If someone asked you “What is the Gospel?” Could you answer them? What bearing does it have? I think even many Christians today would struggle to answer. Let’s take a few minutes to consider five key facets of this ancient gem.
1. The Gospel is a message — From the New Testament books we call “the four Gospels,” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it is a message to be proclaimed. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20 commands the apostolic Church to go “preach the Gospel” to every nation and make disciples.
The Church did not invent the word. The Greek term euangelion had its roots in the military and political sphere. It meant “good news.” This was a message of political or military victory. The idea was that their leader had vanquished their enemies; they were now safe and could live in peace.
The earliest Christians used a lot of these nuances. Jesus was a king who would bring in a heavenly kingdom. In Revelation he is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14 & 19:16)—in Isaiah, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The Christ would bring in a time of everlasting justice and peace in the earth.
2. The Gospel is an Event — The New Testament also teaches that the Gospel is an event. Something happened that, in the minds of the earliest Christians, changed the course of history.
The basic Gospel story, (often called the kerygma) is the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1–8). The Story begins at the creation of the world with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. It culminates in the New Testament with Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus is “God with us,” the incarnated Son of God (Matthew 1:23).
Jesus is betrayed, given a sham trial, and then crucified. But he rose from the dead on the third day, appeared to many, and then ascended to heaven.
The point is that “something” happened. According to the New Testament, God did something for mankind—on behalf of mankind. That is called salvation. The central message of this Gospel is that Jesus Christ has been raised and is now “Lord.” It is victory, but not fully realized as of yet.
Paul describes the Christian identity as one in which we have been purchased by a new master. We are no longer the property of sin, death, and suffering. The old has passed, the new has come. Yet the final transaction has not yet taken place. We are heirs who have not inherited, longing for it at a distance (Ephesians 1:3 & 14). We are still awaiting the full realization—our own personal resurrection in Christ’s image (Romans 8:23). For this he is called the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 & Colossians 1:18)
3. The Gospel is a Future — The Gospel, was, is and is yet to come. This is because it is a promise. For those who embrace God as trustworthy, they receive what Peter calls exceeding great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4)
As Christians today, we often speak of salvation in the past. We talk of having “been saved” etc. This is true. But the dominant New Testament picture is that salvation lies before us—as salvation called “the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” We taste it at a distance and rest upon the power of God’s promises.
Peter tells us that we have been “born again to a living hope”—“to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfailing, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3–4) This “hope” in heaven is “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).” The “last time” (eschaton) is where we get the word “eschatology.” Eschatology is all about the future salvation of the Christian. For Peter, in the last time we will receive our reward, “the outcome of your faith… the “salvation” of our souls (1 Peter 1:9).
Our hope as a Christian is inseparable from this eschatology. And this offers the most practical and hope-giving truth. Whatever we struggle with now, it is transcended by what is promised to us in the Gospel. Paul says that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed, what Peter calls the “outcome of our faith” (Romans 8:18).
Because of the Gospel, we truly have a future.
4. The Gospel is a Way of Life — The Gospel is not something just done to us or for us; we participate in it.
Sin brought injustice into the world, and with it suffering as well. The Gospel points to a time when God will rule in righteousness (Isaiah 32:1), when the Messiah will wipe away every tear (Revelation 7:17 & 21:4). The Gospel is redeeming and healing the gaping wound of sin and death.
In the Sermon the Mount (Matthew 5–7) Jesus unfolds his vision for how his people are to live. By living out Jesus’ Gospel vision, we participate in the healing, justice, and hope of the Kingdom to come. Jesus’ people are co-laborers who give the world a taste of the kingdom now. So Peter encourages us:
Gird up the loins of your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; (1 Peter 1:13–16)
5. The Gospel is a Person — This is probably the most powerful part of the Gospel. The Gospel is not just a message, event, future reality, or way of life; It is relationship. Though all are inextricably linked, the Gospel is a relationship with a person. He has a name: He is Jesus the Christ/Messiah. This is where the Gospel story gets not only robust, and complex, but deeply intimate.
Jesus is the Gospel. If so, then he is the soul’s chief pursuit. To pursue Jesus, to know God intimately, is the only thing we do as Christians. All other pursuits pale.
The simple pursuit of Jesus is the singular concern of the Christian; it is a rock of offense to all the ministry hype and gimmick that often so easily impresses us. We have become technique junkies, ever fussing for the next thing to leverage, enhance, or turbocharge our ministry to the next level. It is all a treadmill and bondage. And yet there placidly sits the Christ enthroned, beckoning, “come to me, sit with me, learn of me.”
To know God in Christ intimately as a person is the whole story; he is the message, the event, our future, and the way of life.
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