If you have stepped foot into any kind of Christian circle, I sure hope you’ve heard the word “gospel” before. But do you know what the gospel is? Let's first start with the definition of the word. Simply put, gospel means good news. We hear good news all the time from many different sources. Secular culture slaps this term on all kinds of things – there is even a Gospel BBQ rub, which I can confirm is very tasty. But what is the good news that Christians believe and where does it come from? Is the good news we follow just the four books of the Bible that tell us about the life and ministry of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Not entirely. We're getting closer but not all the way there.
The beginning of the good news of the Bible is that we are made to be in right relationship with God. However, the bad news of the Bible is that we have no way to accomplish this on our own. So, God made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with him by sending his Son to live the life we couldn’t live, die the death we deserve to die, rise from the dead as a first fruit of the life to come, and eventually return to restore all things to their created intent – which is “very good” – perfect, or as the Bible puts it, Shalom. One of my favorite children’s books – The Prisoners, the Earthquake, and the Midnight Song – explains the gospel like this: “Jesus died so we can be forgiven, came back from the dead so we can live forever, and sent the Holy Spirit so we can follow him as our king!” The greatest news in the world is not what we have done for God, but what God has done for us in Christ.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
To fully grasp the concept of the gospel we need to assess what perspective we are approaching this issue from. I grew up in a Christian home, attended church, and participated in Sunday School and youth group activities. I engaged and learned a lot of truth – but my heart was far from God. I had a convenient theology that, at the core, was about God just wanting, even demanding, me to be a good person. Then, when I messed up, I could just ask for forgiveness and carry on my merry way doing what I wanted to do. The real reason I would have called myself a Christian and said I believed in Jesus was because being a "Christian" was the only thing I knew to call myself. I wanted to go to heaven when I died because hell seemed like a pretty awful and scary place. Hold up a minute – that may sound not far off, but did you catch what was missing? My view of eternity was all about me, my comfort, what I wanted, and where I was going to be. None of which has anything to do with who God is and what he has done. To understand the gospel, we need to understand just how good this good news is. To do that, we can’t start by thinking of ourselves. We need to see ourselves rightly in the context of a holy, just, righteous, creator God – the one true God of the Bible. And the best way to understand the good news and just how good it is, is to understand the bad news and just how bad it is.
The following is a simplified overview of the story – God’s story. The story in which we find ourselves. This is the gospel, the good news of the Bible.
GOD IS THE PRIZE
The treasuring of God is the beginning and end of fulfillment. We were made by God, for God, and our ultimate fulfillment is only found in God. When we live this way God’s glory is displayed and we are in right relationship with him.
SIN IS THE PROBLEM
Our biggest problem is that we worship the wrong things. Sin entered the world in Genesis 3 and has impacted all of our hearts. We aren't sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. We are impacted by the sins of others as well as the sins we commit ourselves. It’s this sin that separates us from God, our prize.
JESUS IS THE ANSWER
Jesus addresses our heart problem by giving us a new heart. Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live, died the death we deserved to die, and rose victoriously, defeating sin, Satan and death! Jesus gives us his righteousness and has paid the penalty for our sin. He reconciles us back to God! He is seated at the right hand of God, and he is our hope. Because of Jesus, we are made new by the work of the Holy Spirit so that we can treasure God as we should.
FAITH IS THE RESPONSE
Saving faith, which is treasuring God above all else, comes by a work of God through the Word of God. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Because of faith, we walk through each experience that comes our way, trusting that Jesus is our Savior and that God is worthy of his glory.
The gospel is not just an eternal retirement plan made possible by the salvation God provides – although that is an effective result and benefit. The gospel, the good news of the Bible, is that the right relationship we were made to be in with God is made possible by Jesus taking away our sin and giving us his righteousness. In Christ Jesus, we are at once, by grace through faith, both a sinner and a saint. Not only do we receive an eternal resting place – pearly gates, golden streets, and a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms – we first and foremost receive eternal life WITH GOD (John 3:16).
We get God because Jesus has made a way for us to be made right with him. This is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit, who both initiates this life-giving experience of salvation (Eph. 2:1-10) and sustains us in the faith and daily walk to mature up into the salvation God has given us as we become more and more like Christ each day, solely for the glory of God to be displayed (Phil. 2:12-13)! We don’t just get to be with God later when we die a physical death; by being brought from spiritual death into spiritual life by grace through faith in Jesus, we get God now and forever.
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Ephesians 2:19-20
The gospel is less about us and our benefits and is more about God and his glory. Therefore, we can be radically different, changed people who love others enough to proactively pursue those who are far off from God, and invite them to taste and see that the Lord is good. The result of our salvation does not end with us punching our ticket to heaven when we die. The result of the gospel in us is that we put on our new identity as ambassadors for Christ. We get to contribute to the eternal rescue mission the Lord unfolded before us in which he is drawing his people to himself to display his glory to a watching world. Receiving the gospel changes where we will spend eternity, how we live, and what we live for.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21