Blog - What is "the Gospel"?
We talk about it a lot, four of the most popular books of the Bible are called "Gospels", but do we mean the same thing as the Bible when we say "gospel"?
1. The "gospel" is a declaration of events that have happened.
In the Gospel according to Luke, Luke begins with this note to his original reader:
"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught."
Luke 1:1-4 ESV
We see that Luke is writing a "narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us" - he is describing events that have happened. He emphasises this again by saying that "it seemed good to me… to write an orderly account for you". In explaining the Gospel to Theophilus, he wants Theophilus to know facts about things that have already happened.
This becomes even clearer when we look at 1 Corinthians 15 v1-8:
"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. 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed."
Paul starts by saying what he is going to do; he will remind them of the gospel he preached to them. He states in verse 3 that he received the Gospel and then delivered it to the Corinthians. Then, in verses 3 - 8, he gives details of something that has happened in the past.
This is why most bibles will have the heading: "The Gospel According to…" and not "...[insert name here]'s Gospel". The point that the authors of the gospels were making is that the Gospel is not unique to them, it is not a personal experience, but it is a declaration of something that is happened. So each "Gospel" is the author telling us the events that have happened from their perspective.
2. "The Gospel" is stated in the whole bible, not just the New Testament.
It can be tempting to view the Old and New Testaments as if they talk about completely different things: the Old Testament focuses on the nation Israel, the New Testament focuses on the person Jesus and His disciples. But there are many passages in the New Testament that tell us that the two are actually focused on the same thing: the Gospel.
Have a look back at 1 Corinthians 15 v1-8. Every time Paul writes "in accordance with the Scriptures", he is referring to the Old Testament. This means that Paul is saying that everything in the Gospel, all of the events that happened, are talked about in the Old Testament.
In Romans 1 verse 2, Paul states that the gospel was "promised beforehand through [God's] prophets in the holy Scriptures". By "prophets in the holy scriptures", Paul means the whole of the Old Testament.
3. "The Gospel" is God's doing. Not ours.
In other words. It is something that God has already brought about by himself and not something that we participate or engage in now, nor is it something that we contribute or add to now.
We can see this from the previous point. The gospel is "God's" according to Romans 1:1; it belongs to Him, it is from Him, and it is carried out by Him. We see this even more in verse 4: Jesus (God) was raised from the dead by the "Spirit of Holiness" (God).
4. "The Gospel" is about who Jesus is and what He has done.
In Romans 1:5, Paul says that he has been "set apart for the gospel of God" which is about "[God's] Son". However, it is not just generally about Jesus, it is the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 4), He is the promised king (David) from the Old Testament, and He died and was resurrected so that we could receive "grace". That last part is very important. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus took on our sin when He was crucified. He bore the punishment that our sin deserves so that we could be righteous; that God would see us as though we were perfect before God and lived completely perfect lives.
5. "The Gospel" requires a response
In Romans 1:5, Paul says that God's purpose in sending Jesus to live, die, and live again was "to bring about the obedience of faith". This means that God intended people to obey the gospel by believing in what it says. Paul restates this in Romans 3:26. Likewise, at the end of the Gospel according to John, in chapter 20 verses 30 and 31, John says:
"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
When someone hears or reads the gospel they are called to trust that what it says is true and believe that Jesus died and rose again for them so that they could have life.
6. Why does getting "The Gospel" right matter?
Romans 1:16-17 says:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
"The Gospel" is "the power of God for salvation"; God has decided that He will use the gospel as the means to save everyone who believes in Christ from sin and His wrath. Notice that it is "the" power. This is the only way that God has decided to save people; not through healing or other miracles, not through winning debates or making clever arguments, but through hearing and believing in the gospel, as Paul says in Romans 10: "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (the gospel)".
If we get the gospel wrong, if we don't tell it properly, or don't tell it at all, we steal the only way that people can be saved from sin and given life in the name of Jesus.