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What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

A Google search on What is the Gospel (and similar phrases) results in several dozen sites (not to mention books) that define and describe what the gospel encompass. They range in emphasis and content from what the gospel is, means, and implies. This blog is to follow in the same footsteps – perhaps building upon language that has been helpful to many of us in our Christian maturity. Hence, I’m not saying new things but affirming and perhaps clarifying old things.


The Gospel of God


We cannot talk about the gospel without first identifying the source. In Paul’s prologue in Romans 1:1, we see the phrase “εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ” (“the gospel of God”). Here, the word “θεοῦ” (“God”) is used in a genitive case that denotes possession. In Greek the possessing noun often comes before the genitive, which in this instance, is the word “εὐαγγέλιον” (“gospel”). In essence, what Paul is saying is that this gospel belongs to God. We affirm that the Gospel entrusted to the church is, in the first instance, God’s Gospel (Mark 1:14; Rom. 1:1). God is its author, and he reveals it to us in and by his Word. Its authority and truth rest on him alone.[1]


The Gospel Succinctly


The word “gospel” derives from the Anglo-Saxon term “godspell,” meaning “good tidings” or “good news.” The Greek word euangelion (“gospel”) and its verbal cognate euangelizomai (“evangelize” or “speak good news”) together occur more than 150 times in the New Testament.[2] In a period of history without print media or radio or television, the messenger with the good news delivered the news in person. It was spoken as an announcement. It had a celebrative feel to it. The messenger exulted over the news he had to bring. It was good news.[3]


Thus, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a celebrative announcement that the Messiah has come to save the world (Matt. 1:21, Rom. 10:13, Luke 19:10, Titus 2:11, Acts 16:31, Heb. 5:9, 1 Tim. 1:15, John 12:47). Christ not only delivered the good news (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15), he in and of himself is the good news. Succinctly, the good news is the thing (Jesus Christ) that saves sinners from their sin and reconciles us to a holy God.[4]


What the Gospel is Not


God uses human language to communicate his truths to us. Protestant evangelicals believe the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are the inerrant and infallible Word of God. However, though the gospel permeates throughout Scripture, not all of Scripture is the gospel. Here are several biblical words that capture the essence of the gospel but are not the gospel.


Faith is not the Gospel. The author of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Faith is, in essence, trusting in God which is fundamental to our Christian belief. It is the vehicle in which God uses to bring salvation to his elect. Faith is the means through which the work and merit of Christ are applied to us.[5] In other words, the quality of our faith does not save us but the object of our faith who is Christ Jesus that saves us.[6]


Repentance is not the Gospel. While faith is turning toward Christ, repentance is turning away from sin, hating it, and resolving by God’s strength to forsake it,[7] – it means “to undergo a change of one’s mind.”[8] Faith and repentance are opposite sides of the same coin. As faith is continuous throughout the Christian life, repentance never ceases as well. Thus, repentance in and of itself does not save us but is the immediate (and on-going) fruit of genuine faith.[9]


“Jesus is Lord” is not the Gospel. This is magnificent news that “Jesus is Lord” – most certainly all saints shall worship him forever. However, as Lord, he judges impartially, and without a savior, we all deserve death. It should be obvious by now that to say simply that “Jesus is Lord” is really not good news at all if we don’t explain how Jesus is not just Lord but also Savior.[10] Hence, “Jesus is Lord” is not the gospel.


‘Fill in the blank’ is not the Gospel. Good news is good regardless whether it invades bad places. Ontologically, it must be personal – relational in essence. Thus, good news cannot be a concept – an immaterial, abstract ideology. Likewise, good news cannot be a derivative for by its nature is dependent on a [main] source. Although we see concepts and derivatives (meaning symbols, motifs, typology, themes, etc.) in Scripture interwoven with the good news, they are not the good news. The final analysis is that the good news must be a good relational source.[11] Jesus Christ – his life, death, and resurrection is the gospel, and any other ‘fill in the blank’ are not.


The Gospel in Scripture – Narrow and Broad Sense


Greg Gilbert wrote a fascinating article at www.9marks.org called What is the Gospel? where he talks about the Bible using “the gospel” in a narrow and broad sense.

As I read it, the Bible seems to use the word “gospel” in two different, but highly related, ways. Sometimes it uses “gospel” in a very broad way, that is, to describe all the promises that God intends to fulfill in Christ, including not only forgiveness of sin, but also everything else that flows from it—the establishment of the kingdom, the new heavens and new earth, etc. There are other times, though, where it uses “gospel” in a very narrow way, that is, to describe specifically the forgiveness of sins through the substitutionary death and resurrection of Christ. In those places, the broader promises don’t seem to be so much in view.[12]

There are identifiable passages where the apostles wrote specifically on the narrow sense of the gospel. The focus here is on the forgiveness of sin through the substitutionary death and resurrection of Christ. In Acts 10:36-43, verse 36 says, “preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ,” ending in verse 43 with “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” In Romans 1:16-17, verse 16 says, “it [gospel] is the power of God for salvation,” then in verse 17, it says, “for in it [gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.”


Likewise, there are identifiable passages where “gospel” is used in the broad sense – the promises that God intends to fulfill in Christ. The phrase “gospel of the kingdom” is used several times in the book of Matthews (4:23, 9:35, & 24:14) and once in Mark (1:14) identifying the kingdom promise of the gospel. In Acts 13:32, the good news is to bring “what God promised to the fathers.”


Gilbert made an insightful observation between the relationship of the narrow and broad senses. Jesus did not preach the gospel saying “The kingdom of heaven has come!” He preached the gospel saying, “The kingdom of heaven has come. Therefore repent and believe!” This is crucial, the difference indeed between Gospel and not-Gospel.[13] In other words, proclaiming the promises of the kingdom of God without proclaiming the way to enter by Christ Jesus is not the gospel. This supports my conclusion that a good relational source which is Jesus Christ is the gospel and everything else are derivatives – implications; language describing the gospel.


Lastly, there are several passages where neither the narrow nor the broad sense of the word “gospel” are distinguishable. In Acts 8:25, it says, “preaching the gospel to many villages.” In Acts 14:7, it says, “they continued to preach the gospel.” In Acts 16:10, it says, “God has called us to preach the gospel to them.” In these instances, one can emphatically infer that the narrow sense was proclaimed and highly probable that the broad sense was as well.


What is the Gospel


In New Testament terms, the gospel is the proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ – plus how the benefits of that work can be appropriated to us by faith and by faith alone. So, the gospel has a narrow definition: it’s the message about Jesus.[14] Notice, the definition has several vital points that require a thorough examination to truly capture the essence of the gospel. First, the gospel is a proclamation. I stand firm as I stated earlier that Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel, however, the good message that goes out; being announced and proclaimed cannot be undermined. The active proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is an intrinsic part of the definition of the gospel. Second, the gospel is the person of Christ. In Philippians 2:5-7, Paul writes in verse 6 that Christ “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.” Notice, the paradoxical language of form of God and form of a servant. MacArthur elaborates this further:

Form (morphe) does not mean that Christ became a slave only in appearance, nor that he was God merely in external appearance. Paul does not use the usual Greek word for “being” here. Instead, the apostle employs another term that stresses the essence of a person’s nature – his continuous state or condition. He also uses the Greek word for “form” that specifically denotes the essential, unchanging character of something – what it is in and of itself.

In other words, Christ is truly God and truly man. Because we were alienated from God by sin, we needed someone to come between God and us to bring us back to him. We needed a mediator who could represent us to God and who could represent God to us.[15] Christ being truly God and truly man is that mediator. Flowing from the second point, third, the gospel is the work of Christ. There are two aspects of Christ’s work – his active and passive obedience. If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven.[16] For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us.[17] In addition to obeying the law perfectly for his whole life on our behalf, Christ also took on himself the suffering necessary to pay the penalty for our sins.[18] Hence, not only did Christ died for our sins (passive obedience) but also lived for our righteousness (active obedience). Lastly, the gospel is the message of how the benefits of Christ’s work can be applied to us. Paul says in Romans 3:23, “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.” Therefore, faith alone is the vehicle God uses to impute the work and merit of Christ onto us. We cannot do anything in and of ourselves to merit God’s favor – His forgiveness of sins and righteousness in his presence. However, by the grace of God, this faith by grace is also a gift from God. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So, a part of the gospel is the message of the good news in obtaining the benefits of Christ’s work (God’s Kingdom, eternal life, salvation, heaven, glorification, etc.).


Conclusion


Perhaps a blog for another occasion but some may find it helpful to provide a framework for the necessity for the gospel. God, man, Christ, response is such a framework that is practical and can be useful for evangelistic conversations. For now, let the content of this blog be a stepping stone in your maturity in the knowledge of the Holies. Most importantly, may we take away the essence of the gospel so that we can articulate it in a way that is honoring to God and uplifting to the body of believers.

 

***footnotes***

[1] R.C. Sproul. What Is the Gospel? (Crucial Questions) (pp. 3-4). Reformation Trust Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[2] Greg D. Gilbert. “The Gospel,” The NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 2686.

[3] John Piper. God is the Gospel. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 22. Scribd.

[4] Jon Moffitt, Justin Perdue, and Jimmy Buehler, hosts, “What Is-and Is Not-the Gospel?” Theocast (podcast), January 27, 2021, accessed March 22, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmrZA951WYU&t=1079s.

[5] Jon Moffitt, Justin Perdue, and Jimmy Buehler, hosts, “What Is-and Is Not-the Gospel?” Theocast (podcast), January 27, 2021, accessed March 22, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmrZA951WYU&t=1079s.

[6] I would argue “quality of faith” is idolatry.

[7] Greg Gilbert. What is the Gospel? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 79.

[8] R.C. Sproul. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992), 193.

[9] R.C. Sproul. Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2014), 239.

[10] Greg Gilbert. What is the Gospel? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 104.

[11] “Source” by nature denotes origin although I did not explicitly state it.

[12] Greg Gilbert. “What is the Gospel,” 9Marks, June 13, 2014, March 31, 2021 accessed, https://www.9marks.org/article/what-is-the-gospel/.

[13] Ibid.

[14] R.C. Sproul. “What is the Gospel,” 2015 Ligonier National Conference, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhhgyDnrILQ&t=87s.

[15] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020). 676.

[16] Ibid, 707.

[17] Ibid, 707.

[18] Ibid, 709.

 

Robert Y. Yang (BS, Purdue University) has been married to Tey for over 12 years, and has faithfully served the local church in many different capacities; elder, treasurer, and national leader. He is currently pursuing an MDiv at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and, also, is an integral part of the launch team at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Robert and Tey are passionate about missionary engagement and hope to see their lives used toward this end.

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