What is the gospel?

Today that term “gospel” is thrown about quite indiscriminitely. We have the Gospels, gospel preaching, gospel truth, gospel music, and a number of other uses of the word. Dictionary.com actually gives eleven entries for the word.

  1. the teachings of Jesus and the apostles; the Christian revelation.
  2. the story of Christ’s life and teachings, esp. as contained in the first four books of the New Testament, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
  3. (usually initial capital letter) any of these four books.
  4. something regarded as true and implicitly believed: to take his report for gospel.
  5. a doctrine regarded as of prime importance: political gospel.
  6. glad tidings, esp. concerning salvation and the kingdom of God as announced to the world by Christ.
  7. (often initial capital letter) Ecclesiastical. an extract from one of the four Gospels, forming part of the Eucharistic service in certain churches.
  8. gospel music.
  9. of, pertaining to, or proclaiming the gospel or its teachings: a gospel preacher.
  10. in accordance with the gospel; evangelical.
  11. of or pertaining to gospel music: a gospel singer.

So, when someone talks about the gospel, you have to ask some questions before you truly understand what he’s talking about. It is somewhat more clear in the Bible. There, the word gospel is the translation of the Greek word, euaggelion, which means, “good news” (BAGD 317). Not having Young’s Concordance at my disposal, I looked up the English word at Bible Gateway and found that it is used 101 times in the New King James Bible. It is described in a variety of ways:

  1. the gospel of the kingdom (Mt. 4:23)
  2. the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:1)
  3. the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24)
  4. the gospel of God (Rom. 1:1)
  5. the gospel of Paul (Rom. 2:16)
  6. the gospel of peace (Rom. 10:15; Eph. 6:15)
  7. a different gospel (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6)
  8. the gospel for the uncircumcised (Gal. 2:7)
  9. the gospel of your salvation (Eph. 1:13)
  10. the defense of the gospel (Phil. 1:17)
  11. the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27)
  12. the truth of the gospel (Col. 1:5)
  13. the sufferings for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8)
  14. the everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6)

Despite all the different adjectives, the good news is usually referring to the same thing—what God has done for sinners through his Son, Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul used the term this way as he reminded the Corinthians about the gospel he had preached to them.

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
—1 Cor. 15:1-8

Paul’s first point is that the gospel is extremely important to every believer. After receiving the gospel message which Paul preached, the Corinthian believers were standing firm on it. And because of their faith in the gospel, God had saved them. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that these people were Christians. However, he used a hypothetical statement here. Some commentators say that the “if” could be translated as “since” because Paul was speaking of something that obviously was not true. The Corinthians were holding fast to the gospel because their Christian lives had been established by it.

As I think about this passage, I see two additional thoughts. First, a Christian’s spiritual life is built on the gospel. This message which Paul was preaching was of utmost importance because all that they had become hinged on that one message. Sound important? It is! Secondly, a Christian’s salvation depends on the gospel. Salvation refers to what God has done in rescuing us from the punishment we rightly deserve for our sins. We were destined for eternal punishment in the lake of fire until God mercifully saved us through this gospel message. All of this leads us back to the importance of the gospel and our original question.

What then is the gospel? If we were to take a test today, how would you answer the question? According to Paul, there are three core components to the gospel.

  1. The vicarious death of Christ as prophesied in the Scriptures.
  2. The physical burial and resurrection of Christ as prophesied in the Scriptures.
  3. The many witnesses to his resurrection.

So, how did you do on the test? Did you include those three aspects? Most people would not. Why then did Paul? The three points seem to be listed chronologically but also in order of importance. Beginning with the first phrase, we realize that Jesus had to die for our sins. We are sinners from birth who are deserving to be punished for our sins. But God in his gracious mercy, sent Jesus to die in our place. This is what Isaiah prophesied many years ago.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
—Isaiah 53:5-6

Jesus did what we could not do for ourselves—he died for our sins. But the good news doesn’t end with his death. Paul goes on to describe how Jesus was buried and rose from the dead just as the Scriptures promised. In Acts 2, the apostle Peter quoted one of David’s psalms as the promise of Chist’s resurrection.

For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
—Psalm 16:10

Peter pointed out the fact that David died, was buried, and his tomb still existed at the time he was speaking. So, David was not talking about himself. Instead, he was looking forward to the future and spoke of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But as there are some who might have difficulty accepting that fact, Paul related that over 500 people saw the risen Lord. It was an established fact as verified both by the Scriptures and many eye witnesses.

From what Paul says here, I conclude that the gospel is the vicarious death, burial, and physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But I also conclude that these are verified both by the Scriptures and the many eye witnesses who saw him after his resurrection. The veracity of these statements is just as important as the statements themselves. For if they are not true, we have no salvation. But since they are true, each of us have the opportunity to personally believe and rejoice in them.

So, let me ask you a final question. Now that you understand what the gospel is, do you believe it? Do you believe that Jesus actually died for your sins as the Bible says? Do you believe that he was buried and rose again as the Scriptures promised? Do you believe the report of Peter, Paul, and the many others who saw him after his resurrection? In order for you to claim God’s wonderful gift of salvation, God requires that you not only understand these facts, but that you personally believe them. Do you?

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
—Romans 10:9-13