What is the Gospel?
I spend a lot of time talking with people who are brand new to the Christian faith. One of the questions I’m commonly asked is, “What’s the difference between the Bible and the Gospel?” Regardless of the individual is in their early teens or mid-30s, this is a popular topic. As Christians, we have many different terms we use for God’s Word. The Holy Bible, Scripture, The Law, the Old and New Testaments. I think the term “Gospel” is something so commonly used, we forget its significance.
The Gospel is one of the most dangerous messages I’ve ever heard. As Christians living in the United States in 2020, it goes against everything we’ve been taught about chasing the American dream. The Gospel is a message of good news. News that affects both our identity and our destiny. How it’s perceived can be one of the greatest blessings we could ever give to the future generations of our family. It can also be one of the biggest roadblocks they could ever face.
According to the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, the “Gospel” is “The central message of the Christian church to the world, centered on God’s provision of salvation for the world in Jesus Christ.” Personally, I don’t like this definition. It makes it sound almost like you need a degree to comprehend what you’re reading.
Mr. Webster makes things much easier to understand. According to him, the “Gospel” is “The message concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation.” To make it even easier, the Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, our only means of eternal salvation. In other words, without the Gospel, each of us spends eternity in hell, separated from the presence of God.
Normally, when I write, I prefer to focus the post or article around a specific Bible verse. In order to show the importance of the word “Gospel,” I thought today we would go to one of the first commandments Jesus gives during His earthly ministry.
….The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Mark 1:15
We find this verse following the baptism of Jesus. He’s just returned from 40 days of facing Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. John the Baptist has been arrested and Jesus hits the scene. His command to the people isn’t to start going to church every Sunday morning. Jesus doesn’t tell those listening to pray harder and start memorizing Scripture.
The message is, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” So, back to our original question. What exactly is the gospel? If you’re new to following Jesus, this can be confusing. I thought we’d start by clearing up what the Gospel isn’t.
What the Gospel isn’t
Despite what many popular preachers and congregations would like you to believe, the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t a self-help book. The message isn’t to try harder and come back next week. To be precise, none of the first four books of the New Testament were even written for us as Americans in the 21st century.
Each of the four Gospels was written by specific authors. Each of them had a very specific audience in mind when they began penning what they wanted to say. Along with a specific audience in a certain location, each of the four Gospels also has a personal theme and way of sharing the Good News.
This doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the Gospel messages and apply them to our personal lives. What’s important is that we answer a few simple questions so we are unable to take the Word of God out of context. Who wrote it? Where and when was it written? Who was it written for? What was the message the Holy Spirit wanted the human writer to convey?
By answering each of these questions as specifically as we can, we’re best able to apply the Gospel in our daily lives. Again, the Gospel is not a divine secret for being the best version of you. It’s history that we’re not only meant to learn from but a mission we’re to be growing towards.
What makes this message so threatening?
Earlier I mentioned the Gospel is the most dangerous message I’ve ever read. This is because it tells us no matter how hard we try, regardless of how many days in a row we don’t do that one thing, we’re never going to be good enough. It doesn’t matter how many days in a row we pray or how many consecutive weeks we’re the one first one in the church parking lot. The Gospel is dangerous because it tells us, on our own, we’ll never be enough.
As humans, even while being created in the image of God, each of us has a heart and mind full of sin. As the consequences of what happened between Adam and Eve, each of us is in desperate need of a Savior. We’re unable to hit the mark. Because of our sin, the wrong that each and every one of us does, a sacrifice is needed. This is because we have a holy and just God. Because He is also loving, He sent His Son on a rescue mission to save us.
God put on flesh and dwelt among His people, to live the perfect, sinless life we’re commanded to live. Jesus lived a perfect life to pay the penalty for our faults and trespasses. He willingly gave His life to make sure all who believe would be able to spend eternity in His presence. This is the message of the Gospel. Without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, none of us will ever be capable of fulfilling God’s commands. I don’t know about you, but I see this as very dangerous.
As I grow older and older, the message I’m sharing today becomes less and less popular. This is easily discussed without being political or blaming a specific denomination. Sermons are becoming more about being a better version of ourselves instead of the depravity of our sin. Again, the Gospel is not a message of trying harder and coming back next week. It is a message that clearly states we can’t spend eternity with God on our own. Without Jesus, there is no additional effort sufficient enough on our behalf.
Too many Christians, especially those in their mid-20s and younger, are being led astray. We read of the consequences of similar generations over and over again throughout the Old Testament. Not enough is made of the importance of obeying God. The softer, easier way is taken, and entire generations are left more lost than at any other period of time throughout history. When we’re willing, to be honest, we’re seeing it with our own eyes in the world we live in today.
My daughter’s generation needs leaders who’re brave and honest enough to be real with them. Hell is not only real, but it’s also very hot, and forever is a long time. Only when we’re teaching the seriousness of our sin and the collateral damage it creates are we able to identify God’s love in the Gospel message.
Making the gospel the center of everything we are
The gospel isn’t a bedtime story angels have blessed us with to put our children to sleep at night. These are real-life, historical events that have taken place to redeem God’s people. It’s not a simple story to read. The Gospel is a message to be both lived and shared with others.
I mentioned earlier that none of the four Gospel writers had us in mind while they were writing. There’s plenty of truth in that statement. I don’t think Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John could have ever imagined the impact they would have on the world 2000 years later. Nothing written in the Gospels points to who the next President of the United States will be.
That being said, the Gospel has to become the center of everything we are. As followers of Christ, this message isn’t something we read. It’s something we carry out in our daily lives. There should never be a reason we need to tell someone we are a Christian and believe in Jesus. This should clearly be known by the way we live. Until we allow the Gospel to completely wreck everything we thought we knew about ourselves, the Gospel will never become our reality.
Jeffrey has a degree in theology from Aidan University and is the founder of Gospel Grammar in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. His goal is to inspire others to seek a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.