What Is the Gospel?
The word gospel literally means "good news," and it refers to the central message of the Christian faith. Simply put, the gospel is the good news about the victory of Jesus over sin and death that will one day put everything right in the world.
Even though this message is in one sense very simple, it has enormous implications. The truth is, we don’t really understand the significance of the gospel until we understand the nature of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and see exactly how he is putting all things right. And, we haven’t really grasped the implications of the gospel until have heard the personal call to respond to this good news about Jesus’ victory.
In order to really understand the gospel we need to look and see what the Bible says about God, about ourselves, about Jesus, and about our necessary response to the gospel message itself.
God. The Bible teaches us that there is one God who has eternally existed as a joyful community of three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You might wonder, “How can one God also be three persons?” Good question. Keep in mind that we are talking about an eternally existing, infinite God who is bigger than the whole universe. Should everything about an infinite God make perfect sense to our finite minds? If the universe cannot contain him, should we expect to always understand everything about him? Even though God has amazingly made himself known to us in the gospel, he cannot be exhaustively known or understood by us finite creatures. We will always be in awe of him, and there is always more to discover about him. He is infinite and we are finite, he is the creator and we are his creatures.
God is the creator of everyone and everything. He is the source of all that exists. He created the universe, and he created it good. That’s why everyone has a sense of the goodness and beauty of sunsets, snow-peaked mountains, shooting stars and flowers. God created the world good.
(Read this in the Bible - Genesis 1 & 2)
Humankind. The Bible teaches us that as the crown jewel of his creation God created humankind, both male and female, in his own image to glorify him. God is worthy of the wholehearted worship and obedience of all people, as he is the source and author of all life.
God provided for every need of the first man and woman, giving them all the earth to enjoy. God gave the first man and woman only one restriction: they were not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, they were to trust God about what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil.
Though the first man and woman were created good, they chose not to trust God as the giver of life and they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. By eating from the forbidden tree they were putting themselves in the place of God, judging for themselves what was right and wrong rather than trusting God. They had rejected God and separated themselves from the source of all goodness and life. This rebellion against God is called sin, and God's righteous and just penalty for sin is physical and spiritual death.
Sin changed things. God’s good creation was no longer in perfect harmony and order, but rebellion corrupted the earth. This is why things often seem so wrong and painful in the world. On the one hand things in this world are so beautiful and right because God originally created it good. But on the other hand things in this world are so painful and wrong because sin has corrupted it.
As the children of the first man and woman we are all born sinners deserving of God's just judgment. Sin separates us from God. We confirm the sad reality of our separation from God by our ongoing sinful thoughts, words and deeds. We have all eaten from the forbidden tree, deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong rather than trusting and delighting in God. We have rejected God. Sadly, we are totally unable to remove this stain of sin from our lives and from this world. This is not good news.
(Read this in the Bible - Genesis 3 & Romans 1-3)
Jesus. Here is the good news. This story doesn’t end with our sin. The Bible teaches us that though we have all rebelled against God, corrupted the world with sin, and made ourselves worthy of death and judgment, God determined to provide a Savior who would restore people to his good and loving reign over their hearts. Moreover, this Savior will one day restore the whole universe to its proper order.
God the Father sent God the Son to become fully man. His name is Jesus. Jesus lived in this world of sin, yet walked in perfect obedience to his Father. Unlike Adam and Eve (and unlike you and me) Jesus never ate of the forbidden tree, even though he was tempted to sin like we are. Jesus never gave in to temptation, but obeyed God the Father in every way.
Yet, the world did not receive Jesus. Jesus was different than the sin-corrupted world around him, so the world rejected him. Jesus was unjustly put to a torturous death, being brutally beaten, whipped and nailed to a wooden cross.
Jesus’ death did not ruin God’s plan. In fact, the reason Jesus came to earth was not only to live a perfect life, but also to die, suffering the penalty for sin in the place of sinners. On the cross Jesus endured and absorbed the righteous punishment of the Father in the place of sinners like you and me. He did this to conquer sin and its consequences, securing ultimate victory over every evil.
Jesus proved that he conquered sin and death for sinners by actually rising from the dead. He literally got up from the grave, leading the way for his people who will also rise from the dead in a resurrection like his. Jesus now rules with his Father and will come back to make his authority known to all, judging the living and the dead.
(Read this in the Bible - John 1:1-4 & 1 Corinthians 15)
The Call to Respond. We haven't really understood the gospel until we hear in it the call to respond. The Bible teaches us that when we hear this message of Jesus' victory over sin and death, we are called to turn from our sin and rely on Jesus as our Savior and King. When we respond to the gospel by turning from sin and trusting in Jesus, it shows that we have been given a new heart and that the stain of sin has been removed from us. Just as our sin was counted against Jesus in his sacrificial death, so also the perfect life that Jesus lived is counted as our obedience. We are freely given Jesus’ perfect record of good works and have become children of God. We are saved from the judgment of God through the work of Jesus. God now takes pleasure in us. This is good news!
Though as God's people we still sin, we agree with God about our sin and look to him for help to overcome it. God’s Spirit lives in us and the victory of Jesus is being realized in our lives. As the children of God, we do not have any reason to fear the coming judgment. Rather, we eagerly await the return of our King who will make all things new.
When a person is saved by God through the gospel in this way, his/her following of Jesus is especially marked by....
(1) Identifying with Jesus & his people in Baptism.
(2) Gathering with other believers to remember Jesus’ death and to look to his future return in the regular practice of the Lord's Supper.
(3) Celebrating the preaching of this gospel in fellowship and accountability with other believers.
(4) Caring for the needs of other believers in a way that encourages their obedience to Christ.
(5) Promoting repentance and faith in Christ for everyone.
(Read this in the Bible - Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1-4, 1 John)
For a booklet length treatment on this topic, ask Pastor Jeff for a free copy of What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert after a Sunday morning worship service.