Not everything in life is worth fighting over. Not everything is worth passionately defending. If you’re honest with yourself you know that there have been times in your life when you’ve stubbornly stuck with something to your own detriment. Often times in hindsight those things probably weren’t even that important. However, there are things that are worth fighting over. Things worth passionately defending. There are hills worth dying on. You and I may not ever have complete agreement on which issues are vital, but if you’re a Christian we should have agreement on one: The Gospel.
The Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, is the central message of the Christian faith. The Gospel is the message that holds the key to our salvation, the key to eternal life, the key to being born again, the key to truly knowing God.
The Gospel is everything.
If you’ve come across this blog and are not a Christian, it was providential that you came to this post because the Gospel is the most the important message I could ever give you. If you are a Christian, even if you already know the Gospel, the Gospel is still the most important issue I could ever give you. In fact in Romans 1:15 Paul tells the Church at Rome (a group of Christians as verses 6-8 make clear) that he is eager to preach the Gospel to them. I share Paul’s passion here.
The goal for this post is to lay a solid foundation for the Gospel. It won’t be as exhaustive as it could be, it also won’t be as short as it could be (the Gospel can be faithfully communicated in a couple sentences). Rather, I wanted to provide a treatment that was just enough to allow you to savor the truth of what God has done for you that your mind might be renewed and you might be spiritually refreshed.
So what is the Gospel?
The Gospel is of First Importance
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul begins to remind the Church in Corinth about the Gospel and says: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:3, emphasis mine). There are many things that are important in the Bible but the Gospel is the only thing said to be of first importance. This is critical to remember when it comes to thinking about the issue of division in the Church. People often point to the call for Christian unity in the New Testament and ask if there is ever reason for Christians to divide. The answer is yes. We should pursue unity as much as we can, but issues of first importance are worth dividing over.
The Gospel is About Christ
When you look at 1 Corinthians 15, I want you to be very aware of the fact that what immediately follows the phrase “of first importance” is not “that we have been offered the gift of eternal life.” It’s not “that we can be forgiven and at peace with God.” Those things are true and are clearly preached, but what is immediately in focus in this passage as being of first importance is “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The Gospel is ultimately something that Christ has done.
In other parts of the Bible we learn that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), that he is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), that he is the only source of salvation (Acts 4:12), and indeed that the Gospel itself, as well as all of creation, exists so “that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). Make no mistake, the Gospel is good news for you and for me, but ultimately it’s about Jesus.
The Gospel Hangs on the fact that Jesus Died for Our Sins
Back to 1 Corinthians 15, I said that Christ and his actions are preeminent, but let’s not miss that the specific action in view is that he died for our sins. It will take another lengthy post to even scratch the surface of the concept of sin, but for right now we can start by defining sin as rebellion against God. God is the creator, we are his creation and he gets to define how we should live and act, but we defy him and his authority. When we sin we are committing cosmic treason, and the penalty is death. Not just physical death, eternal death
That’s pretty bad news, –isn’t the word “Gospel” supposed to mean “good news”? The good news of the Gospel is that though we deserve death, Jesus came to die in our place for our sins. He lived the sinless life we didn’t live and died the sinner’s death that we should have died.
The Gospel’s Glory is that Jesus Rose from the Dead
When you think about it, Jesus dying for our sins is still bad news, isn’t it? Jesus took our sins away which is great but the whole Gospel was supposed to be about Jesus and now he’s dead right? Not so fast, we haven’t gotten to verse 4 yet in 1 Corinthians 15: “that [Jesus] was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” Not only did Jesus take away our enemy of sin, he conquered our enemy of death. The good news is that Jesus is alive, that death couldn’t hold him down, that he is at the right hand of the Father praying for us, that he will come back to get us and we will live with him forever.
The Gospel Message is Delivered According to the Authority of Scripture
Regarding both the statement that Jesus died for our sins and that he rose from death on the third day, Paul adds the remark: “in accordance with the Scriptures.” In that case it references the Old Testament that prophesied in advance that Jesus would come down to die in our place for our sins (see Isaiah 53 for an example). However the message was passed down to us through the equally divinely inspired Scripture of the New Testament.
Here is the bottom line: the Bible is our authority for defining the Gospel.
It’s not tradition, it’s not the Church, it’s not claims that God has spoken today. Today it is somewhat in vogue, even among Christian circles to subtly undermine the authority of the Bible — I urge you never to do that. Doing so would appeal to your pride and stroke your ego. You’ll may think of yourself as an “educated” Christian, who has a deeper understanding of the Bible than all those simple-minded fundamentalists, but it will lead you to ruin. There are those who say that they really like the teachings of Jesus but are somewhat skeptical of the Bible in general. They seem to overlook the fact that they only know the teachings of Jesus through the Bible and that Jesus himself regarded the Bible as the very words of God. We have the Gospel on the authority of the Scripture.
The Gospel Message is the Key to Receiving Salvation
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, we read: “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…” (emphasis mine). The Gospel tells us how to get saved,clearly indicating we are in danger and need saving.
What exactly were we in danger of? The wrath of God.
God’s wrath is not a popular topic in this day and age but there can be no doubt that it is Biblical. God is Love (1 John 4:8) and he loves righteousness (Psalm 11:7), but this also means that he hates evil, that unrighteousness incurs his wrath (see for example Romans 1:18).
In John’s Gospel we read: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Unless Jesus takes away your sin by dying in your place, the wrath of God remains on you. Romans 9:21 describes God as “desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power.” God’s wrath is an essential part of who he is and a side of himself that he intends to express (see Romans 9:22 for example).
The Gospel is a Gift to be Received by Faith
“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 (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, emphasis mine).
The Bible makes it clear that the way to enter into eternal life is to believe the Gospel message, to trust in Jesus as your savior that he died in your place for your sins. It uses a myriad of words to describe this, in fact in these two verses we have four different terms: receiving the Gospel, standing in the Gospel, holding fast to the Gospel and Believing in the Gospel. The words receive and believe line up well with what the Gospel of John says about receiving eternal life (see John 1:12 and 3:16).
Of course the most famous verse that drives this point home is Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The Gospel message of salvation is a gift to be received through faith (believing), it leaves no room for boasting because as we have pointed out, it’s ultimately about Jesus.
This short survey barely scratches the surface of the riches of the Gospel. In the future I would love to go over the book of Romans, the book specifically about the gospel and unpacks all sorts of rich terms like justification, glorification, adoption, etc. The book of Romans is the detailed examination of the Gospel that a jeweler might give to a fine diamond. For my first post though, the context of 1 Corinthians 15 was a sufficiently deep guide.
Despite the fact that in one sense this is a short treatment, it’s also far longer than what needs to be said to present the Gospel to someone. You could faithfully present the Gospel in a few sentences by saying something like: “Jesus died in my place for my sins and rose from the dead three days later. When I put my faith in him to take away my sin he saved me from the wrath of God, caused me to be born again, and gave me new life.”
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