What is the Gospel?

Some of you probably read this blog title and perhaps thought, “Great, I already know what the gospel is. I go to church every week and pray and listen to Christian music on my iPod.  Why in the world would I need to read more about the gospel?”  Still, some of you may have thought, “I think I know what the gospel is, but then again, maybe I don’t. I’m not quite sure.  I believe it, but can’t explain it well.”   Whether you are not sure of what the gospel is or have been a follower of Jesus for ten years, it is important to know what the gospel is. Knowing the meaning of the gospel and preaching it to yourself daily is a must.  It will make Christ the center of your mind, thoughts, deeds, words, life, and worship.  It will keep your eyes focused on Jesus, who he is and what he has done, as opposed to you, who you are, and what you have done.

So, what is the gospel?  The word gospel means “good news”.  When you wind down late in the evening and watch the 10 o’clock news you are listening to a series of events that have occurred successively throughout that day.  The news being reported to you is usually sad and filled with grief, despair, crime, and loss of life.  In a nutshell, the 10 o’clock evening news is chock-full of the sin of humans in this world.  There is nothing you can do about these occurrences, because they have already transpired and are being reported to you with detail as they unfolded.  All you can do watch and listen.

First, I want to argue that the gospel must be the center of the Christian’s life because the entire Bible’s main focus and goal from Genesis to Revelation is to point to Jesus Christ.  Everything in Scripture points back to Christ.  Many people are afraid of preaching from the Old Testament because they feel it is ancient and irrelevant and full of strange laws that we break today, such as wearing two fabrics that do not match in our clothing.  We cut our hair.  We eat pork…That’s a different topic that deserves a different blog post but you get the idea.  2 Timothy 3:16 states the following, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” So the Old Testament can be used to preach the gospel and point people to Jesus and the cross.  Jesus also told the religious people in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”  I believe Jesus was also referring to the New Testament which had not yet been written at the time he said this.  So if the focus of the Bible is to point to Christ and the apex of God’s sovereign will in the course of human history (that his own Son be crucified on a cross, sustaining and absorbing God’s wrath for my sin) shouldn’t that be the apex of our lives, our church, our preaching, teaching, and our worship?  Yes, and rightfully so.

Here is a summary of the gospel news from Genesis to Revelation. In Genesis, God created the universe and everything that is in it.  He created planet Earth and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They enjoyed perfect communion with God until they deliberately disobeyed God and sinned against him. This sin or “The Fall” was a cataclysmic event that changed everything for everyone thereafter.  Man became sinful and inherited a corrupt, guilty nature in the eyes of God.  Man is now mortal and is separated spiritually from God eternally. God then proclaims the gospel in Genesis 3:15.  He tells the serpent who tricked Eve that there will be enmity between the serpent and the woman and between both their offspring. The offspring of the woman will crush the serpent’s head but the serpent will get a chance to strike the woman’s offspring’s heel. God showed us he was taking the initiative in restoring and reconciling us back to him.  Eve’s offspring is Jesus whom the serpent will strike but in the end Jesus will crush its head when he dies on a cross and provides atonement for sins and resurrects, defeating death.

Sin is so rampant that God decides to wipe out the earth through the flood. In His grace He saves Noah, his family, and the animals and makes a covenant with a rainbow that he will never again do that to humanity.  This is foreshadowing his covenant through Jesus- pledging never again to remember our sins!  Genesis 12-50 begins to paint a picture of God selecting a people who will represent him, starting with Abraham and his offspring.  In Exodus, God frees his people (who are chosen by his grace and not their merits), and establishes a covenant that sets out the terms for how the people will relate to God. In Leviticus, we see God outlining sacrifices that must take place, pointing to a future sacrifice – Christ, Jesus. The point of the law in Leviticus is to point out our inability to fulfill it and shed light on the fact that we need a savior to fulfill it for us. We later see the nation of Israel being governed by judges, then kings. God sends prophets to the nation to speak the words of God to them, and they also foreshadow the coming of a savior.  Malachi is the last prophet to speak to Israel before a 435 year prophetic drought until a man named John the Baptist begins to be God’s mouthpiece.

John the Baptist began to preach in Matthew 3:1, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.”  People came for baptism and repentance.  They represent the true people of God – his remnant.  Salvation is not inherited because you’re an Israelite, but being born of the Spirit.  A man named Jesus, whom the prophets of old predicted, is born of a virgin and is baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus proclaims the same message as John the Baptist in Matthew 4:12, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.”  Jesus began to preach and interpret the Law of the Old Testament truthfully.  He lived a pure, sinless life thus fulfilling the entire Law.  Eventually Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, and was tried unfairly resulting in a death sentence.  Jesus, who became a perfect sacrifice on the cross, experienced for the first time abandonment from God the Father.   Then the sins of the world were cast upon his shoulders, and God’s holiness and justice demanded that he turn his back on his own son. Jesus died and paid the penalty of our sins.  He resurrected, assuring the payment of sins and ascended into heaven.  The apostles began to spread the gospel in the Middle East and throughout the Mediterranean.  Churches were planted and a man formerly known as Saul (now Paul) began to preach the good news of Jesus and wrote most of the New Testament.  Some years later, the apostle John saw a vision where Jesus appeared to him and revealed to him the book of Revelation.  Revelation states that one day Jesus will return to earth, judge the wicked, and cast them into the hell for eternal punishment and will consummate his kingdom for those who believed in Him.  His redeemed will live with and worship Him for all eternity.

The entire Bible sets the stage for the gospel message and for Jesus….let this sink in.

The news we listen to on our televisions isn’t full of bad things because of a lack of education, lack of resources, lack of nourishment, lack of power, lack of love, lack of energy efficient methods, or even the lack of tolerance. The number one problem humanity has is our own SIN.   The gospel’s message is two-fold.  The first message deals with who we are and what we can’t do.  It makes us aware of the “magnitude of our debt”’, as J.I. Packer puts it.  You are sinful.  There is a corrupt, guilty nature in you that we all inherited when Adam sinned.   You cannot be saved from the wrath of a holy God by being good on your own accord.  Your sin separates you from God for all eternity. Even though God expects you to, you cannot fulfill all 613 laws in the Old Testament. You are not a good person. You cannot be nice enough and expect to go to heaven. You cannot see God unless you are holy. God has set out His law and expects everyone to obey it fully, but not one of us is totally able to fulfill it!

The second message the gospel exposes who Jesus is and what he can do.  It takes our eyes off our massive debt and shifts it to the magnitude of God’s provision.  Notice the contrast between the two parts of the message. Jesus is sinless, pure and righteous (Hebrews 4:15). He is the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). He took the wrath of God on your behalf (Romans 3:25-26). He is morally pure. He reconciles man to God (2 Corinthians 5:19).  He fulfilled the entire Law (Matthew 5:17).  He lived the life you should have lived and then he died the death you should have died.  Believe in Him and in His name.  In other words, believe in who He is and what He has already done for you.

Tim Keller wrote on his twitter account just recently, “The gospel shows us a Law that must be fulfilled (destroying pride) and a Savior that fulfills it completely for us (destroying despair).”  You see the evening news leave us hopeless, angry and looking within ourselves for an answer.  The gospel gives us the hope, joy and looking to Jesus for the answer.  The beauty of the gospel is that at the cross, we became Jesus’ sin, and Jesus became our righteousness.  God treated Jesus as he should have treated you and I, and he treats you and I as he should have treated Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Here’s my question to you now that you know what the gospel message is.  Is the gospel central to your life?  Are you depending on anything/anyone outside of Christ for your salvation? Are you depending on your sinful, blemished record or the sinless, spotless record of Christ?  Are you trying to add anything to what Christ has already done for you? A problem we have today in our churches is that a large amount of our attendees believe they are saved because of how long ago they haven’t committed a certain sin.  They depend on their behavior modification for their salvation rather than Christ who will bring about behavior transformation inwardly as a result of the power of the gospel.  That is why it is crucial for the church’s pulpit to proclaim the gospel to nonbelievers and believers alike. Nonbelievers need to be exposed to the gospel message to highlight their abysmal need for a savior.  Believers need to be exposed to the gospel constantly for the same reason and so they do not depend on themselves or anything else to be their functional savior.  That is idolatry.  Living a life in light of the gospel means we do everything because we are already in Christ, not to get into Christ.  All other religions have a one-fold gospel. They outline and instruct what one must do in order to achieve their salvation.  It is therefore a false gospel that does nothing to point a person toward salvation but to one’s own efforts.  All other religions instruct us to try harder and be better.  Jesus however, doesn’t tell us to be better or try harder.  He tells us to repent, and after repenting we can rest from all of our useless efforts to win favor from God (Matthew 11:28).

There is no more complete, succinct, efficient, powerful, wonderful message to preach other than the gospel.  We must stay focused on the gospel.  Straying away from it is to seek a different, false, futile gospel.  Don’t be ashamed of the gospel and underestimate its power to save with your eloquent words on top of it (Romans 1:16).  Let us rejoice and embrace the good news of the gospel. As C.S. Lewis once said, “The gospel is not good advice.  It’s good news.  Let us then rejoice and embrace these news.  Learn the gospel; preach it well to all, and preach it to yourself daily.  I can’t but Jesus did.