What is the Gospel?

CHRISTIAN LOSES HIS BURDEN by Wm. Strang, from the book The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, 1894

One of the most commonly heard yet commonly misunderstood words in the Christian community is the word “gospel”. When people hear gospel they may think of a kind of music. Some who hear it think “truth”. Some hear it and equate it to the Bible but aren’t sure exactly what it means.

Then there are those that know that the word gospel means good news. They are correct. But what is it the good news of? Is it a promise of financial prosperity? Is it a promise of physical health? Is it a promise of perpetual happiness? That you’ll never experience pain or sorrow, financial trouble, or sickness? No, that’s not the Gospel of Christ.

To understand the Christian gospel, we must start way back in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve live in perfect harmony and communion with God. It is also implied that life would be everlasting in this paradise. They witness no shame. They suffer no pain. They experience no death. God in His sovereignty gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey and live forever in perfect communion with Him or to follow their own path. The instructions were clear: Enjoy everything in the garden you desire except for the fruit of that one tree. Of the day you eat of it you will surely die.

Why was the tree put there in the first place? The Bible doesn’t say specifically but I believe it was to give man the choice to obey God or disobey. God chose not to create humans as “robots” or “slaves” that had no will. But He created us as creatures that could choose Him or choose otherwise. However, since only God is good and goodness and life are only found in Him, to choose otherwise, by default, is to choose death.

This was the sin of Adam and Eve. They chose otherwise. The Adversary in the form of a serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Eve offered it to her husband Adam who then ate. At that moment sin and death entered the world. Their unveiled communication with God was now wrought with shame and hiddenness.¹ The land that had once freely offered its bounty to them was now cut off from their access. By sweat and hard work was Adam to work the ground and by pain was Eve to bear children. But worst of all was the chasm that was now created between God and man. Man had been kicked out of God’s first temple (the Garden of Eden) because he failed to guard it.

Because Adam is the representation for all of man, and because all of man comes from Adam, this bad news doesn’t just apply to Adam and Eve. We all share in the curse of their disobedience. Now we have a sin nature.

Because of our sin nature, we are prone to sin. We are susceptible to sins enticement and we are slaves to sins power. This is evident because to do wrong is usually easier than to do right. Therefore, all of us sin. And because we all sin we all die. Not only is this death physical, it is spiritual. Since, our spirits are eternal then the death they experience is eternal. The death our spirits experience is unlike the death of our bodies. When our bodies die they can no longer experience what goes on around them.  Spiritual death, on the other hand, is an eternity apart from God in a place the Bible calls hell; where no joy, happiness, love, or peace is found. Jesus calls it a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth and where the worm does not die (Mark 9:44).

This is the bad news that must be understood and accepted before we get to the good news.

“You cannot possibly understand what the Bible says about salvation unless you understand what the Bible says about the thing from which we are saved.”- J. Gresham Machen


The good news is first told in Genesis 3:15. This protoevangelium (or first gospel) says that the serpent will bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman but the Seed will triumph by crushing the serpent’s head. However, the fulfillment of this promise would take some time.

Let’s go back to what happened in the Garden. After man and woman ate the fruit they saw they were naked. So in shame, they covered themselves with fig leaves. However, God sacrificed the first animal to cover man’s shame. In other words man’s works weren’t sufficient to cover his shame. God had to shed blood to do it.

From that moment on, sacrifices of animals without blemish were the only suitable sacrifices for sin (Lev. 17:11, Hebrews 9:22). But even these sacrifices only covered sin for a time. The sacrifice of atonement had to be done once every year by the high priest for all the people of Israel.

These sacrifices were to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. The everlasting sacrifice. Jesus lived a sinless life and was therefore without blemish. He became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross freed us from sin’s power, saved us from sin’s penalty, and rescued us from sin’s presence. He fulfilled the promise God gave to Adam and Eve. Satan bruised the Seed’s heel when Jesus was crucified on the cross. But when Jesus rose from the dead, He defeated the Enemy’s power over man and death was defeated.

By placing our faith in the work of Christ we no longer have to be separated from our Heavenly Father. We now have direct access to talk to the Father as we once did. And we have an advocate to go to God on our behalf (1 John 2:1-2).

We are also given the Holy Spirit who leads us into truth to help us discern right from wrong (John 16:7-11). He will also be our Comforter in times of trouble (John 14:16).

The Gospel also promises us that when we die we will spend an eternity with the Father. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will have everlasting life (John 3:16). Not that we will not die a physical death but that in the end we will live in the presence of the King (John 11:25) where we will no longer have to worry about sin, pain, suffering, or death (Revelation 21:4).

None of this can be done on our own. Like Adam and Eve, our works do not cover our sins. They’re insufficient. Only by what God has done as the person of the Son through His sacrifice on the cross can man be reconciled, redeemed, and restored. God, by His grace and mercy, has provided a way out of the trouble we have placed ourselves in. He could have left us up to our own devises but He knew we could not save ourselves. He could choose to wipe us all out at the first sinful thought or the first sinful act we commit. An infinitely righteous and holy God would have every right to.


How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”- Isaiah 52:7

The first four books of the New Testament are called the Gospels. In them they tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. After Jesus was born wise men came from the east looking for Him. They asked “where is He who is born king of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:2)

During the last few days of Jesus’ life, He gives us pictures of Him presented as this king: His triumphant entry riding on a donkey, His being presented a robe and crown of thorns, and His being lifted up on the cross. Although the robe, crown, and cross were used to mock and kill our Lord, they were still symbols of who He came to be.

Upon His return, Christ will establish His kingdom upon the earth and restore ALL things as it had been before Adam and Eve sinned.


Therefore, the Gospel does not just declare freedom for man. The Gospel is the good news of the Kingdom of God. Kingdoms of men come and go but the kingdom Jesus sets up will be an everlasting one (Daniel 2:44).

So how can we be sure that we enter into His kingdom? John the Baptist made it clear, “REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). Also, ““The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; REPENT and BELIEVE in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). When we repent we turn from our sins. We change from the path of death in which we were going, to life in Jesus Christ.

Further reading: Matthew 4:17, Acts 2:38-39, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Ephesians 1:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:15-17

FOOTNOTES:
¹This is pictured in the temple when there was a curtain that separated the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God was, from the rest of the temple and the people. Only the High Priest could enter on the Day of Atonement. But the veil was torn the moment Christ died on the cross (Matthew 27:51)

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

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