16 Apr 2024

What is the gospel?

It seems like such a simple question, doesn’t it?  Four little words.  And three of them are “what”, “is”, and “the”.

The other is “gospel.”

Simple, right?

So, what is the gospel?

Let’s start with the definition of “gospel” – Old English “god” (good) and “spel” (news). And, since Greek came before Old English, the Greek word we get “gospel” from is εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) which literally means “glad tidings, good, or joyful news.” As an aside, care to guess why people who bring good news are called evangelists?

Imagine reading the sports section in the Dallas Morning News on January 31st, 1994 and seeing the headline “BACK TO BACK CHAMPS!”  Good news indeed! 

Unless you were a Bills fan.

Or hated the Cowboys.

Imagine waking up on the morning of Tuesday, May 8th, 1945 to see this headline:  “VICTORY!  Nazis reveal surrender to Western Allies, Russia.”  Great news indeed. 

Unless you were a Nazi.

In both of those cases, news was delivered.  In both of those cases, the news was received in different ways.  To some, the news was good.  To others, the news was bad.  But in both cases, the news was the news regardless of how it was received – the Cowboys did win back to back Super Bowls – their victory was not changed because some people didn’t like it.  The Allies did defeat the Axis – their victory was not changed because some people didn’t like it.  Those things happened, and the papers proclaimed it.

It was news.

But, in both of those cases, the “goodness” of the news was totally subjective. The “goodness” of this news is determined at best by the majority using completely and utterly subjective standards, in fact, we see very bad news being trumpeted as good news today. Even that statement I made is completely subjective if not for some absolute moral standard.

And here’s where we come to – what defines whether something is good or not?

Is it the masses? Is it a select few in an ivory tower somewhere? Is there no such thing as good and bad?

No in all those cases.

Because there is a God.

And He defines good and bad and right and wrong. It is only because of that fact that we can even claim to call things good or bad and have it mean anything at all. If God calls a thing good, that thing is good no matter what.

So what about the gospel of God? What does He call it?

God calls His gospel good.

Since God says the gospel is “good news” then it is good no matter what we think about it, no matter how we receive it, no matter if we reject it, no matter even if we hate it. We can’t define its goodness because God has already called it good. It is good because God says so.  Period.

So, what is the gospel?

Well, here is a pretty good, succinct definition.

1 Corinthians 15:1–5 (ESV) (1) Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, (2) and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (3) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (5) and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  

In a nutshell, the gospel, the “good news”, is that Christ died for sinners, He was buried, He rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures, and He proved Himself alive.

Wow.  Maybe it is simple after all.

But here comes the hard part – what do you focus most on when you preach the gospel?  What do you hear most when you hear the gospel preached?  When I first heard the gospel, I was told that I was a sinner and that I could be saved. I was told that I had to ask Jesus into my heart, that Jesus loved me and wanted a relationship with me, because I was a sinner, because I was far from God.  Most of the “gospel” I heard was not found in the definition of the gospel from 1 Corinthians 15.

But God saved me anyway.  Praise Him that He can draw a straight line with a crooked stick!

According to the scriptures, the gospel, the “good news”, has nothing at all to do with how we receive it.  The good news is not “you can be saved.” Though that’s true, the good news of the gospel is not like the potential good news of a lottery – “if you buy this ticket, you could win a million dollars”. Nor is it even “pray and ask Jesus into your heart.” That may be what someone who receives the good news does, but it is not the good news.

“Jesus loves you?” That may indeed be good news, but it’s only good because of what Jesus’ love did – it drove Him to leave heaven, to live a life we couldn’t live, to die a death we deserved, to rise in a victory we couldn’t win, and to forever live! Sounds like 1 Corinthians 15 a bit, doesn’t it? The only reason we should rejoice that Jesus loves us is because of the good news of His victory. If He remained dead, it wouldn’t matter at all.

What about “asking Jesus into your heart”? That’s not even news, let alone good news.  

“You can survive being knocked unconscious in a boating accident if you only return to consciousness!” – that’s not news, and it’s certainly not good news!  Good news would be “You were knocked out when the boat flipped and hit your head, but the rescue team saved you!”

The gospel is better than “if”, better than “could”, better than “possible”.  The gospel is better than “wake up”, or “try harder”, or “swim better”. 

The gospel is “it is finished.”  The gospel is “Christ lived, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and defeated death.”

What’s better news – “if you continue to make your mortgage payments, you’ll own your house outright in 25 years!” or “Hey, I saw you still had 25 years on your mortgage so I paid it off for you.”?

And if it stopped there, it would still be good news.

But there’s more…

…He did all that for sinners.

And you are a sinner, and I am a sinner, and every mere human who ever lived or died, was and is and will be a sinner.

And now it’s great news!

That’s the news that must be proclaimed.  When we “preach the gospel”, if we don’t preach Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection, we have failed.  If we simply say “believe in Jesus and you will be saved”, though this is true and vital, it is not the gospel.  Remember, our response to the gospel is not the gospel.

Everyone will react to the gospel. Everyone will receive it in some way. Whether you receive the gospel with joy or whether you reject it as mythology does not change its goodness.

Before Jesus was crucified, He spoke of the gospel as simply “The kingdom of God is at hand”…

Mark 1:14–15(14) Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, (15) and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (ESV)

Notice how He separates the proclamation of gospel (“the kingdom of God is at hand”) from the response to the gospel (“repent and believe”). We know this is separate and distinct because He calls us to believe in the gospel. How much sense would it make if Jesus was saying “repent and believe in repenting and believing!”

And again He says…

Mark 16:15–16(15) And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. (16) Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (ESV)

Basically, “Go and preach the good news! Some people will believe it and be saved.  Some people will not believe it and remain condemned.”

Notice again how He separates the proclamation gospel from the response to the gospel.

Preaching the gospel will certainly elicit a response.  But never forget – the gospel is still good news even if everyone you ever preach it to, from now until the day you die, rejects it and laughs in your face (or worse.)

That should give us great encouragement.  It frees us to preach the good news – that Jesus has come, has died, was buried, and was raised from the dead, for sinners.  Sinners like you and like me.

Ephesians 2:1–3 (1) And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— (3) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (ESV)

Here is but one example of the good news we should preach:

Ephesians 2:4–10 (4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (7) so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (10) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

… and another …

1 Corinthians 15:54–57 (54) When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (55) “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

… and another …

Luke 2:8–11 (8) And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (9) And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. (10) And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (ESV)

… and another …

Acts 4:8–12 (8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, (9) if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, (10) let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. (11) This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (12) And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (ESV)

… and another …

Hebrews 10:11–18 (11) And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (12) But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, (13) waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (14) For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (15) And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, (16) “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” (17) then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (18) Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (ESV)

The gospel is a victory to proclaim, not a decision to make.

People will either receive this news with joy or with apathy or with hatred, but the way in which they receive it is neither part of the gospel nor definitional of it’s goodness. Don’t tangle up the gospel by trying to drive to a certain response!  Preach the truth in love!  Preach the good news!

Preach that God has fulfilled His promise, that the Messiah has come!  That He is the only and final sacrifice for sin. That He is the only name under heaven by which we must be saved. That He proclaimed “it is finished!”

That He died.  That He was buried.  That He was raised from the dead.

And that by this, He has reconciled His people to God, thus making peace with Him.

All according to the scriptures.

That is the gospel.

God’s good news.

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