What is the Gospel?

cousin_jean_the_younger_501_last_judgmentThe gospel is central to the Christian faith.  In fact without the gospel there is no Christian faith.  Before you continue reading this piece, take a moment answer the question:  “What do you think is the gospel?”

Some might answer that the gospel is that “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, others that Jesus died for your sins or that He rose to give to you life.  The apostle Paul cared a great deal for the gospel.  He declares that he is “not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of salvation.”  He also gives a frightful warning to the Galatians to assure that they receive the true gospel and not a counterfeit.

… But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.   As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8-9    

Paul issues a stern in order to avoid being eternally cursed.   Therefore, it is critical to know exactly what is the true gospel, lest we seduced to a competing replacement gospel. Even a tweak of the true gospel is disallowed as Paul makes it clear that this one gospel cannot be modified by him or even angles.  It must remain pure and undiluted, just as it was originally preached.

So what is the gospel?  The NKJV uses the word “gospel” 94 times.  A survey of a few of these instances reveals a few important findings to help us understand what the Word of God means by gospel.  First in Revelation 14  we have a scene from heaven where we are explicitly told an angel is preaching the everlasting gospel.  What is that Gospel that the angle is preaching?

 Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth — to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people —  saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.  Revelation 14:6-7  

The angelic sermon contains three points: Fear God, that judgement has come, worship the creator.  One might ask “where is the everlasting gospel in those points?”  The assumption is that the gospel is good news, and by that we mean good news for me.  If it doesn’t benefit me it is not good news as far as I’m concerned.  Yet fear, judgement and worship are the everlasting gospel according to the angel in heaven.  The general assumption is that judgement is bad, and by bad we mean bad for us.   But judgement is good and by that I mean good to exhibit the glory of God first and then for all His elect.

Looking at 1 Peter, Peter’s use of gospel also challenges many modern sensibilities. Peter writes that the gospel is to be obeyed.  The modern church is not big on obedience because obedience is law and law brings judgement and that is not gospel or so they Claim.

 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? — 1 Peter 4:17 

The modern evangelical might likely ask “How is the gospel good news if it something that must be obeyed.  Surely we obey the law the gospel frees us from obedience”  While individuals keeping the law cannot save one from judgement, it is Christ’s keeping of the law that in the judgement declares the elect innocent of all evil.  Thus Paul states that the law cannot save, (your keeping of it).  This is the meaning of Galatians 2:21

 “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” 

When Paul asks:

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Galatians 3:2  

He is pointing the Galatians to the manner that the gospel is received by sinners and that is by faith.  Yet another biblical reference might challenge our understanding of the gospel.

  Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.  For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.   For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. Hebrews 4:1-4 

The gospel then must be received by faith. Without faith the hearers will experience the wrath of God and not enter His rest.

A look at 2nd Timothy reveals that the resurrection is also a part of the gospel.  Paul is willing to suffer for the gospel.   Again, how can good news be about suffering?

 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God,  who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,  but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,   to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.  2 Timothy 1:8-11 

   Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel…    2 Timothy 2:8

The gospel is not foundationally good news for you, but is good news because of Christ.  The gospel is Jesus wins!  This true gospel requires a fundamental reorientation.  It is not all about you, but it is all about Christ! The good news is that Christ is perfectly and exhaustively victorious.  His judgment is absolute and final. Satan, sin and death no longer have a rein, because Christ is on His throne and every knee bows to worship Him.   It is not first that we are victorious, but Christ is victorious.   We are but a part of His spoils of victory. That is the good news, Christ is victorious and in faith we are judged according to His righteousness not our own, so that we can worship Him eternally.  His victory is for His own glory not yours!  We are saved to glorify Him, not so he can glorify us.   The gospel can be summarized as the King is approved by His Father, defeats the enemy, wins glory for Himself, sets up His kingdom defends His subjects and takes His chosen bride.   The Gospel is Christ alone!  What Christ has done, is doing and will do.

Is the gospel good news for you?  The answer is a definite maybe.   David’s victory over Goliath was good news for Israel, but not so much for Philistia.  Judgement is not good news for all who are not in Christ by faith.   Absent faith one cannot enjoy life in the eternal Kingdom.   The reprobate will be judged and Christ will be glorified for His holiness and justice in that judgement.   Christ has crushed the rebellion, and all the rebels who do not affirm his rule and worship Him are banished from His kingdom to hell.  But all the elect will by the gift of faith, receive the righteousness of Christ and be judged not just as innocent, but positively righteous.   The elect will collectively be the bride of Christ and worship Him for ever and ever whose kingdom has no end.  He is glorified in His redemption for His grace and His justice satisfied by an atoning death and resurrection.

What is the Gospel?  “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him …”  Who am I to argue with an angel in heaven.


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