Our English word “Gospel” when used as a noun, originated from a combination of Middle English words according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Middle English, from Old English gōdspel (translation of Late Latin evangelium), from gōd good + spell tale
English speakers commonly and correctly understand the word “gospel” to be defined as “good news”, but almost always specifically “good news” about Jesus Christ our Lord. At least that is the consensus meaning, but a careful observer will soon discover that there are many, many ideas about what the true “Gospel” is. I think it might be useful to be aware of what the “gospel” is not.
The whole of the New Testament is not the “Gospel”
I know people who insist that the complete New Testament is the gospel and that every rule in it must be carefully obeyed for a person to go to heaven. Of course just a moment’s consideration will cause one to conclude that such an idea is silly and impossible at the same time.
The New Testament is very important because in it we learn the good news about Jesus and how his living and dying impacted an ancient people and how we who love Jesus are to live in relationship with him and others who follow Him. Of course there is more, much more, but it isn’t all “gospel” or “good news”. There are warnings about perishing, about hell, and about the wrath of God, none of which is good news. It’s true news but not good news.
Doing more good things than bad things in your life will cause God to treat you more favorably in the end.
Such thinking is quite common, even among so-called “Christians” but is not “gospel” and completely untrue. The truth about this idea is that only one infraction of God’s law makes one guilty of it all and deserving of God’s punishment. You see, God doesn’t grade on the curve, each person stands alone before God and each will be judged by the man Jesus Christ, not by good works vs. evil works.
God will surely approve of me if I reform myself morally and start going to church.
Wrong! A dead man does not need reform of character, his only need is Life! If you are not a faith follower of Jesus, the Bible teaches that you are spiritually dead and a child of wrath by nature. The reason you make any admission that you might need to change the way you live is that you know much of your life is wrong. The reason you keep doing the wrong thing is because it is your nature to live that way. You must have a new nature, one like God’s own nature, and clean living and church attendance will not do the trick.
If I am baptized I will go to heaven.
You should, you must, but baptism is not the “Gospel”. Rather, it is one response to it. Remember this truth. Only God’s children are going to be in eternity with Him. No religious activity, no amount of self-denial, no accumulation of good works, no promises made, no public declaration will make someone who isn’t a son or daughter, a son or daughter. People only become sons and daughters by birth or adoption. Jesus said, “You must be born again“. A person can only have what he needs to be accepted by God with a new beginning. Only by depending on Christ alone, by trusting him and his promises can a person be made new.
What is the “Gospel”?
The most often quoted Bible passage used to answer this question is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-13. The essence of the passage is captured in part of verse 3 and verse 4.
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
The good news about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the “Gospel”, or at a minimum, a part of it. But what does it mean? I know I can’t fully answer that question but a summary follows.
Mankind is sinful and ungodly, but, God loves ungodly sinners! God’s justice demands that sinners who have offended a holy God be punished. God’s mercy declares that though sinners deserve punishment, they will not be punished. God’s holiness demands that all who are His must be perfect in character as He is perfect. God’s grace declares that sinners will be counted as perfect by God’s decree.
How can a holy God accept a sinful person and still be holy? And how can a just God not punish wickedness and sin and remain just? Every sinner deserves to have God’s wrath, not his mercy. And everyone who falls short of moral perfection deserves to be treated as a fallen person, not as holy. Can God still be holy and accept unholy people as His own children?
There is GOOD NEWS!
God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and in his living before man and God he was morally flawless. He completely satisfied every demand of God’s written code, no good was left undone and he was never guilty. He lived the life God wanted from each of us and we would not, and could not, give it. God always wanted people to take him at his word and do what he wanted, but he never got what he wanted until Jesus Christ lived his life for us and for God.
Christ willingly offered his body as a sacrifice and a substitute for sinners and died on a cross as a vile offender of God’s law. He who had no sin took upon himself our combined sins and died for us. He fully satisfied the demands of the law as he lived for us and suffered all of its penalties when he died for us. God’s demand for perfect faith and obedience had been met and God’s demand that sin be punished had been fulfilled. So Jesus cried from the cross with his last breath “It is finished!” In his body sinful man had been reconciled to God. Salvation was complete.
Then, just as promised, Jesus arose from the grave after three days defeating death, hell, the grave, and the devil. He arose in victory never to die again making the gracious offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life to “whosoever” would come to him in simple trust and depend only upon him.
It is very good news that in the person and work of Jesus God has already accomplished everything needed for you and me to be in a relationship with him as Father. Our love response is to have a change of mind about the course of our lives and go His way and not our way. We are called to demonstrate our faith in Him by telling others we are following him and by reenacting his death, burial, and resurrection in the waters of baptism.
God promises to those who will only take him at his word and put their whole confidence in Jesus, forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, and a future in his presence with all the saints in bodies like the body of Jesus. This is indeed GOOD NEWS!
God has made a gracious offer to a flawed people with a perfect remedy for their common condition. The work and worth of Jesus is all you need. Trust him!