Written by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen
Gospel means ‘good news.’ God’s good news—the Gospel—is the best and most important news you will ever hear. It is found permanently recorded in God’s Word—the Bible. The Bible is the final authority regarding God’s news for us—and this is where you should go to check up on what anybody says about God and His relationship to man. There are many ways to summarize the Gospel. One way is: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Another is: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). These two verses sketch the whole story, and they are simple enough for any child to understand. But further detail is beneficial to elaborate on these brief accounts of God’s good news.
This article offers such detail using a seven point outline. It goes like this: (1) A loving Creator continually blesses us (2) As ungrateful creatures, we rebel against Him (3) Therefore, righteous judgment awaits us all (4) But God has made a Covenant of Grace (5) Christ accomplished salvation for sinners (6) To be saved we must repent and believe (7) Those who are saved lead new transformed lives.
This news is not only truly good — it is also of the utmost importance to everyone. The response to it is a matter of your eternal life and death. Please, carefully and seriously consider where you stand before God. To reject or ignore God’s good news only further alienates one from God. Those who receive it gladly and trust in Christ will find it to be the best thing that has ever—or could ever—happen to them.
A Loving Creator Blesses Us
The living and true God created all things by His powerful word, and everything was very good. Mankind was made to know, enjoy, and serve God in loving dependence. Originally, man was morally upright, submitting to God’s perfect will. Even though the human race has turned away from obeying the Creator, God continues to bless mankind with good gifts—such as sunshine, rain, nourishment, families, growth in knowledge, etc. He gave us His law for our good—to bring love and justice between men, to help us overcome fear, frustration, and failure, and to teach us how to worship God properly. Finally, God even sent His own Son into the world so that men might enjoy new, abundant, and eternal life through Him.
Rebellion Against Our Creator
In selfish disobedience to God’s will, we followed our own rebellious ways and pretended to be our own ‘gods.’ We replaced God’s Word with our own human wisdom, thereby being dominated by a false master – the autonomous human will. We have a bad heart controlling our attitude toward God and man—leading to hatred, unfairness, frustration, alienation, meaninglessness, and moral defeat. We have lived in an ungrateful manner toward God. In our own individual ways, throughout our lives, whether by passive indifference or through active defiance to God’s will – (we have all) broken God’s commandments. We do not conform to what He requires, and we do what He forbids. Far from having a perfect or even a good record, we are all found guilty before God. What we consider to be our best is still polluted in God’s sight. Far from having spiritual life within us, we are dead in our sins.
Righteous Judgment Awaits All
To be true to His own holiness, God cannot allow unholiness in His presence. To be true to His Word and to respect our personal choices, He cannot pretend that we have not ignored and broken His law. Because wrongdoing is, by definition, contrary to God’s nature, our sins separate us from Him. God’s wrath and curse will certainly be expressed against all sinners in this life and the next. They will be eternally separated from Him and suffer unending punishment—the final death.
The Covenant of Grace
In mercy toward undeserving sinners, God established a bond between Himself and those who trust and submit to Him as His people—a covenant of grace. This was a sovereignly imposed, one-sided, yet thoroughly gracious, transaction entered into by God for the undeserved benefit of sinful people. It stemmed from His loving-kindness. Its aim was that He would be our God, and we would be His people. In the covenant of grace, God made a promise of eternal salvation to sinners. With an inviolable oath, God bound Himself to this saving word of promise.
The provisions of God’s promise were progressively made known in various covenants through history. Every provision pointed to Jesus Christ, the coming Savior. In accord with the developing anticipation of the Old Testament, it was God Himself who came to save His people. Jesus was the divine Messiah (the Christ), God’s eternal Son. Being of one substance and equal with the Father, He became man by taking on flesh, so that the divine and human natures were inseparably united in one single person. As the God-man, Jesus Christ was the perfect Mediator between God and men, fulfilling God’s covenant promise of salvation. God’s promise is not just to individuals, but to families and even nations. His gracious call of salvation creates “a people” or a community to be His own. Through the ages (no matter their race, gender, nationality, etc.), believers constitute one unified people of God—the Church.
Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection Accomplished Salvation for Sinners
God ultimately loves those who deserve His just wrath. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, (Christ came down from Heaven) into the world to live a perfect life and to die as a sacrificial substitute for His people — taking their condemnation upon Himself. Christ’s death was a work of obedience and atones perfectly for the sins of His people. He obeyed the Law’s precepts and suffered the Law’s penalty. Jesus pacified the wrath of God to us, reconciling us to God in Himself. Jesus’ blood is the ransom price that releases us from bondage, purchases our forgiveness, and purifies our defilement.
He grants new life by giving us new hearts. Christ accomplished a thorough salvation by delivering us from the effects of sin in every aspect of our lives. Because we are spiritually ignorant, He is a prophet declaring the will of God. Because we are guilty, He is a priest interceding to God for us. Because we are undisciplined and helpless, He is a king ruling over all and defending us. Christ offers deliverance, reconciliation, and redemption in a way that is inclusive of sin in all of its aspects, consequences, and expressions.
The salvation secured by Jesus Christ is completely by God’s mercy and grace. Not one of us could earn it by anything we do. God gives it to us as a gift—an undeserved favor — and never on the basis of our imagined good works. Because God has clearly revealed Himself through nature and conscience to all people, we are without excuse. Since we have knowingly violated His righteous standards we are justly condemned by Him. The only satisfaction of God’s justice which can be acceptable in His sight is by the only way of salvation that He Himself provided through His Son in the covenant of grace. Thus the salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ is the one and only way to be made right with God. (Salvation or redemption: deliverance from the power of sin.)
To Be Saved We Must Repent and Believe
God’s own Spirit powerfully applies Christ’s redemptive work to His people by making the Gospel effective, inwardly testifying to its truth, and producing new spiritual life within us. Because sinners are unable to do what God requires, the Holy Spirit must change our hearts and bring us into fellowship with God. God’s free gift of salvation is received when the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ by producing faith and repentance within us. God’s people are commanded to repent of sin and believe in Christ. Repentance is turning away from your sins, hating and forsaking them because they are displeasing to God. Having faith in Christ is entrusting yourself to Him alone, accepting His claims and promises, and resting on His work for forgiveness, cleansing, and eternal life with God.
Christ has secured wonderful benefits for those who trust in Him for salvation. Christ’s righteousness is credited to us, so that we are treated by God as if we had never sinned. Having declared us righteous in Christ, God also promises to make us righteous over time in heart and in conduct. We are assured of final acceptance with God as His children, and are strengthened to persevere in the faith. So believers now enjoy God’s love, peace, joy, and hope. Then, at death, believers are made perfect in holiness, and they spiritually live to enjoy the very presence of God. At the general resurrection of all men, when Christ returns in glory for the Final Judgment of the world, believers are resurrected in redeemed bodies, glorified like unto the Savior, acknowledged and acquitted by Him, and enter into the holy, happy, and eternal life of God’s consummated kingdom.
Those Who Are Saved Lead New Transformed Lives
By the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, believers determine to live according to God’s will; as redeemed and renewed, we seek to give our lives new direction. The Spirit empowered change should characterize us and affect all areas of our lives. God’s true people renounce self-centered sin, strive to live in love toward God and men, determine to obey the Lord’s commandments, and generally demonstrate attitudes, affections, and behavior exemplary of a Spirit-filled life.
Followers of Jesus Christ desire to witness about His saving mercy to others who are lost in sin. They are also willing to endure suffering for their commitment to the Savior. By making other disciples of Christ and witnessing to the will of God, Christians pray that the Kingdom of God might more and more come to expression in the world and—to the greatest degree possible—reform all areas of life for God’s glory. Christians cultivate their new life by means of Bible reading, prayer, and the fellowship of God’s people. They are united to other believers in a local church, where they worship God, observe the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and grow by the preaching of the Word of God.
Our response to God’s good news is indeed of utmost importance for entering into true communion with God, the Creator of the universe. It is ultimately more important than any other decision you make in life. It is a choice between eternal life and death itself. In reviewing God’s good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches:
- A loving Creator [God] continually blesses us
- As ungrateful creatures, we naturally rebel against Him
- Therefore, righteous judgment awaits us all
- But God has made a Covenant of Grace
- Christ accomplished salvation for sinners
- To be saved we must repent and believe
- Those who are saved lead new transformed lives
Christ invites you to belong to Him by faith, and promises to receive you. “He who comes to me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). God commands your submission to Christ: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). In light of learning and considering the Gospel message,while these things weigh upon your heart, you can seek God’s forgiveness in prayer. You may be unaccustomed to speaking with God, but He awaits and welcomes your sincere prayer. Simply:
- Confess your sinfulness and your sorrow for it.
- Call upon the name of Jesus Christ as the only One you trust to save you in God’s sight.
- Ask for new life by the Holy Spirit and commit yourself to following Christ in everything you do hereafter.
Then enjoy the privilege of being adopted as a child of God, one who can call Him “Father” and be assured of His love. And to strengthen and grow in your faith, find a Bible-believing fellowship of Christians where you can worship God and continually learn from His Word.
What gospel do you believe and preach? This sounds like such a simple question, but not all Christians are on the same page regarding the definition of such a basic element of the faith.
Early in the twentieth century, the Fundamentalist movement tried to resist growing Modernism by self-consciously focusing on what it saw as the most essential tenets of the Christian faith, its fundamentals.
An emphasis was placed on the message of saving faith in order to counter the Social Gospel. The Fundamentalists emphasized that the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnate in human flesh, lived a sinless life, paid the penalty for our sins by His death on the cross, and rose again the third day. Those who repent of their sins and believe in His atonement for theirs are saved from damnation. This became known as the simple gospel.
The error of Fundamentalism was that it was itself a retreat, a fall-back position to the essentials as its leaders defined them. It was a truncated message. The simple gospel, while true, does not represent all that the gospel is. It is only a statement of what we mean when we say we are saved by the blood of Christ. It does not address all that Jesus Christ is in the gospel message.
Salvation in Scripture is more than “going to heaven” or “not going to hell.” In a familiar text (Matt. 7:14), Jesus said “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth into life …” Salvation is to an eternal life that begins when we enter the gate. In Acts 2:28, Peter echoed these words by referring to salvation as “the ways of life.” The simple gospel speaks of “the gate” but does not reference “the way.” Evangelical churches tend to be good at describing “the gate” to eternal life but not so good at pointing out “the way” of eternal life.
Why? The modern church tends to use the term salvation as a reference to justification by faith alone. It tells the sinner who professes faith, “You are in the gate; you are justified.” They then stop there, perhaps fearful of mixing works with grace, but nevertheless leaving the way of the new believer quite vague. The correct course is not to confuse faith and works but to demand faithfulness of all who profess faith. Jesus clearly saw the way as an extension of a man’s entrance into the gate by faith.
The simple gospel rightly sees entrance at the gate by faith as an event. The theological equivalent is to say justification is an act. We can say we were saved (past tense) but this is also our present and continuing status (present perfect tense). This status was often referred to when salvation was used in the Old Testament (the Hebrews being “saved from Egypt” or “saved from” enemies).
Salvation also meant the ongoing blessings salvation provided, so we see references to God’s “garments of salvation” and “wells of salvation.” Salvation in the Old Testament often referred to an ongoing protection, and was referred to as a “shield,” “helmet,” or “horn” of salvation. Paul used almost identical “armor” terminology in the New Testament to describe our ongoing life of salvation. Salvation is an ongoing status because eternal salvation begins at the gate but it is manifested in our walk of faith, our faithfulness. The act of justification is always accomplished by regeneration, so we continue as new creatures in Christ, “born again” to an empowered life of faith.
God’s salvation is a big-picture, covenantal salvation that transcends the individual. This is why God could tell Israel and later Judah of the terrible judgments that were coming on them yet still refer to Himself as the God of salvation.
Our word “gospel” means more than just “good news.” It comes from Greek words that have as their root evangel (hence the word evangelize and the noun evangelist). The word had a long history before its Christian use. It originally referred to a messenger who brought good news. Before modern means of communication, a messenger was dispatched to report, “Thus says my master.” Good news was often rewarded. In Greek thinking, good news was attributed to the gods, so the messages were sometimes accompanied by sacrifices. There was, then, a religious connotation to the evangel.
The religious meaning of evangel was amplified by the imperial cult, which was the deification of the Roman emperor. This began with Julius Caesar and was firmly established in the reign of Augustus. Everything about the emperor was good news, an evangel, or gospel. Since the emperor represented a divine blessing or even presence, everything about him had an aura of religious sanctity. His rule was itself a form of grace.
Ulrich Becker, writing in the New International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology, quoted a decree of Greeks in Asia in 9 B.C. which marked the birthday of Caesar Augustus:
It is a day which we may justly count as equivalent to the beginning of everything—if not in itself and in its own nature, at any rate in the benefits it brings—inasmuch as it has restored the shape of everything that was failing and turning into misfortune, and has given a new look to the Universe at a time when it would gladly have welcomed destruction if Caesar had not been born to be the common blessing of all men … Whereas the Providence (pronoia) which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere … and whereas the birthday of the God [Augustus] was the beginning for the world of the glad tidings [in the Greek the “evangel”] that have come to men through him … Paulus Fabius Maximus, the proconsul of the province … has devised a way of honoring Augustus hitherto unknown to the Greeks, which is, that the reckoning of time for the course of human life should begin with his birth.1
That was the gospel of the imperial cult. Its salvation was by Caesar.
When the word gospel was used in the New Testament, it immediately conveyed a messianic theme and was, in fact, a challenge to Rome’s gospel. In the New Testament it is Jesus Christ who brings in a new order and hope to the world, because He is a King like no other and His Kingdom will know no end.
This claim was not lost on the Romans. Pilate was anxious to ask Jesus if He claimed to be a king (Luke 23:1–3). In Acts 17 a crowd dragged Jason from his home because he was known to be a Christian friendly to Paul and Silas. The charge against the Christians was that they “turned the world upside down” (v. 6). What had the Christians done to warrant such an accusation? The charge was that the Christians “do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, one Jesus” (v. 7). This concerned everyone in Thessalonica (v. 8). Why? Because the claims of the gospel co-opted those of the imperial cult. The gospel of Jesus was being substituted for that of Rome.
Caesar’s gospel was messianic. He would be a blessing to mankind, the consummation of life, the savior who would create a new universal order. It was more than political promises, it was a faith that these things were certain.
Likewise, when Jesus cast out a demon (Matt. 12:28), it represented a faith whose implications He told the people to consider: “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” In fact, Jesus had already been proclaiming “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35).
When Mark wrote, he called his account “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). Mark used historical narrative to show what the gospel entails.
The gospel does include the message of personal redemption, but that is only how men enter the Kingdom. The gospel accounts revealed what the Kingdom itself was like. The miracles of Jesus and the disciples represented the new order that Rome’s Caesars could promise but not deliver. The Kingdom of God could turn grief to joy and want to plenty. It could heal sickness, suffering, and pain. The miracles represented the reign of Jesus, the King who had established His Kingdom. The gospel of the Kingdom of God represented the real new order.
To restrict the gospel to an individual’s conversion is to speak of the gate alone. The way of the Kingdom (Acts 2:28) is life lived in the reality that Jesus Christ is King. The gospel is an invitation to both personal redemption, and life as citizens of the Kingdom of our Lord. It is more than a complimentary benefits package. Reducing the gospel is more than a simplification; it represents a truncation of the message into a man-centered emphasis. The gospel is all the good news of who Jesus Christ is and all His Kingdom means in time and eternity.
- Becker’s source is given as E. Barker, From Alexander to Constantine: Passages and Documents Illustrating the History of Social and Political Ideas 336 B.C.–A.D. 337,  1959, 211 f.; cf. W. Dittenberger, Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones, II, No. 458; for other data on background see G. Friedrich, TDNT II 721–5). Article from http://www.Chalcedon.edu