The Meaning of the Gospel

April 16, 2006

I write this early in the morning of Resurrection Sunday, a Lord’s Day like every other, lived and celebrated in the light of the glorious resurrection of Christ from the dead.  What a time to consider the meaning of the Gospel.

C. J. raised this question, and it is so vast that it defies summarization.  And yet, if we cannot summarize the Gospel, we surely do not understand it, and cannot effectively share it.

Here is one complication:  We talk about the Gospel while, in one sense, meaning a summation of all that the Bible teaches.  We know of Gospel churches and Gospel messages and Gospel tracts — meaning that these are self-consciously intended as centered in evangelism, the heralding of the good news of salvation through Christ Jesus.

Yet, in this other sense, the Gospel refers broadly to the comprehensiveness of the Christian truth claim, for the truths that comprise the Gospel depend upon the totality of revealed truth.  One cannot truly affirm the Gospel, for example, without recognizing the background of God’s work of creation and the eschatological promise of a new heaven and a new earth.  Similarly, the entire enterprise of the Gospel is dependent upon the grace of God in revelation, especially the Bible.

But, more to the point, C. J., I would define the Gospel as the good news that God saves sinners through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Cor. 15:3-4].  This good news tells us that we are sinners, who deserve only death and cannot save ourselves.  The Gospel points to the cross of Christ as the propitiation for our sins, the substitutionary sacrifice for our transgressions [Romans 3:21-26] and to the empty tomb as the promise of our resurrection unto eternal life [1 Cor. 15].  This Gospel is God’s gift, as is the faith that justifies sinners.  Salvation is all of grace, so that no sinner can boast of his salvation.  Saving faith is made visible in those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead [Romans 10:9].

So much more could and surely should be said, but I cannot believe that anything can be taken away from this without doing great injury to the Gospel.

C. J., thanks for asking the question.  I’ll post more in coming days.  In the meantime, let me point to my commentary on the resurrection posted Friday.