What Is the Gospel?
Many Christians, churches, and organizations regularly use the word “gospel” in their communications. This obviously raises the question: what is the gospel? The best way to answer that question is to turn to the Bible.
The New Testament was written in a ancient language called koine Greek (“common Greek”). In the Greek New Testament, the noun euangelion (“gospel”) appears just over seventy times. It is a word that means “good news.” It is also a word that is not unique to the New Testament. It was also used in the pagan world to refer to a good announcement. In the New Testament, however, it refers specifically to the good news of Jesus the Savior. Thus, in one sense, the whole New Testament is about the gospel. In the broadest sense, the gospel is the entire message of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. It reminds us of the grand story of the Bible: creation, fall, flood, redemption, Messiah, death, resurrection, second coming, and new earth.
However, the term “gospel” is often used narrowly in the New Testament, and its content is specified. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Here, the gospel is the message of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. It is brief and to the point. The shortest statement of the gospel in the Bible is in 2 Timothy 2:8, where Paul writes, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, this is my gospel.”
So the gospel is the good news that God has done what we could never do for ourselves—namely, to send His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for sin. It is a grand story that spans Genesis to Revelation.
It is a true story that leads to a summons. That summons is stated many times in the New Testament as “repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In short, to repent (change one’s mind and behavior) and believe (in Jesus as God in human flesh, who came to give His life for sinners) is the only way to be forgiven and find eternal life. Jesus is clear in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one can come to the Father, except through Me.” Here is the message of salvation, of how to be made right with God and escape the terrors of the coming judgment. This is the gospel of grace, of hope, and of eternal life. It is the only way to be saved.
If you’re looking for a good book on the gospel, there are many out there. Among conservative, evangelical authors, I find books falling into three basic camps:
- Those who emphasize the big picture of the gospel, namely that the gospel is the entire message of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. They remind us of the grand story of the Bible: creation, fall, flood, redemption, Messiah, death, resurrection, second coming, and new earth. And such folks are correct. Authors who do well emphasizing this aspect of the gospel include: N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, and Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel. The great benefit of these books is to remind us of the great sweep of the story of the Bible and to keep us focused on the big picture of redemption.
- Authors who emphasize the narrow picture of the Gospel, namely the cross of Christ and the summons to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Such folks are also correct. Books in this camp include Charles Ryrie’s So Great Salvation and John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus (1988) and The Gospel According to the Apostles (1989).
- Books that attempt to strike a middle ground and do a good job of both. Among these I would include: Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gibbert’s What is the Mission of the Church?; Michael Horton’s two books, The Gospel Driven Life and Christless Christianity; Greg Gilbert’s What is the Gospel?; and Matt Chandler’s Explicit Gospel. I might would also add David Martyn Lloyd Jones’ classic, Spiritual Depression. Jones’ book is an older work but still covers the topic of the gospel well.
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor