In our desire to understand the right response to the gospel, it is never inappropriate to ask the question, “What is the gospel?” Since the Author of the Bible insists that the gospel is the very empowerment of His salvation, we would be derelict of our duties to not take a moment and define the term.
This is a good question, and one that needs to be asked. We shouldn’t take for granted that everyone understands what we mean when we say gospel, nor should we be so arrogant to assume we’ve come to a perfect understanding of this simple, yet so complex act of God. The gospel is about what God has done for us, not so much about what we do with it, although that is of utmost importance also. If faith comes through the hearing of this good news, then we by all means need to hear and know what the gospel is. So then, what is the gospel?
“Rightly dividing the Word” may be a good way to describe how we distinguish what in the Bible is the gospel and what is not. What we mean by this is that everything written in God’s Word is not gospel defining, although everything is gospel directing.
For example, the creation account and the fall of man explain to us God’s intent and our dilemma, while the call to faith shows us the right channel the gospel travels, but none of these are the gospel itself. They are revelations that direct us toward the need for the gospel and how we can benefit from its saving power.
In its basic definition, the gospel is news about what Jesus did to make our relationship right with God. So the gospel is God’s good news. It is the report of the incarnation (God becomes man), the substitution (God pays the penalty for man), and the reign (Jesus is victorious over death and sin, and has now all authority). This is the gospel.
Paul summarized the gospel of Jesus Christ this way. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).”
We see then that the gospel is not something we do, but something that has been done for us. God has reconciled His fallen image-bearers to Himself through the finished work of Christ. It is good news and it is good news that must be responded to.
The gospel is not good advice though. It’s not something that’s optional, something that we can take or leave. There is no generic brand X available for those who aren’t interested in the authentic gospel. There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1Timothy 2:5). And all are commanded by God Himself to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30), because one day He will judge the world according to the same righteousness Jesus gives to those He saves. There is no other hope for the lost and the sinful; we must place our trust in the good news of Jesus’ provision.
We find in the gospel account a loving Lord and Savior who was not willing that His people should perish. Imagine a love so great that He took upon Himself even the very wrath we deserve. As we begin to realize the beautiful wonder of the gospel, we respond rightly with adoration, worship, praise, thanksgiving, and service, all through faith. Faith that is born not out of external influence, but from a well within springing forth unto eternal life.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is news… Good News! It is meant to be announced! “God saves sinners!”