside, which tells me, I don’t care how religious you are. I don’t care how many right answers you know. That doesn’t make you alive at the soul level. This is a miracle that only God can do. Saul becomes radically different when Jesus meets him on a desert road a long time ago. And Saul’s story in Ephesians 2 tells us, this is all of our story. It tells us that we are all spiritually dead. Even religion itself is dead. All it can do is point out the bad that we’re doing. It cannot fix us and make us do good.

 

No, the gospel produces life. Religion points to death. And what Paul is trying to tell us is, “When Jesus met me, he jump started my soul and made a dead soul alive for the first time.” Jesus alone can radically, totally change your life. He can fix the wildcard factor in your circumstances, he and he alone. His gospel can fix you. And when you change, everything about your life changes.

 

I’ll tell you a really quick story. We’ll wrap up with this. I was reading not long ago about a missionaries in the African country of Kenya. And these missionaries were introducing people to Jesus. Men’s and women’s lives were being changed. Some of them were becoming church leaders, being called to start churches. And one Kenyan who became a pastor, who really understood the gospel and what it does at the soul level started to look around at the rest of Kenya. These are his own words, not my words. This comes from 2018. He says, “As I look at my country, about 80% of my brothers and sisters, the entire country of Kenya would get this, call themselves Christian. But they went down an aisle. They prayed a prayer. Maybe they even went through some religious ceremony that somebody told them was baptism. And then they just never, ever walked back into the doors. Nothing about their life changed.”

 

This guy, this Kenyan missionary named Ken Mbugua said, “As I look at my country, the 80% of my country that has prayed a prayer and done some religious ceremony, most of them by every measure that the Bible uses could not possibly be considered Christian.” And then Ken says, “The problem is that as I try to talk to them about Jesus, they quickly answer, ‘I don’t need it. I’m good because I did what a priest or what a preacher told me to do a long time ago. So I’m already a Christian, right?’ And then they go right back to living the exact same life that they’ve always lived.” And Ken says, “This is the problem. How do you help people understand that they need the gospel and that they need church when they think they’re already a Christian?”

 

I want you to understand how the gospel fundamentally changes a person, how it causes a dead soul to become alive for the first time. If you have never really experienced this radical change, I want you to have that kind of experience today. But I told you, I am also speaking in this service to people who feel like, “I’ve got to the point where I don’t need that anymore. I’m good. I know the answers to the test questions. And I’m going to go back to living my own life.” There’s something broken about the idea that you don’t continue to need the gospel for the rest of your life.

 

A preacher in North Carolina, by the name of J.D. Greear once said it this way. He’s absolutely right. He said, “The gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, his death for your sins, his resurrection, as the promise of eternal life. It’s not the diving board that we jump off of and into the pool of faith.” Now, J.D. Greear says, “The gospel is the pool itself. And we swim in that pool every day, all day long for the rest of our lives.”

 

Here’s the point that I’m trying to make: All humanity needs the gospel. People outside of the faith need the gospel as the first step. It’s the “start here” step of the Christian faith. But even those of us who have known Jesus for 30 years need the gospel as much today as we did on that first day. All humanity needs the gospel all of the time. 

We need the gospel absolutely because apart from Jesus, we are worthless. Apart from what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are helpless. Apart from the resurrection that raised that dead man to life again, we are lifeless.