What is the Gospel?

Daniel L. Sonnenberg

The gospel is the good news that God has provided a solution to humanity’s most basic problem, the problem of sin: “Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised on the third day.”[1] And God offers salvation from sin as a gift to every person who will sincerely respond in repentance and faith.

God

There are two important aspects to the character of God that must be understood. First, he is loving. He created us in his own image to know him, honor him and enjoy him above everything else. The Bible refers to him as “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”[2] He is like a father who desires to provide every need for his children, who is there to help them up when they fall down, and who patiently disciplines them when they disobey.

Not only is God loving, but he is also just. Although he is compassionate, in order to also be just, he must punish sin. He would be acting against his nature not to do so. God says, “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son–both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.”[3] It is like a man who served as a judge and who one day found his own son standing in front of the bench in his courtroom for committing a crime. If the son is found guilty, even though the father loves him, justice demands that he be sentenced in a manner that fits the crime.

The problem between God and humanity is sin.

Humanity

Adam and Eve committed the first human sin in the garden of Eden. God had said to Adam, “…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”[4] Because of his sin, he was banished from the garden, cutting him off from eternal life. And because God created Adam as the representative head of the human race, every human being, through natural generation, has inherited the sin nature. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[5] And though God is loving, his justice must be satisfied against that sin.

This has been illustrated by imagining a person who works as an accountant in a large corporation and embezzles several hundred million dollars. Two of his partners in the firm who also participated in the crime confess and turn him in. And the state bureau of investigation traces the crime to the computer at his work station. Then suppose he appears before the judge, willingly confesses his role in the crime, asks forgiveness, shows genuine remorse for his actions and promises never to do such a thing again. Do you think the judge would let him off? A just judge must uphold the law. If not, everyone would become an embezzler. Neither can God let us off lightly. The penalty of death for sin must be paid.

Many think that good works can earn God’s favor enough to pay for our sins. They believe that going to church or serving others or trying to keep the ten commandments will earn his favor. But we cannot overcome the problem of sin in our own strengths or merits. The Bible says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”[6] We are guilty and helpless in our sin. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.”[7] When we are spiritually dead, nothing we can do or try to do on our own will satisfy God’s justice.

There are two particular problems concerning sin. The first is the penalty of sin that makes people guilty before God and deserving death. We inherited legal guilt because of Adam’s sin. The Bible says, “[T]he wages of sin is death.”[8] We deserve death as a result of sin. The second problem is the power of sin that makes people corrupt before God. We also inherited the sinful nature because of Adam’s sin. So we are in a state of bondage or enslavement to sin because everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”[9] People cannot rescue themselves from the penalty or the power of sin.

Someone has drawn this analogy. Imagine a lemon tree in your yard producing sour lemons. But you decide you prefer sweet oranges. So you pull off the lemons and attach oranges to the ends of the branches. What would you have? It looks like an orange tree to the casual observer. But actually it is a lemon tree with dead oranges on it. You have not changed the nature of the tree. People cannot change their own nature any more than one can change the nature of that tree. Lemon trees produce lemons not oranges. We may attempt to exchange bad habits for better ones, but we cannot change our sinful nature. We need a new nature. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”[10]

What people cannot do for themselves, God has done in Jesus Christ.

Christ

We take on that new nature only through Jesus Christ. Jesus is God the Son, through whom the universe was created and who took on human form and came into the world as a baby. The Bible says of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[11]

Jesus took on a human nature when he came into the world in order to live a sinless life as our representative – he obeyed for us where Adam disobeyed. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”[12] And Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty that was due to us to satisfy God’s just wrath against sin. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order to…become an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the people.”[13]

There is a story of a small band of patriots in a lonely valley in Switzerland who once marched against an invading force ten times their strength. They found themselves one day at the head of a narrow pass, confronted by a solid wall of spears. They made assault after assault, but the line remained unbroken. They finally gathered for one last attempt. As they charged, their leader suddenly advanced before them with outstretched arms, and every spear for three or four yards of the line was buried in his body. He fell dead. But he made a way for his followers. Through the opening, over his dead body, they rushed to victory and won the freedom of their country. So the Lord Jesus went before His people, the Captain of our salvation, sheathing the weapons of death and judgment into himself, and preparing a place for us with His dead body.

But Jesus did not remain in the grave. God raised him from the dead to verify that justice had been served and to demonstrate his power over sin and death. During the next forty days he appeared alive to more than 500 people. Then he ascended into heaven where he was declared Lord of heaven and earth and from where he continually prays for the church. Ten days later he sent the Holy Spirit into the world to live within every believer. One day Jesus will come again bodily, in power and glory, to receive his own unto himself and to rule and reign in the new heavens and new earth.

Jesus’ work saves his people from the penalty and the power of sin. First, he offers a new standing before God. He promises to save from sin’s penalty those who believe in him. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[14] Those who trust in Him are saved from suffering eternity in hell under the wrath of God against sin.

Second, he offers a new freedom from the power of sin. He promises to save his people from sin’s power by giving the Holy Spirit, who enables them to live in a way that is pleasing to God. “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”[15]

Christ offers himself to you as your living Savior as you respond in repentance and faith.

Repentance and Faith

The Bible says, “God…commands all men everywhere to repent.”[16] Repentance is turning away from a life of sin and rebellion against God and his will.  It is a radical change of mind and heart. It is a turning away from depending on your own good works or morality or religious service for salvation – to faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ for salvation.  Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.”[17]

Someone has said that faith is like one key on a ring with many others. Though the keys may look alike, only one will open the door to the house. Likewise, only one key will open the door to eternal life in heaven. That is the key called faith, saving faith. “By grace are you saved through faith, not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.”[18] By faith you place your trust in the work of Christ rather than in your own works. Only his perfect life and substitutionary death on the cross satisfies God’s demand for obedience and justice.

There is a story of a minister who went to a barber shop for a shave. As he sat in the chair he courteously asked the barber about salvation. “I do my best,” snapped the barber, “and that’s enough for me.” The man was silent until the shave was over, and when the next customer was seated the minister asked, “May I shave this man?” “No, I’m afraid not,” replied the barber, with a grin. “But I would do my best,” answered the minister. “So you might, but your best would not be good enough for this gentleman.” “No, replied the man quietly. “And neither is your best good enough for God.” Only faith in Christ, who lived a perfect life, is good enough for God.

Repentance and faith are not one-time events, but lifelong commitments to obey God’s will and to serve Him with your whole being. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”[19] Further, he said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison– your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters– yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”[20] God’s claim on your life is total. He calls you to love him “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”[21] This is called “the great commandment.” Not only that. He calls you to share your faith with others and to spread this good news to the ends of the earth.[22] This is called “the great commission.”

Make no mistake, turning to God in repentance and faith will cost you everything.

A Personal Invitation to Respond to Christ

Jesus invites every person to respond in repentance and faith when he says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[23] The apostle John speaks of the need for a personal response when he says of Jesus, “He came to his home, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God.”[24] Even the Holy Spirit and the Church invite a personal response to come to Christ when they say, “The Spirit and the Bride [the church universal] say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty, come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.”[25]

The Promise of Forgiveness and Eternal Life

The primary things that are promised in the gospel are forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. We are promised forgiveness of sins: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be wiped away.[26] And we are promised eternal life: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”[27] Finally, we can be assured that Christ will accept all who come to him in sincere repentance and faith seeking salvation: “Whoever comes to me I will not cast out.”[28]

Other Articles that Summarize the Gospel

https://www.monergism.com/what-gospel-greg-gilbert
https://bible.org/article/gods-plan-salvation
http://ctkwilmington.org/discipleship/knowing-christ-gospel/
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-is-the-gospel/
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/summary-gospel/

Bible References 

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
[2] Exodus 34:6
[3] Ezekiel 18:4
[4] Genesis 2:17
[5] Romans 3:23
[6] Romans 3:20
[7] Ephesians 2:1-2
[8] Romans 6:23
[9] John 8:34
[10] 2 Corinthians 5:17
[11] John 1:14
[12] Romans 5:19
[13] Hebrews 2:17
[14] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[15] Galatians 5:22
[16] Acts 17:30
[17] John 6:29
[18] Ephesians 2:8-9
[19] Luke 9:23-24
[20] Luke 14:26
[21] Mark 12:30-31
[22] Matthew 28:19-20
[23] Matthew 11:30
[24] John 1:12
[25] Revelation 22:17
[26] Acts 3:19
[27] John 3:16
[28] John 6:37