Many Christians assume that “the gospel” is everything good about being Christian, but that’s not what the Bible says.
Since the gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation” (Romans 1:16) we need to know what the gospel really is so that we can be saved and then proclaim it to our families, friends and colleagues so they can be saved too.
The word “gospel” just meant “good news”. It was used in the Roman Empire of New Testament times for momentous public announcements such as the birth of an emperor or a victory in battle. The “gospel of God” is his sensational announcement to his world, progressively revealed in the Bible (Romans 1:1-17).
In the Old Testament God’s gospel promised a kingdom and a King
The gospel was first announced in God’s promise to Abraham of a land, a nation and blessing—a kingdom to bring blessing to all nations. The history of Israel then provides an earthly picture of the heavenly kingdom through which such global blessing will eventually come (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:8).
God announced his “gospel” again in Isaiah’s repeated promises of a King for his kingdom. The Lord himself would come to rule and liberate his people from their exile far from God and gather them into his kingdom. Amazingly, this deliverer would be the Lord’s suffering servant, dying under the penalty for our sin and then rising to life for our “justification” (which is God’s approval) (Isaiah 40, 52, 61, 53).
God provided judges, prophets, priests, kings and governors with different roles that point to his promised King, and sent many prophets to describe him in the most exalted terms. Then…there was silence for centuries. Until that explosive moment when a tradesman’s son emerged onto the public stage, “proclaiming the good news (gospel) of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.’ ” (Mark 1)
In the New Testament God’s gospel announces that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour
God’s previously mysterious gospel now becomes crystal clear in the New Testament - as Jesus is unveiled as God’s long-awaited King saving us into his kingdom. There are many versions of God’s gospel message, because it’s about a person not a formula. But two glorious themes emerge in them all: Jesus is our Lord (i.e. who he is) and Jesus is our Saviour (i.e. what he’s done). Both are stunningly good news for us today.
JESUS IS OUR LORD!
In Romans, Paul explains the gospel of God to show why all nations need to hear it. He says it’s “regarding his Son”. If we’re not talking about Jesus, we’re not talking about the gospel. When we talk about our experience, our church, our sin, or even God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, we are speaking of great biblical truths but not about the gospel that saves people. So, in John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in the Bible, “for God so loved the world” is not the gospel but the reason for the gospel… “That he gave his only Son” is the gospel…and “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” is not the gospel but the result of the gospel. This is important to know so that we don’t think that just proclaiming God’s love or just talking about believing can save anyone: we need to speak about God’s sacrificial gift of his Son if anyone is to be saved!
Paul often summarizes God’s gospel regarding his Son with the phrase, “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4; Colossians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 4:5 cf. Acts 2:36). Obviously, this isn’t his first name, middle name and surname:
Jesus means the crucified Galilean of history.
Christ means the chosen Saviour King promised by O.T. prophets.
Lord means the divine and risen ruler of all.
God’s gospel tells us how amazing Jesus is: he is Christ our Lord. And then tells us what he’s done!
JESUS IS OUR SAVIOUR!
God’s gospel repeatedly celebrates Christ’s four primary achievements:
Christ came as our King (Mark 1:14-15)
Mark’s Gospel is entitled, “the (gospel), the Son of God (divine King)” and then announces, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the (gospel)of God ... The kingdom of God near!” Jesus is the long-awaited King rescuing people into his heavenly kingdom. He demonstrated the fabulous benefits of life under his rule with his merciful forgiveness, wise teaching and compassionate miracles. Although the Gospels climax in recounting Jesus’ death and resurrection, Acts describes the Apostles preaching Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the Epistles concentrate on the gospel of Christ and him crucified, this is not different to Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom; for we enter his kingdom by being united by faith with his death and resurrection; the cross is how our King opened the way into his kingdom.
Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
Paul reminds the Corinthians of God’s saving gospel, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. Christ’s death was incredibly special because he died (voluntarily and not as a victim) for our sins (as our loving self-sacrificial substitute) according to the Scriptures (to satisfy the justice of God as our “Passover sacrifice” and “Atonement sacrifice” and “Suffering Servant sacrifice”). Paul then reminds his readers that Christ’s death is undeniable because he was buried!
Christ rose to rule (1 Corinthians 15:4-7)
Paul continues: “he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. The New Testament triumphantly proclaims that, as promised by the Old Testament and by Jesus, he was raised to life and enthroned in heaven as King over all because he completely paid for all our sins - and completed a perfectly obedient Christian that qualifies us for heaven in him. Paul reminds us that his resurrection is also undeniable because “he appeared” to many people on multiple public occasions.
Christ will return to judge (Romans 2:16)
Many Christians are unaware that Scripture explicitly says that judgment is part of the gospel e.g. “the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Romans 2:16; Revelation 14:6). Christ’s judgment will begin the punishment of the unrepentant in hell as well as his extravagant blessing of his forgiven people in his beautiful new creation. Until we find appropriate language to explain God’s judgement to come, his death on a cross cannot make sense and we have not explained the gospel that saves.
THE SPECTACULAR BENEFITS OF GOD’S GOSPEL ARE LIFE IN HIS HEAVENLY KINGDOM
God’s gospel is also described in Scripture as the gospel of “peace”, “hope”, “life”, “righteousness” and “grace”. These are not the gospel itself (we can talk forever about peace or hope and no-one will be saved) - but the wonderful benefits of the gospel for all who believe it. When we turn to Jesus we begin to daily experience the reassuring comfort of peace with God even in the middle of tragedy, the uplifting encouragement of our certain hope of being with him even in times of sadness, the deep satisfaction of life in personal relationship with him even in times of loneliness, and the joy of Christ’s righteousness counted as ours and growing within us even as we still repeatedly sin i.e. we’ve begun to enjoy the incredible generosity of God’s grace. And one day, when Jesus returns, we’ll know these joys perfectly in heaven. These blessings of the gospel are actually the joys of life in the kingdom of God, the glorious blessings originally promised to Abraham.
CONCLUSION: THE GOSPEL IS THE JOYFUL MESSAGE OF GOD’S GRACE
The gospel declares joyful news: Jesus is Christ our Lord who came as our King, died for our sins, rose to rule and will return to judge, i.e. Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Mind you, I discovered rather painfully that we can think we’re proclaiming the gospel of grace when the way we do it drains all the goodness out of it. I know, because some years ago, I was doing it! A Scottish minister friend confronted me: “There’s not enough grace in your preaching,” he said. “It’s all challenge!” I was mortified. But he was right! When I kept urging the congregation, “you should realize how marvellous the grace of God is” my challenge was undermining the sheer wonder of the gospel. I needed to feel and find language that simply marvels at “the gospel of God’s grace”. For there’s nothing for us to be or to do for our salvation, but to enjoy who Christ is and what he has done for us. The “gospel of God’s grace” that Paul proclaimed is not good advice for us to follow, or good ideas for us to discuss, but good news for us to celebrate: Jesus is our Lord and saviour!