What is the Gospel

26 07 2013

The shortest definition of the Gospel that I know of is that God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[1] For a succinct definition from Paul see 1 Cor. 15:1-4.

It’s important to stress that the Gospel is an announcement.  It is good news!  What exactly is the good news? We are separated from God from our willful act of rebellion against Him.  This has rendered us dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-5) thus making us unwilling and unable to reconcile ourselves to God by any good thing that we can do.  The very best one can do is filthy rags before God, not to mention the worst one can do (Isaiah 64). But, in Christ there is forgiveness of sins for all those who will repent and believe Him to be the only hope of reconciliation between God and man by His perfect life, vicarious death on the cross, and victorious resurrection.

What is required to stand in the presence of the one true holy sovereign God of the universe on the last day is righteousness.  The problem? We have no inherent righteousness.  An unrighteous person cannot become righteous because our unrighteousness is not just external acts, it’s our very nature! (Rom. 3:10-18, Jer. 17:9, etc.).

So, what can be done? Left up to us, nothing.  But God… Maybe two of the greatest words in Scripture! But God had a different plan.  This will be important in a moment but that plan began in eternity past and the first hint of the Gospel is actually not in the New Testament, it’s in Genesis 3:15.  God promised that He would send someone, born of the seed of the woman, to crush the serpent’s head.  That someone would be God Himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

Jesus steps onto the world scene taking on human flesh beginning humbly as a fertilized egg in the womb of Mary (eternally existed as the Son but of course not eternally in human flesh John 1:1ff), conceived by the Holy Spirit.  100% God and 100% Man. Two separate and distinct natures yet one person.  Only man can atone for man’s sin. The problem? All men are sinful! Yet, God in His wisdom had the solution to the problem by taking on human flesh Himself, laying down the splendors of heaven to live among us (Phil. 2:5-11).

He did not live among us to be our example but to proclaim to us the fulfillment of all God had promised in the Old Testament. He came to die for our sins and to be our righteousness!  He lived the perfect life of obedience to the Law, something no man has ever done, and then died a substitutionary, propitiatory[2], death on the cross so that all who would believe on Him would be saved (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 John 2:2, etc.).  He was raised for our justification, ascended into heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning (Rom. 4:25, Heb. 1:3).

We must repent of our sin and take hold of these truths, by faith in Christ. We must feel our need for Christ.  People who hear the Gospel and reject do not feel their need for a Savior.  They do not feel the weight of their own sinfulness and rebellion against the One true God of the universe.  They think of their sin as a trivial matter and feel no need for reconciliation.

In the four gospels Jesus continually stresses that He has come to give His life as a ransom to God[3] and calls on people to repent of their sins and believe the Gospel.  Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law.  The demand on a lost man’s life is not to “obey” God by being “like Jesus” because we cannot be like Jesus!  The demand is to lay down your arms and through faith bow down to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Now, is obedience part of salvation? It depends on what you mean by that question.  On one hand, absolutely!  Not our obedience, but Jesus’ perfect obedience!  Also, if you mean by obedience that once God removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27) we will live lives holy and separated unto God, then yes! In other words we cannot work to be saved.  We cannot work to be accepted by God.  We can’t clean up and get our act together to earn salvation.  We must repent and believe the WORK Jesus has finished on our behalf.  And the result WILL BE us living out what God has wrought new in our hearts, i.e. we will pursue obedience to God, even though imperfectly. This obedience is grounded in the gospel (which is one reason btw that Christians need to be constantly reminded of the Gospel!) and rooted in the fact that we have been given a new nature, our desires, affections, plans, dreams, wants, have all changed and are pointed at Christ! (cf. Philippians 2:12-13)

Anyway, the Gospel is an announcement.  It’s deep, wide, rich, full but also very simple. God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  By the way, when did God start saving people in this way?

Read Galatians 3:8.  How were Old Testament saints saved? Through the Gospel!  Remember Genesis 3:15? God’s promise all along is that He would restore fellowship with man, through a man conquering the serpent.

Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

This is crucial to understand.  The Old Testament saints were saved through faith by looking forward to the promise of God (Galatians 3).  We are saved through faith looking to the finished work of Christ in our stead.

God is the holy, righteous, just Creator. Man lives in fallen rebellion. Jesus lived a perfect life and died the substitutionary death on the cross for sinners, and was raised again. We must repent of our rebellion and believe that message to be saved. That’s the Gospel.

Will you believe this?

Allen S. Nelson IV


[1] I think I first read this definition in Jared Wilson’s Gospel Deeps.

[2] Wrath absorbing

[3] How can God be just and at the same time justifier? An atonement had to be made. God is just in saving sinners because the payment for sin has been rendered.