What Is the Gospel?
April 1, 2007 - Some years ago a missionary from India was speaking in Chicago. At the close of his address, a young man asked, “Why do you go to India to bother those people about Jesus Christ—aren’t they getting along all right without Him?”
The missionary replied, “No, young man, they are not getting along all right without Jesus Christ. No one, anywhere, is getting along all right without Him.”
by Roy Gustafson
Just before I left for one of my preaching assignments in Africa, a neighbor scornfully raised the question, “Why are you going to Africa with your religion? They have their own religions, so why trouble them with yours?” He was quite surprised when I assured him that we do not go anywhere to preach “religion.”
Our message is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would not walk across the street—much less cross the oceans—to interest anyone in religion; but I am ready and willing to go anywhere in the world to preach the Gospel of the Son of God.
Through the centuries there have been hundreds of thousands who have shared the dedication of Paul, the chief of the apostles: “None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). There are thousands of religions, but there is only one Gospel.
Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
The Gospel is the power of God that takes a thief and makes him or her an honest person. The Gospel is the power of God that changes a murderer into a person whose heart is filled with love. The Gospel is the power of God that takes a fallen man or woman, lifts that individual up, and makes him or her as pure as an angel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God that can change you!
After nearly 2,000 years, the Gospel has lost none of its ancient power. It is as much the power of God unto salvation today as when it was first preached. It can overcome all obstacles and break down all barriers. Sin is no hindrance, for even in the extremes of hopelessness and degradation the Gospel thrives, because it brings with it the abounding grace of God.
God is so rich that He will not sell any of this. Even the wealthiest are so pitifully poor that they couldn’t purchase it. It comes as a free gift—by grace, through faith, plus nothing!
Always the Same Fruit
The Gospel works anywhere and everywhere. It has been declared on every continent of the earth, under every imaginable social, racial, cultural and economic condition. It always works and it always produces the same fruit. It dispels darkness, delivers from bondage, sets sinful captives free and imparts liberty and peace.
There is widespread ignorance even among Christians as to what ingredients compose the Gospel. The Bible warns us of those who “would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7). Could any warning be more stern than the words in Galatians 1:9? “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Since this Gospel is the Gospel of God’s glory, the individual who preaches “another gospel” (i.e., a little bit of law, a little bit of grace, a little bit of Christ, a little bit of self, a little bit of faith, a little bit of works) robs God of glory and the sinner of hope.
There is nothing more important to know and to have clear in our thinking than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Testament insists that we are saved by believing the Gospel. If you believe the Gospel, you will be delivered from the penalty and power of sin here and now, and when this brief life on earth is finished you will go to heaven. If you do not believe the Gospel, you will be lost in outer darkness. Anything that determines eternal destiny is certainly deserving of our most careful study.
What, then, is the Gospel of the grace of God? If the Bible teaches that we are saved by believing the Gospel, what is it that we are called upon to believe?
Let us ask Paul for the answer. He would point us to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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.”
Three Days’ Work
You will be quick to notice that the Gospel of the grace of God is composed of two parts: first, Christ died for our sins; second, Christ rose from the dead. If you will read the epistles of Paul, you will notice that his message centers on three things: the death, the burial and the resurrection of Christ.
This is quite in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, for we must remember that Christ came not primarily to preach the Gospel (though He did herald deliverance to the prisoner), but He came rather that there might be a Gospel to preach. This Gospel was won and brought into being by His work on the cruel tree.
He came to earth from heaven with a strange purpose. It was so different from that of every other human being, who clings to life and who goes through life bent on living. The Lord Jesus came to earth for the purpose of dying. Even though death had no claim on Him, He was born to die.
Simon Peter declared, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). We have all broken God’s laws and flouted His commandments, and therefore we are all under the sentence of death. Sin against an infinitely holy God incurs infinite guilt and demands an infinite sacrifice. But the infinite Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has died—and in dying has met in full every claim against us.
The Vital Difference
If someone in our country were sentenced to death for murder and one of his friends went before the judge, saying that he would gladly die in the condemned man’s place, the court would be forced to hand down a decision that, according to our laws, one man could not die in the stead of another.
But God is not bound by the laws of men. “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief … [He made] His soul an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10).
We human beings, with our limitations of time and space, date the Lord Jesus’ death in the first century of this present era and place it upon “the green hill far away without the city wall.” But, as far as God is concerned, it is a timeless event.
Actually, the Lord Jesus was slain, in the mind and plan of God, before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). To the eye of faith, the death of Jesus Christ is as near to us as it was to the dying thief.
But Paul did not stop by declaring the work of the cross. The fact that the Lord Jesus died to save is one half of the Gospel; the fact that He rose from the dead to keep is the other half of the Gospel. Both of these are essential in the full Gospel of the grace of God. He would have been an insufficient Savior had Jesus Christ remained dead. The fact that He has died and now lives in heaven for us proves Him to be an all-sufficient Savior.
The vital difference between our supernatural faith and all of the naturalistic religions of the world is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead.
The Message That Never Fails
This, then, is the Gospel. This is the message that, when it is believed, never fails to become the power of God unto salvation. There are no difficult or hopeless cases. To many who are perishing in their sins, it is foolishness; but unto us who are saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”
(1 Corinthians 15:3). Here is the only basis upon which a holy and righteous God can forgive your sins and receive you unto Himself. This One who was crucified now lives in resurrection power in glory. Almighty God has declared Him to be the Prince and the Savior.
I cannot urge you too strongly to say yes to the Lord Jesus right now, in the quietness of your own heart, to turn to Him from your sins and receive Him as your Lord and Savior.
Receive Him with your eyes—“Look to Me, and be saved” (Isaiah 45:22). Receive Him with your feet—“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Receive Him with your hands—“Take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). Receive Him with your lips—“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Receive Him with your ears—“Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). Receive Him with your will—“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Receive Him with your heart—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5).
If you will receive Him, He will receive you, and you will find that this Gospel, which tells of His death, burial and resurrection for you, is the power of God unto eternal salvation.