The gospel: something so simple, so important, and yet so hard for most people to define. What is it exactly? Stay tuned and find out on Unapologetic.
It’s been said that if you ask about a hundred people what the gospel is in a church at a given time, you’d probably get about 60 different answers. In my experience, that’s pretty true. That’s sad because the gospel isn’t just up for individual interpretation. There aren’t 60 right answers. There’s one right answer, though we do need to acknowledge that sometimes people are legitimately talking about different things or maybe something more specific or less specific.
What we’re going to do today is give a high level view and definition of what the gospel is and how should we think about that. Periodically over the next year, we’re going to come back to this and look at different facets of what the gospel is. Because what I don’t want is for us as Christians, when we talk with non-Christians, to end up defending something that’s basically “minimum viable theism.” We don’t want to just defend the idea that God exists out there or that the earth is old or young or those types of things, which we often get caught up on. What I want to be, myself, and I want for you to be is an evangelical apologist – someone who doesn’t just defend the fact that God exists but is able to defend the idea that Jesus died on the cross and paid for the sin of people. That is important.
That’s basically the only reason talking about the age of the earth or evil is important is because we ultimately want to get to the gospel. That is our end goal, not just talking about intellectual arguments and ideas like that, but the reality that Jesus came to earth, died, rose again for sin, and what that requires of people. That’s what our aim should be in conversation.
What is the Gospel?
What is the gospel? First, let’s look at some proposed definitions, and these are definitions that are other people have come up with throughout time. For instance,
The gospel is God’s best for you now.
The gospel is good news.
The gospel is that Christ died in my place.
The gospel itself refers to the proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah is the one true and only Lord of the world.
Or as someone else said
My understanding of Jesus’ message is that he teaches us to live in the reality of God now, here and today. It’s almost as if Jesus just keeps saying, ‘Change your life. Live this way.'”
Then others have said,
Preach the gospel at all times and use words when necessary.
There are a lot of different ideas there about the gospel and they are not all complementary. Some are contradictory with each other. I would say none of those actually captures the totality of what the gospel is. Now I’m not trying to make the gospel some really huge thing, but I do think that when we say “the gospel’s good news”, well, yeah, it is good news, but “good news “is not the gospel. That doesn’t work in reverse. You actually have to tell someone what that news is. You can’t just say the gospel is good news. That’s a description of it, not a definition of it.
How should we think about the gospel? Well, I’ve got 4 points, and these are not revolutionary. I didn’t come up with these, but they are a very helpful way to think about the gospel. Here are the 4 points.
- The gospel says something about God,
- it says something about man,
- it says something about Christ – Jesus Christ
- it requires a response.
God. Man. Christ. Response.
Let’s start with God.
What does someone need to know about God in order to understand the gospel? Well, they need to understand that God is creator. They need to understand this because that means man is not the highest authority. Man is not autonomous, but more than that, man is accountable. Man is God’s possession. He created us. He owns us. He has that type of claim. We need to understand that God is creator, but we also need to understand that the Creator God is holy and righteous, that he has standards, that while he is loving and faithful and merciful, he doesn’t leave the guilty unpunished. He doesn’t tolerate evil. He doesn’t tolerate wrongdoing.
God is our first one of 4 points. (We’re moving pretty fast here; in an average conversation, you will end up saying more, though you shouldn’t say less.)
Second point: Man. What do people need to know about man? Well, he’s a sinner. He does things that break God’s law. That’s his fundamental problem. Now, sin, that’s a word in need of a definition too, right? That’s not a word that your average non-Christian uses or perhaps even has a category for. Sin is a rejection of God’s authority. It’s a declaration of independence from God. As Paul says in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “there’s no one righteous, no not one, no one who seeks God.”
Sometimes sin is described as a broken relationship. Well, it is, but fundamentally, it’s rebellion and treason. This flows from the fact that God is creator, so our sin is against him. He’s holy and righteous, so he takes that sin seriously. This creates a problem. Our sins have alienated us from God. They have caused him to reject us, we see in Isaiah. There’s a penalty for this sin. There’s hell – a place of eternal torment and suffering because of our sin against a holy, infinitely good God.
We’ve got 2 points so far. We’ve got God and we’ve got man. God is holy and righteous. He’s creator. Man is sinful and accountable to God. This is not a good combination so far.
Christ. What do we need to know about Jesus? Well, he’s the Savior. He’s the “Messiah.” That’s literally what Christ means, Messiah. He is Savior, but Savior for whom and how? Well, this is what we need to flesh out.
Who Jesus Is
This is what people need to understand: Jesus is fully man and fully God. Now, you might think, “That’s just some theological concept.” No, that’s really important, actually. Why do we need to know that Jesus is fully man and fully God? Because as man, he was born human and lived under the law, fulfilled the law, so he could be our human representative to God.
Paul talks about Jesus as the second Adam. The first Adam represented all of humanity to God when he sinned and we all suffered because he acted as our representative. Well, Jesus – the second Adam – acts as our representative for all who are in Christ when he paid for the sin of everyone who will believe in him on the cross. Why was he able to do that? He was able to represent man because he was man. He was able to be perfect and not sin because he was God. The full humanity of Christ and the full divinity of Christ is extremely important.
What Jesus Did/Does
Now, what did he do? He suffered on the cross. He paid for sin on the cross. As Jesus himself said in John 10, “I lay my life down for the sheep. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own accord.” What Paul says about this in Galatians 3: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” In 1 Peter, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.”
There’s a lot in this 3rd point. The first 2 points provide needed context to understand the third. Man is accountable to his creator (God), and Christ came to reconcile sinful men to God. He did that through the cross, through the atonement, which is where he paid for sin for sinners.
He didn’t just die on the cross though. Jesus actually has 2 major roles in his role as Savior. He atoned for sin and he rose from the dead to serve as mediator. God the Father rose him from the dead to show his power, to display his divine majesty and authority over sin and death.
The fact that Jesus has risen also says something about what he does now, because he didn’t just die to pay for sin. He stands at the right hand of the father to be our mediator. Christ didn’t just atone for sin; he lives today and mediates between the Father and us. He’s our go between. When the Father looks at us, he sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus for everyone who is in Jesus.
Therefore, the resurrection is extremely important because it speaks to Jesus’ ability to fulfill the second part of his unique role which is mediating between men and God the Father.
Well, you might think, “Okay, that sounds great, God. Man, Christ, I know everything I need to know.” But the gospel isn’t just a “knowledge thing.” It’s not just coming to know facts. This gets to another problem that sometimes occurs when we try to define the gospel. Some people will say the gospel is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 where he says,
”For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”
But, that’s not the gospel.
It doesn’t say anything about what’s required from the person who hears these things, because, you see, the demons know all of these facts. They probably know much of this better than we do even as Christians. The gospel isn’t just what you know. The gospel requires a response.
That’s our fourth point: response. God, man, Christ, response. The gospel, especially in those first 3 points, is actually something we need to teach. There’s a lot that people need to actually come to know. Now, I’m not trying to attach strings to it or anything like that, but for the average person, there is a lot that actually needs to be taught. We can’t just have a drive-by where we say that “Jesus died for your sins, you need to believe in him.” Believe in who? They don’t even know who he is.
They don’t know what sin is. They don’t know even what this “dying for sin” thing means. They don’t know who God is either. There’s a lot that needs to be explained to people. If we think about it as teaching, not in the formal classroom sense, but in the sense of conveying information that’s important and in an orderly fashion, I think we get closer to how we see Paul addressing people in Acts, how we see the apostles behaving. They go, and they teach about who Christ was and why salvation is necessary and what’s required.
You might say, “What does that response look like?” Well, it looks like faith and repentance. That is the response that is necessary. By faith, I mean: an act of trust in something you have good reason to believe is true. Now, why would someone have good reason to believe it’s true? Because you’ve taught it to them. You’ve explained it to them as Paul did. You’ve shown from the Scriptures (and maybe other evidence) of why Christ had to die and rise again, why men have a problem with God and who God is. You’ve explained all that, and the response that’s necessary is act of trust and repentance.
A Christian is someone who turns away from his sin, trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ and nothing else to save him from sin in the coming judgment.
We trust Jesus to have stood as our substitute. When we trust in him, his righteousness is credited to us. Now, this trust to have Jesus stand in our place, it does not come alone. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, that’s true, but this faith will result or will have resulted in repentance.
Repentance is a change of mind. It’s not just turning from something; it’s not just saying you’re sorry; it’s a fundamental change of mind about who we are in light of God’s revelation to us. It’s when we change our mind about our sin and our sinfulness.
Will that result in us turning from it? Yes. Will that result in us asking God for forgiveness? Yes. Repentance is a necessary part of the gospel. The New Testament has no concept of a Christian or someone who is a Christ follower who is not repentant of sin. Does that mean we’re perfect? No, but does that mean that we have our heart softened to the things of God, that we start to care more and more about the things he cares about? Yes, it does.
That’s a very quick glimpse at what the gospel is: God, man, Christ, response. Now, those 4 words are not the gospel. It’s the associated truths and teaching that come along with them that make up the gospel. This is how you should think about what you need to convey to someone when you’re seeking to share the gospel. This is what you need to share. This is what you need to teach. This is what people need to come to know and respond to.
A lot of times the people who “fall away from the faith” were never actually in it to start with. What they claimed to believe, they had never been taught.
We need to look at the gospel like something that needs to be taught. We need to also realize that we are responsible for our side but God is responsible for his. The task of evangelism is basically like standing over the casket of a dead man telling him what he needs to do to be alive. It’s futile, apart from the living spirit of God, bringing that person to life.
Our preaching/teaching has no bearing on bringing someone to life except for the fact that the spirit works alongside of that. It is God who regenerates the dead person. It is God who brings the dead to life. He has chosen to do that alongside and through the preaching of the gospel.
I hope as you go to work tomorrow, as you go to school, as you spend time with your family, that when the gospel comes up and it’s something you want to share, you’re a little more equipped to have some structure for how to share it.
If you’re interested in reading more on this topic or going a little deeper, there’re some good books out there [“What is the Gospel?”] by Greg Gilbert is a very good short book where some of this material I shared today came from. There’s also [“Tell the Truth”] by Metzger and [The Explicit Gospel] by Chandler. Those are all excellent books on the gospel.
I think, oftentimes, like I said, in apologetics, we focus on the controversial points and we sometimes don’t spend enough time on the essential bedrock truth that everything in apologetics should ultimately be taking us closer to, which is the good news of what God has done for sinful men in the person of Jesus Christ.
I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.