The gospel produces two fruits in you that no other religious or spiritual truth can produce—humility and confidence. Sure, we all have moments when we feel particularly humble or confident, but only the gospel can produce both humility and confidence at the same time.
You see, both humility and confidence come about from your belief about yourself. Humility is the natural result of realizing just how bad you are. But without the gospel, this feeling can dominate a person, leading them to an unhealthy downward spiral. Without the gospel, humility is replaced with a counterfeit—shame.
On the other hand, confidence is a natural result of recognizing a good situation. But without the gospel, people will pat themselves on the back for all the wrong reasons. They will congratulate themselves on being more religious, more successful, more perfect than everyone around them. Without the gospel, confidence is replaced with a counterfeit—arrogance.
These are the two biggest obstacles that keep people from approaching God. Some people feel ashamed: maybe they were habitually abused or belittled, or maybe they failed to live up to their own standards. They might agree that God is loving, but they cannot conceive of a God that would love and accept them. Other people feel arrogant: they have been told all their lives how awesome they are, and they have started to believe it. They see no need to approach God at all.
The answer to people in both camps is the same. The gospel is the news, in the words of Tim Keller, that we are simultaneously more wicked than we ever imagined, but also more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope.
At the cross, the twin counterfeits of shame and arrogance are altogether destroyed. In their place we are given humility and confidence. The cross is a reminder of how sinful we are, which humbles us. But it is also the greatest moment of Christ’s love for us, as he placed himself there in our place. Because Jesus died for us, we are made confident. The mark of the gospel is that you have both.
Martin Luther used a phrase in the 1520s that he said holds the whole church up, a phrase on which the church rises or falls. If someone gets this phrase, they get the gospel. If they lose it, they lose everything. That phrase was simul iustus et peccator: simultaneously righteous and a sinner. We remain sinners—humbled before God—but we are also declared righteous by God, given a confidence to come before his throne boldly.
As Jack Miller was fond of saying, “Cheer up! You are worse than you think. But God is better than you could ever imagine.”