What is the Gospel?

Updated: Jul 13

You've probably heard the word"Gospel" a 1000 times before. Many people who call themselves Christians have referenced the word to describe their most central conviction, but what does it mean?



The word Gospel means, "Good news" [2], but "Good news" can mean almost anything. The word faith preachers also preach "good news": according to them God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life in terms of prosperity and financial well-being. That does sound good right? Good news can also include the news that you've passed an exam, or that you're getting a raise at work. But the Bible is talking about a specific type of "Good news" in its context, so let's see how the Bible uses the word "Gospel".


Uses of the Gospel in the New Testament

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

Matthew 4:23, ESV

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

Mark 1:14-15, ESV

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 20:24, ESV

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:16, ESV

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1:13, ESV

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice,“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Revelation 14:6-7, ESV


From the above texts we come to see a clearer image of what is meant by the Gospel. The Gospel has to do with the Kingdom of God, the Gospel is described as having to do with the grace of God, we see that the Gospel is power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, we see the Gospel described as the Gospel of salvation, and lastly we get a glimpse of the content of the Gospel: "fear God and give Him glory for the hour of judgement has come."


The final passage I would like to quote at length for now is 1 Corinthians 15:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:1-28, Selected Verses, ESV


From 1 Corinthians 15 we receive a bit more clarity on what the Gospel is about in a nice compact chapter. Paul writes that the Gospel is of first importance and that the Gospel is the message by which we are being saved. He then summarises it as follows:

That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

He then turns to describe the effect that the Gospel had ons his life: who he was, and who he is now as a result of the Gospel:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.

Lastly he writes on the importance of the resurrection of Jesus: If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we would still be in our sins (see our article on the resurrection). He then regurgitates the point of all men are sinful by nature through Adam, but can be made alive through Christ.


Concluding, Paul closes by referencing the culmination of history: At the end of days, Christ will return, deliver the Kingdom of God and destroy all evil once and for all.

We now turn to look a bit closer at these points that Paul mentioned.


Sin

To understand sin you need to understand who God is and who you are not. The following definition of sin is quite popular as preached by John Piper:

What is sin? It is the glory of God not honored. The holiness of God not reverenced. The greatness of God not admired. The power of God not praised. The truth of God not sought. The wisdom of God not esteemed. The beauty of God not treasured. The goodness of God not savored. The faithfulness of God not trusted. The commandments of God not obeyed. The justice of God not respected. The wrath of God not feared. The grace of God not cherished. The presence of God not prized. The person of God not loved. That is sin.

John Piper


The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us the following:

Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets... Are we able to keep the law? No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.

Heidelberg Catechism, Sunday 2: Question 4 and Question 5


Remember what Paul wrote about who He was?

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God...

Paul even went as far as to call himself the chief of sinners...

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,of whom I am the foremost.

1 Timothy 1:15, ESV


What does it mean to be a sinner? It means to fall short of God's standard for good. One of the issues with Christians today is that they no longer view themselves as wicked by nature and in need of saving. Most of us at one point or another thought that we're pretty good people, but the reality is far from it. A simple read-through of God's law will expose the nature of our hearts. Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen? Have you ever murdered? Have you ever committed adultery? You might want to answer no to the last two were it not for Jesus taking it straight to the heart:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:21-22, ESV


You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:27-28, ESV


Jesus knew that outward conformity is futile, because that which is wrong with people comes from the heart. Jesus then takes the law as it's written, and actually makes it even more unobtainable than an initial read-through. After reading Jesus' words, let me ask again: have you committed murder? Have you committed adultery? There is no one who can answer "no" without lying thereby breaking the 6th commandment.


As Ray Comfort likes to say, we are all blasphemers, murderers, thieves and adulterers at heart. Our hearts are wicked beyond anything we can understand.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9, ESV

For out of the heart come evil thoughts - murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Matthew 15:19, ESV


So where does this leave us? It ought to leave us in utter despair. We cleary need a new heart... but we can't give ourselves a new heart. We can't change our nature.


This is part of why what is called "therapeutic moralistic deism" which teaches in part that "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions" [3] is so devastating. Calling people to be good to earn God's favour will damn them and eventually drive them away for two reasons:

  • They try to be good but keep falling short of God's perfect law

  • They think they're good and see no need for Christ in their life

Jesus makes the point that no one is good except God quite clearly:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”And Jesus said to him,“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments:‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said,“All these I have kept from my youth.”

Luke 18:18-20, ESV


It is quite interesting that right after Jesus said that "...only God is good", did the young man agree and say, "Me too!". Which actually breaks the first commandment that you shall have no other gods.


One last defence might be lodged against the claim that we're all sinners. We are prone to compare ourselves to other people and happily affirm that we're not "as bad" as other people, so we're actually ok, right? That's not the standard the Bible requires us to apply to our lives. All we need to do is take a good look at Christ, and then we know who we are.


Where does this leave us?

Where do we go from here? The Bible makes it quite clear what happens to sinners like us:

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Revelation 21:8, ESV


Remember from Jesus' own words, we are all murderers, sexually immoral and idolaters by nature. The above passage doesn't apply to some people out there, it first and foremost applies to us!

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

2 Thessalonians 1:9, ESV

Many people have come to picture hell as something from Dante's Inferno: a place where human beings are tortured forever and ever in a sadistic fashion, but that's not what the Bible defines hell to be. It defines it to be much worse. The Biblical hell is a place of perfect justice. Justice is defined as, in its broadest sense, as the principle that people receive that which they deserve.


Many Christians try to make themselves feel better by denying the existence of hell, stating that they'd rather follow in the loving footsteps of Jesus. But these Christians forget the fact that Jesus is Yahweh from the Old Testament who wiped out entire nations for their sin, and He is also the Biblical figure who taught the most about hell compared to all the rest. The doctrine of hell is largely undeveloped up and till Jesus arrived on Earth.


The Heidelberg Catechism continues in Sunday 2, Question 10:

[God] is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins. Therefore He will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as He has declared: Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them (Galatians 3:10).

Heidelberg Catechism, Sunday 2: Question 10


Remember how Paul closed his section in 1 Corinthians 15?: "At the end of days, Christ will return, deliver the Kingdom of God and destroy all evil once and for all." We are part of the evil that must be destroyed, no one can escape this. Every Christian is supposed to have a realization of sin, and this is not something that we can teach other people to have. I believe that it comes with time as we spend more time in communion with God. And it is only when we have this realization of sin that the true "Good news" of the Gospel will start to show itself.


Salvation

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift,through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:21-26, ESV


If one thing is clear from our discussion of sin, it is that righteousness does not come through the law. If you're looking at the law and thinking, like the young man that approached Jesus, "Yeah! I'm good with all this", you don't understand the law and it's requirements. The law requires us to be good as God is good, and holy as God is holy. The law can't make us righteous, it condemns us.


Look at what Paul wrote. He was a Pharisee that tried to earn his salvation through the law before converting:

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

Romans 7:10, ESV

He then continues to describe how the law brought forth the sinfulness in himself and how sin seized him and killed him. How then could Paul be saved?

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:24-25, ESV

The law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ. [4]


This is why Paul clearly teaches that righteousness does not come by keeping the law! Where does it come from? From Jesus Christ. That is the "Gospel", or the good news. We are sinners and "desperately sick", but Christ was better for us.


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:16-18, ESV


In his great love and mercy in eternity past God the Father chose his sheep, and predetermined their adoption as His children through Jesus Christ. Everything the Father does for their salvation, he does through Christ. Jesus Christ, God the Son, volunteered to be sent by the Father into His own creation to suffer and live the perfect life under the requirements of His law. God took on human nature and flesh and walked the Earth as both fully God and fully man. He never sinned as we do and was a lamb without blemish. Despite living an upright and righteous life, He was despised and hated by His creation. They betrayed Him, arrested Him, beat Him and finally, crucified Him.


Together with His physical suffering before and on the cross, there is one particular suffering that Christ endured whilst He was on the cross, one that is commonly overlooked, but one that gives it its infinite worth. Jesus was anxious about it, and he sweat blood thinking about it:

And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying,“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22:41-44, ESV


So what exactly did Christ accomplish on the cross? What was in the cup that Jesus wanted to remove? The Old Testament teaches us what Christ did on the cross 600 years before it happened:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6, ESV



On the cross, Jesus bore the full wrath of God reserved for our sins against Him. He took our sin on himself, and the Father considered Him "a worm", and crushed Him for our sins. On the cross Jesus quotes Psalm 22 to describe what's happening:


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest... But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people... For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.

Psalm 22:1-2, 6, 16-18, ESV


Jesus, God in the flesh is considered a worm by the Father. The creator of the universe, the Lord of glory is made a worm, and crushed by the Father so that we might be saved and have peace with God.


...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8, ESV


While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That's the good news. By accepting the atoning work of Christ on the cross, you are made right with God! Your sin does not need to throw you into despair as it has been paid for. If anything the more sin you had, the more appreciative you will be of what Christ has done for you.


Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers,what shall we do?” And Peter said to them,“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

Acts 2:37-39, ESV


Thankfulness

Put simply, thankfulness is recognizing good things that have happened to you, and acknowledging the people who made those good things happen.


In the Bible, thankfulness is recognizing who God is and what he has done.


Knowing what Christ has done for us, we now live a life of thankfulness toward God, trying to keep his commandments and repenting from our sins whenever we fail to live up to standard presented by the perfect life of Jesus. We love Jesus because of what He has done for us, and hence:

If you love me [Jesus], you will keep my [His] commandments.

Romans 14:15, ESV


This particular point is good to re-stress at this point. Keeping the commandments can't save you, because you can't keep the commandments. But God, having given you a new heart that is not desperately sick will cause you to seek Him and walk in His commandments. The order is significant. God does not say, keep my commandments and then I will love you, rather, He says, I love you and died for you, now keep my commandments out of love for me. We actually see this in Exodus 20 when the law is presented as well:

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me...

Exodus 20:1-3, ESV

God has freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, then He gives them His law. He doesn't say, keep my commandments then I will free you from slavery. In the same way, God freed us from our slavery to sin, and now we want to keep the law. Not the other way around.


Conclusion

Either you realize the depravity of man (including yourself) and pray to God to reach out to you, or you don't. You can debate with us for years into the future, but in the end, either the Holy Spirit will soften your heart and you will see the hard truth, or He won't. In either case, it will be in accordance with your will and attitude towards God. Throughout Scripture and history, God reveals Himself to the humble and hides from the proud. If you look around you and see no sign of God, perhaps you should not feel a sense of smug confidence in his absence, but rather, a terrible fear.


References

[1] Ligonier Ministries. 2020. What Does the Gospel Mean?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-gospel/. [Accessed 07 July 2020].


[2] Blue Letter Bible. 2020. G2098 - euangelion - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV). [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g2098. [Accessed 07 July 2020].


[3] St. Paul Center. 2020. What Is Moral Therapeutic Deism and Why Does it Fail? | St. Paul Center. [ONLINE] Available at: https://stpaulcenter.com/what-is-moral-therapeutic-deism-and-why-does-it-fail/. [Accessed 07 July 2020].


[4] THE THREEFOLD USE OF THE LAW by R.C. Sproul. 2020. THE THREEFOLD USE OF THE LAW by R.C. Sproul. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/threefold_law.html. [Accessed 08 July 2020].


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