To write an article titled “What is the Gospel?” for a Christian website might seem a bit unnecessary. Shouldn’t all Christians already understand the gospel? We might think that, but sadly even the most basic concept of the gospel is either ignored or assumed by so-called experts and that has devastating effects on the church. That is why we need to go back to the basics and ensure that we clearly understand the gospel.
So, What Is The Gospel?
The word gospel is ευανγελιον in Biblical Greek and it simply means good news. At a very basic level, the gospel is news, some kind of information which is positive, good, and helpful. When we talk about the good news from the perspective of the New Testament, it is much more specific. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, where Paul tells us: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
I hope you noticed that this good news is about the person and the work of Jesus Christ and the implications it has for its hearers. When the New Testament writers talk about the gospel, it is always connected to Jesus Christ with a particular focus on the cross. But why is the gospel connected to the person and the work of Jesus Christ? In order to answer this, let us look at four important attributes of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
1. The Creator God
If you are aware of the big picture of the Bible, you know that the first book Genesis reveals that God is the creator of this universe. Nothing that is seen or unseen exists without his having created it, and everything that he created was good and wonderful. Above all else, God created man in his image to reflect his glory and to worship him and to be in a relationship with him.
The fact that God is the creator is one of the foremost attributes of God that we need to keep in mind when thinking about the gospel. If this were not true, everything else we talk about is just a myth. Because God has created everything, everything that exists derives its meaning and purpose from him. This is why Revelation 4:11 declares, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” God rightly expects us to worship him, honour him and to live for him according to his standards. In other words, we are all accountable to him.
2. A Holy God
The God of the Bible has not only the powerful creator, but by definition is also perfectly holy in his character and being. And because he is holy, he rightly expects human beings who are created in his image to reflect his holiness. Being created in his image means we are meant to be his representatives on earth and to rule over all creation on his behalf in complete holiness.
But soon after creation, we see that sin entered the world and caused a major upheaval in Genesis chapter 3. The devil incited Adam and Eve and encouraged them to rebel against God and in doing so the whole creation incurred God’s wrath. The God of the Bible is not a disinterested and disengaged creator who creates things and leaves them by themselves. That’s why when sin entered, the relationship between human beings and the holy creator was disrupted. The Holy God, could not possibly continue to be in relationship with sinful humanity.
3. A Just God
When man sinned, he rebelled against the almighty, sovereign, holy creator God. We must understand the seriousness of that event in the early chapters of Genesis. It was a big deal. It was serious. It was an outright rebellion against the King of this universe. And because God is holy and just, he could not just ignore this offence as a tiny infraction. He had to punish humanity for this offence. Letting sin go unpunished would raise serious questions about his authority as sovereign creator, his standards of holiness and also his justice system. To be just and right, he must punish wrong for what it is. Sin could not be forgiven without any penalty.
This is all very serious. Think about it carefully: God who has absolute authority over all creation, who created everything for his own glory, including man, expects and deserves total allegiance and worship. But instead, humanity fails to worship him truly and rebels against him. This sovereign God has perfect standards of justice and this means sin must be dealt with, rebellion must be crushed, sinners must face his wrath!
The immediate judgement of sin and rebellion was that our first parents Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden in Eden—their lives would now be marked by toil, sweat, pain, and heartache. The tragic part of this whole episode was that this judgement was to be experienced by the whole of creation. But man in particular was to experience God’s judgement on this earth in this life and in death and then after life in hell forever and ever.
Now if you pause and think about it all, this is actually very bad news. Man is in trouble because he has rebelled against the one true sovereign creator God. The reality is that all of sinful humanity faces certain death (first physical death on this earth and then eternal spiritual death in hell), and eternal judgement. Because man has rebelled against the almighty holy and just creator, we desperately need to be saved from God’s impending wrath. There should be no hope for us.
4. A Loving God
Thankfully the God of the Bible is not only the holy and just creator, but also a loving God. He knows that for sinful human beings to be saved from God, God must do something about it. And because he is a loving God, he sent his only Son into this world to live a perfect life and then die on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins. The atoning sacrifice of Christ satisfies the just wrath of God against sin and makes a way for sinners to be forgiven. Out of his love, he applies this for all those who are his, for all those who trust in his Son! We read this clearly in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So What, Then, Is The Gospel?
The good news of the Bible is that those who believe in the one sent by God will not perish. By not ‘perishing’ the Bible means that they will not have to face God’s wrath in hell for eternity. But why will they not perish? It is because the Son has paid the penalty of their sins on their behalf when he died on the cross. The just demands of the holy law of the creator have been met. The most important, the most basic need of the believers have been met by God himself in and through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the best news ever, and this is the gospel!
A Decision To Make!
I hope that as we have been trying to understand the gospel, it is clear that the hearers have to make a decision upon hearing this news. We have to recognize that we are in trouble—we have sinned, and we are under God’s wrath and are facing eternity in hell without God’s intervention in their life. We need to recognize and accept that we are unable to do anything for ourselves. No amount of good works and religious activities would be able to save us. Our only hope is to come to God acknowledging our sinfulness and our inability to do anything about our wretched condition. In other words, we must repent (turn away) of our sins, of our rebellion, and turn to God in humility.
The flip-side is that we must believe the gospel—that Jesus lived a perfect life of holiness in our place and died a shameful, painful and cursed death on the cross to pay the just penalty of sins on our behalf. We must. And when we repent of our sins and put our complete trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we will surely receive forgiveness, fully and truly and freely from the holy, just, and loving creator God!
This is the gospel and the best news ever! Is there any better news? Why would anyone not want to accept this offer? Why would anyone think there is any other offer better than this?