“Repeat after me. I believe....that Jesus is the Christ....the Son of the living God.”
Many evangelicals have professed these words, either in prayer or proclamation, to publicly affirm their belief in the Christian ‘Gospel.’
However, there’s a problem within the evangelical world regarding Gospel clarity. As 9Marks’ Greg Gilbert states in his book, What is the Gospel?, “Ask any hundred self-professed evangelical Christians what the good news of Jesus is, and you’re likely to get about sixty different answers.”
Rather than taking the easy way out and allowing a clash of interpretation to cause us to simply throw in the towel, we must dig deeper into the Bible (first) and biblical resources (second) to find the answer.
What does the word “Gospel” mean?
The term “gospel” means simply, “good news”.
In Christianity, the Gospel has four parts that are exemplified throughout Scripture:
1. God is Creator (Isaiah 42:5), holy (Psalm 7:13), and the only One worthy of worship (Psalm 95:6). As such, He has the right to judge sin (turning away from the character and law of God) (1 Chronicles 16:33-34). For more about God’s character, see “Who is God?”
2. While the first humans were created without sin or imperfection (Genesis 1:26), they challenged the goodness of God and decided to sin (Genesis 3), perforating the relationship between God and mankind. No longer could man be in the direct presence of God. Sin distances man from his Maker and makes him guilty of sin and therefore punishable by God’s law (Ephesians 2:1-3).
3. Jesus, God the Son, came into the world to live a perfect life (Hebrews 4:15) and to save sinners who were to be judged under God’s law (John 1:29). He did this by trading his righteousness for our sin and dying for us on the cross.
4. Those who believe in Him are saved from death, but more importantly, saved to life with Jesus forever (Romans 5:11).
Or, simply, as 9Marks states, the Gospel is: God, Man, Jesus, Response.
According to Dr. John Piper, “The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the righteous one, died for our sins, rose again, eternally triumphant over all of his enemies so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe but everlasting joy.”
So, what's the problem?
I know, I know. I can hear you now. If you are a Christian, you’re probably thinking, ‘Okay, yes, I already believe all that. So, where is the discrepancy?’
The truth is that many Christians and entire churches believe that the whole point of the Gospel is for salvation. Once a person is saved from hell, the rest of their Christian walk is comprised of being good: do good things, think nice thoughts, and cut down on the cussing.
As a friend put it once, “I was inadvertently taught that I was saved by Grace, but kept by works.”
In his book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, JD Greear speaks of the frustration that comes with such a mindset. “No matter how many rules I kept and how disciplined my life was, I walked around with an ever-present sense of guilt. In the deepest part of my heart, I knew-knew-God was not really pleased with me, because there was always something I could be doing better.”
If I feel I’ve mastered the basics and now I just have to get down to work, I will quickly become discouraged and my faith will become stale. Instead of falling deeper in love with my Savior and spending my life growing closer to Him, I will become bitter, disenchanted, or even legalistic in the way that I view the Christian life.
You see, the Gospel is not the kindergarten of Christianity. It’s impossible to move on to the harder stuff of the Bible. This is the hard stuff.
The Gospel is for the Christian too
“(The Gospel) is invaluable in both evangelism and discipleship,” says David Mathis, of Desiring God. The good news of Jesus is not only for conversion, but also for the rest of the Christian’s life. Understanding that God is good and man is full of sin and needs Jesus as Savior, should impact everything in a Christian’s world.
The key to understanding the Gospel is that the real prize isn’t heaven. It’s God Himself.
1 Peter 3:18 says (emphasis mine):
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
Catch that. Jesus died on the cross so that he might bring us to God. Not so that we would have a good life. Not so that we would do great things, or even that one day we will be perfect in heaven. His death was so that we may be in the presence of God.
When I believe this message of the Gospel, my whole view shifts. My life becomes a gift. My family, job, home are blessings from a God who loves me so much that, in spite of my wicked heart, died for me. My life is one of worship because it is no longer my own, but my Creator’s. My acts of service to Him are not obligations, but because I ‘get to go to work with Dad’, as my pastor says.
Greear acknowledges a change in perception when he realized the true meaning of the Gospel. “‘Rediscovering’ the Gospel has given me a joy in God I never experienced in all my years of fervent religion.”
So, where are you today? Are you at the beginning, not really sure you even believe the Gospel? Are you a believer just trying to do the ‘Christian’ things to earn a ticket to heaven? Or are you so amazed with the saving power of Christ that your heart is overwhelmed at the gift of God Himself?
I pray that we will identify where we are and seek to dig deeper together in understanding of who God is and what He has done for us.
Let us always remember that God IS the Gospel.
See you in the Round,
For more information on What is the Gospel?, please check out the following:
Article: How I forgot the Gospel from Desiring God
Article: We Really Need the Gospel from Desiring God
Book: Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, by JD Greear (Kindle sale right now for $1.99!)
Book: What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert, 9Marks
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."