What is the Gospel?

gospelIn 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 we read the words of Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit,

“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”.

One of the points Paul is making in this passage is the gospel not only saves us Christians; the gospel also sustains us. Moreover, it is the gospel which is of first importance. Our lives as Christ-followers calls us to orient who we are and what we do around the gospel. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial for the Christian to discern what the gospel is they have believed in and share. The first step towards being discerning in our learning is to discern what the gospel is. We discern the gospel by turning the authority of God’s Word, specifically 1 Corinthians 15. Verses 3 and 4 give u a glimpse of the content of the gospel: Christ’s death for sins, His burial, and His resurrection on the third day. However, to get a full grasp of the gospel, we need to look at the beginning. We can use the simple framework of God-Man-Christ-Response.

God

The gospel begins with God. From Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”, we must recognize the fact God is our Creator and because He is so, He owns our lives and is King. God owns us because He created us (Psalm 24:1). As human beings, we have been made in God’s image to reflect His glory (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 11:33-36). As He has called creation, we see God is a good God (Genesis 1). He is also self-sustaining, self-sufficient, and changeless. He is a holy and perfect God, distinct and transcendent and righteous completely. In His holiness and greatness, then, He has made us to glorify Him and be in relationship with Him. Yet, something has happened.

Man

The problem is humanity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). God warned Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:17 that if they disobeyed His command they would suffer the consequence of death. In perfect union and relationship with God were Adam and Eve warned. But then the Fall came in Genesis 3:1-14. Through the deception of the Serpent, Adam and Eve rejected God their Creator as their King and sinned. What followed their rebellion against God was the breaking of a relationship with Him. Because of their sin, they had to be punished. God, who is just, cannot and does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7). God, the Holy and Righteous One, warned Adam and Eve of the consequences of sin and passed on judgment to them. They no longer were able to live in the presence of God and faced spiritual death, leading to physical death (Genesis 3:23-24). We face the same reality. We have fallen short of our creational intent to glorify God. We have suppressed the truth and exchanged the worship of God for created and unworthy things (Romans 1:18-25). Our problem is not that we need better lives now, we need to be wealthy, or whatever else we are sold will make our life complete. For humanity to know what their problem is, they must look at the Bible. The issue is we have rebelled against God and we are sinners. What we deserve due to our sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we are enmity with God. While we can try to make ourselves right with God, we will never be able to be so perfect and holy to satisfy Him. But, praise be to God, the story does not end there. This would make it bad news. We cannot save ourselves but Someone else can…

Christ

This Someone who can fix the problem, be the solution to the problem was the One who was promised in Genesis 3:15 as “The Seed”. This Person is Jesus Christ. In love, God sent Him, the second person of the Trinity, to save sinners and give eternal life (John 3:16). Even while God knew we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Born of a virgin, Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man, thus God incarnate (John 1:1, 14). He lived the perfect and sinless life God required (Hebrews 4:15) and faced the judgment and wrath of God on the cross. God still had to punish sin and because of Christ, He is both just and Justifier (Romans 3:26). Christ became our substitute, dying the death we deserved (Isaiah 53:4-5), by being a propitiation, absorbing God’s wrath for us, in His death (Romans 3:24-25). He became sin who knew no sin so that we could be found righteous in God’s sight (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through Christ’s death and resurrection dead people can be made alive (Ephesians 2:1-10) and through Christ can rebellious sinners have eternal life (Romans 5:12-21). Now, while that all sounds good, how can this truly be Good News unless we understand how we are involved in this? As mentioned, we are sinners who cannot save ourselves from death and destruction, but we do need a Savior. In other words, how are we to respond to this Good News?

Response

Knowing we cannot save ourselves, we cannot justify ourselves before God by our own works. We have to look to the person and work of Christ to be saved. Therefore, our response to the gospel is repentance and faith. We are called to repent of our sins (Acts 2:38), turn from them in the asking forgiveness for them, and believe in the gospel. Confess Jesus as Lord and King of your life, allow Him to transform your heart, and place your faith and trust solely in Him (Romans 10:9-13). What do we exactly mean by faith? Greg Gilbert explains, “faith is reliance and promise-founded trust in the risen Jesus to save you from sin” (Romans 4:18-21). The gospel demands we give a response. We either choose to reject the gospel, and face the consequences of sin and rebellion, or by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), we can be saved through repentance and faith. When we do the latter, we are given the Holy Spirit and are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).

In summary, the gospel is the truth we are all sinners in need of salvation only found in Jesus Christ. Our problem is not outside of ourselves. There are false gospels which tell you “so and so” is your problem but they miss the seriousness of it all. Our first and most important problem is our sin and rebellion against God. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can save us from the just and rightful wrath of God. So, my friend, if you are not a Christian, my hope is you would look at your life, and realize in discerning what your problem is, you would come to the rightful conclusion of your sinful condition and your need for Jesus. My prayer is you would repent of your sins and trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. For you Christ-followers, rest in this gospel. Resolve to share the message of the true gospel with all those around you, answering for them the question, “What is the gospel?”

Recommended Resources

This small book (a little over 100 pages) is a great summary of the gospel. Gilbert works through God the Righteous Creator, Man the Sinner, Jesus Christ the Savior, and the Response of Faith and Repentance, keeping the cross at the center as he points to the authority of the Bible. This resource would be great to give a non-Christian who is interested in learning more about the gospel and excellent for Christians who desire to better articulate the Good News.

In Matt Chandler’s work, he goes through the same outline of God-Man-Christ-Response. What makes The Explicit Gospel distinct is looking at the Good News from two vantage points, (1) the gospel on the ground and (2) the gospel in the air (Creation-Fall-Reconciliation-Consummation). The latter is much less addressed in evangelical circles but the reality is the Bible calls us to both the gospel on the ground and in the air. God has saved each one of us personally but He also has greater redemptive plan at play. The three last chapters of Chandler’s book address the dangers in the gospel on the ground too long, dangers in a gospel in the air too long, and the faultiness of moralism without the cross (chapters 9-11). Those three chapters alone are worth the read.

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