What is the “gospel”? You’ve heard this word a thousand times, and used in almost as many different contexts. This term has been stretched, twisted, redefined, and abused so much in American culture that asking this question is unavoidable.
The term “gospel” means good news. As Christians, when we talk about the gospel we are meaning to talk about the good news of Jesus Christ. This seems simple enough, but some churches are using the same term in different ways. This problem is not new to Christianity. The apostle Paul warned believers in his letter to the Galatians that there were false teachers who had twisted the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Paul’s warning he calls these false teachers’ gospel another gospel that is not truly good news at all. This was a serious matter in the mind of Paul the apostle, and it should be taken seriously by us also. How serious was Paul in his language? Paul announces an anathema upon anyone who would preach a gospel other than the gospel he clearly declared. What is an “anathama”? An anathema is something like the modern equivalent to Paul saying “may God damn them to hell” for preaching a gospel different than expounded.
How can we differentiate between the true gospel and a false gospel? Clearly, if Paul says the teachers of false gospels are hell bound, then the followers of false gospels are also in grave danger. Making the distinction between the true gospel and a false gospel always comes back to the Bible. What did Paul and the other apostles call the gospel?
Let’s briefly overview the first eight chapters of the book of Romans to illustrate what the true gospel looks like.
The Gospel Is Good News For People Who Are Not Good. (Rom 1-3)
Like Jesus, Paul makes sure to begin his exposition of the gospel with a clearly articulated anthropology. We can summarize both Paul and Jesus’ view of mankind as sinful to the core. Paul declares God to be the creator of all, and mankind as idolatrous sinners who know they are creatures but willingly suppress that truth. As mankind willfully rebels against God, they willfully abuse themselves and each other as a direct result. While every person is a sinner, not every person is seeking the same kind of sins. Some seek their own sinful gratification through moral means or religious means. Others seek their own sinful gratification through lawless means or immoral means. No matter where an individual practically finds themselves on this gray-scale of depravity, the truth that all people are inherently sinful is biblically inescapable.
The terrible consequence of mankind’s wickedness is the inescapable judgement, and inevitable wrath of God against us all. While we might try to be moral or religious in an attempt to escape the wrath to come, God’s standard of goodness for man is God’s own law. God delivered that law to the Israelites on Mt Sinai, and has written that law in the hearts of every individual. Try as we may, we will never earn God’s forgiveness through keeping His law. The law shows us our true selves. We have nothing to hide behind. We are sinners. We are in danger of God declaring us to be guilty sinners, and casting us into Hell.
The Good news for guilty sinners is that the Father has sent His Son into our world to save sinners. Jesus willingly took upon Himself the responsibility of our obedience as He obeyed God’s law perfectly in the face of temptation to earn our righteousness. Then Jesus willingly took upon Himself the responsibility of our sinfulness as He laid down His life upon the cross and suffered the wrath of God for sinners to appease the demand of Divine justice for sin. Then three days after Jesus laid down His life for sinners, He resurrected from the dead as the only worthy Saviour for mankind. Simply put, Jesus lived the live we failed to live and died the death we deserve to die. Now, the result of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is God declaring believing sinners to be not guilty because Jesus’ sinlessness has been transferred to sinners by faith, and the believing sinners’ sin has been transferred to Jesus on the cross and condemned in Him.
The Gospel Is Good News To Believe. (Rom 4-5)
There are many religions that claim to be the truth. The true gospel is unique in at least this one way, it is news to be believed. Every false religion is centered upon man earning or meriting a reward. The Biblical designation of “law” can be correctly applied to every false religion or false gospel. “Law” gives you something to do.
The true gospel isn’t a law to follow. The true gospel is news to be believed. The good news is that Jesus has already done everything for you. Jesus has merited your eternal reward through His sinless life and sacrificial death. This is good news to believe, and not good advice to follow. Eternal life is given freely to all sinners who repent and believe in Christ as their Saviour, and Jesus will never turn away any sinner who comes to Him by faith. We are saved by God’s grace through faith.
The Gospel Is Good News That Transforms Believers. (Rom 6-7)
There is a natural tendency to hear this message and imagine a person could easily use this grace of God as a “get out of jail free card”. The logic sounds something like this; “if God’s grace can save me from any and all sinfulness, then why not continue to live sinfully because God will still save me?” This attitude can easily arise when someone intellectually understands the gospel, but has not been transformed by the gospel.
The true gospel is so much more than a prayer to pray or a group of facts to give intellectual assent. The gospel is described to be “the power of God to salvation”. What does that mean? This means that the gospel transforms the person who believes. When God’s grace is poured out upon a sinner, they are freed from the bondage of sin. They are no longer Sin’s slaves. The Grace of God in Jesus Christ has purchased their freedom and now they are the property of God.
These sinners saved by grace have received a new identity that Paul, in Romans, describes as being “in Christ”. It is helpful to realize that being “in Christ” is another way of Paul saying our new identity is no longer “sinner” but “saint”. That transformation took place when we received the grace of God through faith in Jesus. However, the practical reality of every saint is that we are still in the process of being transformed in our every day life practically.
As saints, we now have a desire for personal righteousness and we have an increasing hatred for personal sinfulness. There is an internal struggle within every believer who longs for sinlessness but finds themselves unable to preform. The frustrating reality of this struggle is two-fold. First, the struggle is continually reminding us of our own need for God’s grace day by day. Second, the struggle points our eyes toward the glorious future reality when our faith will be finally made sight. In our glorious future with Christ, we will be rid of the remnants of our old nature, and we will finally experience the true righteousness that we long for in this life.
The Gospel is Good News That Gives Believers Assurance. (Rom 8)
Let’s recap. All people are naturally born sinners. We are hopelessly sinners without God’s grace. Before salvation we are slaves to sin with no way to free ourselves. The wrath of God’s justice will surely destroy us sinners. But, God in His unfathomable love for sinners has poured out his grace upon us through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Now, by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone we have peace, forgiveness of sins, freedom from sin, eternal life, a new identity, and a transforming life.
Now, because of the gospel, we are “in Christ” and absolutely assured that we will never experience condemnation from God the Father because we have been adopted as sons of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are now brothers and sisters of Jesus. We will one day rise like He rose from the dead.
This world is broken and full of suffering, but we are assured that God is going to remake this world and the glory that we will experience will far outweigh the suffering that we experience now. Our suffering now is hard, but it is not without purpose. God is working all things together for good for us who love Him. We are assured of His love for us, because His love was set upon even before the world began. He called us to Himself in love. He justified us by His own sacrificial love. He will glorify us because His love is unfailing. So then, who will condemn us if the Almighty God loves us? Who will bring a case against us to the judge, who is the same Jesus who intercedes for us? Who or what can separate us from the love of God in Christ? No one can. Nothing can. God’s love for the believer is unfathomably deep, unmeasurably rich, and unyieldingly faithful to us. This is good news. This is the gospel.