The Apostle Paul declared that he was not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). But what is this Gospel? What does this term even mean? In an age wherein sound doctrine has been replaced with teaching that is meant to tickle the ear and not challenge the soul, many people who call themselves “Christians” cannot answer this very basic theological question.
The Academic Definition
The word Gospel comes from the Greek term euanggelion (where we derive the word evangel) and it means “good news” or “good message”. It is often referred to as the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it is not just any good news, but it is the good news which relates to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Without Christ, there is no Gospel.
The Apostolic Definition
In the 15th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we have his definition of the Gospel. What is the Good News? Paul tells us, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8 ESV). Paul tells us in verse one of this same chapter that this is the Gospel, this is the good news, that Jesus has died for our sins and that He also has been raised and seen by many people alive. This resurrection truth confirms that Christ’s message was true. In fact, Paul goes on to say that apart from it, we would have no reason to hope in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:17). So, as in the academic definition, Paul centers his definition of the Gospel on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Without Christ, there is no Gospel.
The Expanded Definition
It is true that the Gospel is the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the question which must be understood, especially in our modern day, is the reason why this is good news. To understand that, we must first understand that the good news of Jesus Christ must be preceded by the BAD NEWS of the sinful condition of mankind. This is a reality which few want to acknowledge, but is absolutely confirmed for us in Scripture. Every single person is a sinner, a rebel, a wretch. We are sinners first by nature, because of our relationship to the first sinner, Adam. He represented all of his posterity when he sinned and as a result condemned the entire human race by his one act of disobedience to God (Romans 5:18). We are also a sinner by volition; we choose to sin. We have all, by our lack of conformity to God’s standards, committed acts of cosmic treason and are justly worthy of His condemnation and wrath. This is more than bad news… this is the worst news of all. No person can claim to being righteous because we are all desperate sinners. This is why Paul would say, “There is none righteous. No, not one” (Romans 3:10).
It is understanding this bad news which paves the way for us to understand the good news of Jesus Christ. In His death, Jesus Christ received in Himself the punishment which was due for the sins of all of His people. All of God’s wrath which would have been poured out on the sinners, was instead poured out on Jesus. He became their substitute. In that moment, God’s wrath against them was propitiated (satisfied) because it was laid upon Christ. But this is not the only good news, for at this point all that would be done is the sinner’s negatives were dealt with. The sinner still lacks any positive righteousness. As such, Christ provides for the sinner His own righteousness as their possession so that they may stand before God not only as sinless, but as perfectly righteous. This is called Double Imputation. Imputation means to charge to an account. The sinner’s debt was charged to Christ’s account, and Christ’s righteousness was charged to their account. In this divine transaction, God is able to remain perfectly just in that He has punished sin through a substitute and He has accepted the righteousness of that substitute on their behalf.
The question now becomes, how can a person know if he is among those for whom Christ died? How can a person be confident that his sins are forgiven and that he has been given the righteousness of Christ? The answer is by faith alone. There is no work which can be done which would demand God’s favor or even His attention. Salvation comes as a result of God’s gift of grace (unmerited favor) which results in a rebellious sinner’s heart being converted and responding positively to the call to repent of sin and believe in Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If a person has true faith in Jesus Christ, he can be confident that he is saved. His will and desires will begin to conform to Christ and he will become His disciple. A life unchanged is not a life of true faith. In short, a person knows that he is saved if he has responded positively to the Gospel in faith and repentance and his life has been changed as a result.
Knowing this, I would like to now pose a question to you the reader. How do you respond to the Gospel? Do you reject it or do you believe it is the truth? The Bible tells us that those who reject the Gospel have rejected Christ, and that apart from Christ there is no salvation from sin. You will be judged by God for your sin and His unmitigated wrath will be poured out on you for all eternity. If this describes you, I pray God’s grace would open your heart to believe His Gospel and that you would know the joy and peace which comes in the salvation of His Son alone. Without Christ, there is no Gospel.