When I was preparing my message for the youth Christmas service, I asked myself this question a couple of times: what is the gospel? You see, I decided a few years ago that I would always, always preach the gospel in a youth service, no matter what the topic was. And I have done so, to the best of my capabilities. But lately I’ve been wondering about the Gospel I’ve been preaching.
The more I learn about God’s Word and the depth of what Jesus has done, the harder it becomes for me to define what the Gospel is exactly.
The more I understand of the beautiful symbolism and deeper meaning of many events around Jesus’ death and resurrection, the more details I want to include in sharing the Gospel.
The more I grasp of the concept of grace (and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface), the less satisfied I am with my version of the Gospel.
The more I try to live out the Gospel, the harder it becomes to share it in only 5 minutes of a sermon.
All in all, I think I’m having a bit of a Gospel-crisis which boils down to this question: what is the Gospel and what does it mean to preach the Gospel? So, in the upcoming posts I will try and find some answers on what it means to preach the Gospel and what the Gospel is exactly (NB: all quotes are from the NKJ translation).
What does ‘Gospel’ mean?
Now the Gospel literally means ‘the good message’ or ‘good news’ (Greek: euangelion). It’s a term that’s often used in the New Testament: 76 times as a noun and 54 times as a verb (‘euangelizo’: to bring or deliver good news). This good news then is the news of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection.
Where do we find the Gospel?
Usually in Christianity, we use Jesus as our ‘standard’ on how to do anything, but with the issue of the Gospel that’s a bit complicated. After all, most of Jesus’ teachings were before His death and resurrection. Jesus does use the term Gospel however, mostly as the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
We should look to New Testament writers then for clues on what the Gospel is, especially Paul since he is what you could call an expert on the Gospel. Let’s have a look at several qualifying terms Paul uses for the Gospel, two ways in which he describes the Gospel and a practical example of how he preached the Gospel.
Terms for the Gospel
Here are four terms Paul uses to further qualify the Gospel:
- The Gospel of the Son (Romans 1:9) or The Gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:12)
- The Gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24)
- The Gospel of your salvation (Ephesians 1:13)
- The Gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15)
From these descriptions we could conclude that the Gospel is Jesus-centered and should proclaim grace, salvation, and peace. These concepts are of course further explained and taught in Paul’s many letters, especially his letter to the Romans.
Descriptions of what the Gospel is
In Romans 1:1-4 Paul introduces himself as follows:
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
Here, Paul includes these elements in the Gospel:
- The Gospel was prophesied in the Scriptures
- Jesus was David’s descendant
- Jesus is Gods Son, as proven by His resurrection
There’s also a passage in the first letter to the Corinthians where Paul summarizes the Gospel he brought them:
“(…) 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.” (verse 3-5)
Paul’s Gospel to the Corinthians has these elements:
- Christ died for our sins
- He was buried
- He rose again
- Everything happened according to Scripture
- There were witnesses
These two examples show that there are certain key elements, most notably the complete focus on Jesus as the center of the Gospel. But there are also details that are included for a specific audience. To many of our audiences, the fact that Jesus was David’s descendant won’t mean anything. It did mean a whole lot to the Jews however, who were after all expecting David’s heir to appear as Messiah.
The same goes for the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Of course there’s still much debate about this, but I don’t think it’s that big an issue amongst youth for instance. It was however a big issue to the Corinthians, because the Greek philosophers in that time didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection. Even some Christians were denying Jesus’ bodily resurrection and proclaiming a spiritual one instead. That’s why Paul thought it necessary to stress the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.
It seems safe to conclude therefore that it’s okay to stress certain elements based on what matters to your audience.
A practical example of Paul preaching the Gospel
In Acts 13 we read about Paul preaching the Gospel to the Jews in Antioch. Paul’s message to them is about showing that Jesus is the foretold Messiah and then he says this:
“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the Law of Moses.” (verse 38 and 39)
This passage shows us that Paul’s Gospel is again Jesus-centered and focused on grace and being saved by faith, as opposed to works. Again, Paul adapts his message to his audience, because he spends a lot of time explaining that Jesus is the foretold Messiah. There are other examples of Paul adapting his message like that, for instance when he addresses his audience on the Areopagus (Acts 17: 22 and further).
Interestingly, Paul again quotes from Scripture many times to support his Gospel. Paul’s audience knew Scripture of course, as he was preaching to Jews here. But it’s interesting that the fact that Jesus death and resurrection happened according to Scripture is also mentioned in the two descriptions above, who were not specifically aimed at a Jewish audience. This makes wonder of the reference to Scripture is an essential element of the Gospel.
Based on these passages from Scriptures, these seem to be key elements of the Gospel:
- Jesus is God’s Son
- Jesus death for our sins
- Jesus resurrection
- Forgiveness of sins and justification through faith in Jesus Christ
- Salvation by grace, not works
What do you think the Gospel entails, do you agree with my conclusions? Do you know any other relevant passages that provide answers to this question? I’d love to hear your thoughts as I’m truly wrestling with this issue! Stay tuned for more tomorrow…
[Photo credit: Corey Grunewald on Freely, Creative Commons]