What is the Gospel?

“Gospel” is an interesting word. Like a lot of words in the Church, it gets used a lot, but I wonder if we know what it means. Churches claim to preach the Gospel, but for some that “Gospel” may be a message of “God loves you so love each other!” with there being no comment on sin and our need for salvation. Others may preach the “Gospel,” and what you get is a message of “God is angry, do better!” with there being no hope for salvation at all. 

Greg Gilbert, in his book, What is the Gospel?, writes, “in order truly to proclaim the gospel, we must carefully explain the death and resurrection of Jesus and the response God requires of sinners. If we say merely that God is redeeming a people and remaking the world, but do not say how he is doing so (through the death and resurrection of Jesus) and how a person can be included in that redemption (through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus), then we have not proclaimed the good news.”

So how can we make sure to get the Gospel right? By definition the Gospel is “good news,” and because the first 4 books of the New Testament are called Gospels, we know it has something to do with Jesus, his life and death and resurrection. But how do we put it all into words?

I think it is helpful to remember that the Gospel is not just the message of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but it is the full story, from beginning to end, of the Bible. The Gospel is the message of humanity in relationship to God, revealing the holy and eternal God who made all things good, man’s fall into sin and death, and God’s faithful, covenanted work to save His beloved from wrath, culminating in the promised incarnation, perfect obedience, atoning death, justifying resurrection and ascension, and awaited return in glory of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is proclaimed in all of this, and must certainly contain elements of this. All of Scripture points to the salvation found in Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27).

So perhaps a good way to summarize the Gospel would be this: God, in order to redeem His people and deliver them from the wrath they deserved for their sin, graciously gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who perfectly fulfilled God’s righteous law, died upon the cross to atone for sins, and was raised from the dead to justify all who would believe in Him for eternal life. 

Biblical Summaries of the Gospel

There are some very helpful summaries of the Gospel throughout the scriptures. Here are just a few:

  • Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • Ro 4:25 [He] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
  • Ro 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • 2 Co 5:19 …In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
  • 2 Co 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Ga 3:13–14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
  • Heb 9:28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
  • 1 Pe 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
  • 1 Pe 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit

Friends, I pray that you may know the Gospel, and know it in its fullest meaning. Rather than just having a knowledge of what it means, I pray that you would know the joy and peace of actually believing the Gospel, that God has brought about the salvation of all who would call upon Him in faith through Jesus Christ!. I pray that you would live in this Gospel. And I pray that we would all become better able to preach this Gospel.


Also Helpful

As I’ve been thinking about this, I came across a couple of very helpful videos:

Voddie Baucham 

A Summary: God in his goodness and mercy sent forth his son… born of a virgin… and Christ died for sin once for all, the just for the unjust, and God imputes our sinfulness on him… and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, that God would be the just and the justifier of those who place their faith in Jesus Christ… That we would be saved from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and one day, the presence of sin.

John Piper

Piper gives this breakdown. The Gospel is: 1) A plan, 2) An Event, 3) An achievement, 4) An offer, 5) The application, and 6) God.

Love and Wrath in the Gospel of Jesus Christ

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood,
much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,
much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
(Romans 5:9-10)

There has been a lot of buzz on the internet recently about the modern hymn, In Christ Alone, which has become one of our favorites in our congregation.  Apparently, while the Presbyterian Church’s Hymnal Committee considered the song because it is being sung in many churches, it was ultimately rejected because of the third stanza which sings:

“Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.”

The committee had suggested a change in the lyrics to:

as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified

but the writers of the hymn, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, would not approve the change in language, insisting upon the integrity of the hymn and the Biblical message it teaches through song.

So what’s the big deal about “wrath” anyway?  If you were to make a list of the virtues and characteristics that are valued in our world, wrath would certainly not be one of them.  People who are full of wrath are not the kind of people you want to be around, are they?  So would a wrathful god be a kind of god we want to worship?

We must keep in mind, however, that the ways of God are not the ways of man.  When we are angry and full of wrath, our wrath is stained with sin.  There are often times when anger is justified, but the apostle Paul warns us in our anger not to sin, because it is so easy to do so.

If we talk of the wrath of God, then, we must speak consistently with the nature of God.  God is revealed in His Word as righteous, holy, just, steadfast in love, and yes, at times even, a God of wrath.  In fact, one may even argue that the love of God implies his wrath.  Without his wrath, or shall we say, God’s holy anger, God’s love is nothing more than a Hallmark card sentiment that can be easily scorned.

Think of it this way: if a man is not jealous for his wife’s attention, angered when she gives her affection and adoration to other men, does he really even love his wife?  Dr. Bruce McCormack, theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, in his class on The Atonement, spent a good two weeks on the wrath of God.  I pulled out the notes this week (yes, I’ve kept them these 12 years), and found this:

“Wrath is not a characteristic of God; righteousness is.
Wrath is the reaction of God to the scorning of his love.  Wrath is love’s backside.”

When we sin, when we rebel against God’s law and His righteous way for our lives, we scorn the love of God and fall under the wrath of His judgment.  This wrath is reserved for all who have sinned, Ephesians 2:3 tells us “we are by nature children of wrath,” and as Romans teaches, “the wages of sin is death.”  We stand in need of salvation from the wrath of God.

Therefore, without wrath, there is no gospel.  When people talk about the gospel, they like to talk about the Good News of God’s love for us, in that He sent His Son to save us; and Amen to that.  But from what have we been saved?  From our bad thinking?  From our mistakes?  No, we have been saved, ultimately, from the wrath of God.

It was the wrath of God that was poured out on Christ upon the cross.  It was the wrath reserved for us that he bore for us.  Greg Gilbert, in his book “What is the Gospel” writes, “a righteous and holy God can justify the ungodly because in Jesus’ death, mercy and justice were perfectly reconciled.  The curse was righteously executed, and we were mercifully saved.”

It is only because of the cross, where Christ bore the wrath of God, that we now know and live in the love of God.  It is only because He suffered the wrath meant for us that we can sing:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

And so we shall sing!