This sermon refers to a diagram. You can find a pdf copy of that diagram here.
What is the gospel? A wee while ago I got an email that said, “Promote the core message of our gospel”. What do you think it said was the core message of the gospel? Loving others.
No one would doubt that loving others is a big part of Christianity. Clearly Jesus taught us to love one another, love our neighbours, love our enemies… but is that the core message of the gospel?
The word “gospel” occurs 130 time in the New Testament, in virtually every book. Many other times the writers refer to the gospel using other words so, in total the gospel occurs hundreds of times in the New Testament. It is absolutely central. It was the focus of the thinking of the early Christians. You could say that the whole of the New Testament – indeed the whole of the Bible – is about the gospel. Anything that is that central to the New Testament should also be absolutely central for every Christian. But what is the gospel? Is it about loving others?
The Greek word meaning “gospel” occurs in two different forms: euangelion, the noun, “the gospel” and euangelizo, the verb, “I gospel, I speak the gospel”. The prefix “eu” means “good” as in euphemism (good speaking) or eulogy (good words) or euphonium (nice sound). Angelion means “news” or “message”. It is the word from which we get “angel”, a messenger. Combine them and you have “good news”. And you can readily see that this is where we get the word evangelism.
The word “gospel” comes from the old English gōdspel: gōd meaning “good” and “spel” meaning “news” or “story”. So, the English and the Greek are exactly equivalent. They both mean “good news”.
The New Testament is always talking about this good news. But what is it?
We sometimes think of the gospel as being crucial at the beginning of our Christian life – we come to believe the good news of the gospel – and crucial at the end of our lives, because we hope to go to heaven. But actually the gospel is good news now. The gospel makes all the difference now.
This term we are going to focus on the gospel. I think we will address these questions:
- What is the gospel? (starting today)
- The power of the gospel. How can the gospel change our everyday lives?
- Living a life worthy of the gospel? How can we live as people for whom the gospel is central?
- Sharing the gospel. If this really is good news, how can we tell others about it?
So, what is the gospel? Would it surprise you if I said that loving others is not the gospel?
There are many places we could look but let’s start in 1 Corinthians 15. READ 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
If our question is “What is the gospel?”, how handy that Paul says “I want to remind you of the gospel”.
But before he defines it, he says some other things about it. Firstly, the gospel was the message he had preached to them. He could have come to Corinth with any number of messages – self-improvement messages, moral messages – but he didn’t. His focus was the gospel. This message was the one message they needed to hear. This message was the one that was of crucial importance.
Secondly, they received it. They heard this message and it changed their lives. They believed it. They accepted that it was true and they saw that it was relevant to them. They wanted it.
Thirdly, they took their stand on it. The gospel became the foundation of their whole life. The gospel influences how they lived; every decision they made; how they viewed the future; how they viewed the present; everything. And they would not be shifted from it. This is where they stood.
Fourthly, Paul mentioned one of the results of the gospel: “By this gospel you are saved”. We will come back to that but, whatever the gospel is, it is profoundly powerful. The gospel saves.
Then there is a very interesting comment: the gospel will save you “if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you”. This is one indication that the gospel is not simply about trusting Jesus at the beginning of our Christian life and going to heaven at the end of it. Our salvation depends on never letting go of the gospel. We are to be gospel people every day. “Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Paul did not doubt that they had believed the gospel, and received the gospel, and taken their stand on the gospel but all that could be in vain if they did not hold firmly to the gospel daily. Are we? How can we?
There are just a couple more comments before Paul explains what the gospel is. He had passed on what he had received. Paul didn’t make up the gospel. It was given to him. The gospel is a message that comes from God. Paul had his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus. He then spent a long time before God – listening, reading, studying. What he received was exactly what he passed on. The gospel is not something that can be changed and amended and turned into perhaps something more palatable for people. No, the gospel message must remain the gospel message as God has defined it.
Then Paul describes it as being of first importance. There is no other message more important than this one.
Eventually, he is explicit about what the gospel is. He listed four things but they are really only two things
- That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures
- That He was buried
- That he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures
- That he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters
It is really only two things because numbers 2 and 4 are really just the proof of numbers 1 and 3. The fact that He was buried verified His death. The fact that He was seen by 500 people verified His resurrection.
According to this passage, that is the gospel: that Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day.
I have tried to put this into a diagram.
You can see the section that is labelled “the gospel”, as defined by 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. In that box we have who, did what, and why. The who is Jesus Christ. As Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” The gospel centres on Jesus. He is the Saviour.
Jesus did what? He did lots of things and they are all important. His teaching and example are important but the gospel is that Jesus died and rose again. We will come back to that.
Why did Jesus die? For our sins. It is not popular but the problem is our sinfulness. Sin alienates us from God. Sin messes up the world. We want to do things our way. We want to ignore God. We want comfort and enjoyment. Submission to God is costly. We don’t want that.
On the bottom left we have the necessity of the gospel – our sin. Above that we have the motivation for the gospel: God’s love for us and His mercy. He could have left us to our own devices but He loves us too much for that and launched a rescue mission which involved the Jesus coming into the world as a human.
On the right we have the response to the gospel – trusting in Jesus and repenting – turn from our sinful ways so as to live God’s way. Baptism is the sign of our faith and repentance – our dying to our old life and being raised to new life.
But there is a question mark in the “Faith?” box. There is a crucial decision to be made and two very different outcomes. If we do not put our trust in Jesus, we will receive the judgement our sins deserve.
In the vertical column we have the results of the gospel. We are saved – forgiven, declared righteous, becoming children of God. We receive the Holy Spirit. We begin a process of Holy Spirit transformation so that we become more like Jesus. Empowered by the Spirit we live a life worthy of the gospel. And, ultimately, we will be glorified, entering the very presence of God for all eternity.
So, we have the necessity of the gospel, the motivation for the gospel, the response to the gospel and the results of the gospel, but the gospel itself is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.
So much for 1 Corinthians 15 but do other passages describe the gospel in the same way? Listen to some and see if they fit with this diagram. If they don’t, yell out because I am misleading you.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Admittedly, at this early stage of His ministry Jesus was not talking about His death and resurrection but you can see the same basic outline of the gospel: God’s love, the gift of Jesus, the crucial decision of faith and the two possible outcomes – perishing or eternal life.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
2 Timothy 1:8-11
8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 9
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.
If you look at Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, it is about Jesus’ death and resurrection. When the crowd believed the truth of what Peter was saying and asked what they should do, Peter said, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Some passages emphasise some elements while others emphasise others. But the pattern is consistent. At the heart of it is the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.
What about loving people? None of them mentioned loving people! Where does that fit in? Loving people is one aspect of living a life worthy of the gospel. It is not the core message of the gospel. It is one of the results of the gospel. People who have been loved and freely forgiven, love in response. People who have received freely, give freely. People who have been loved by God, love God and love God’s people. Jesus taught great ethical principles – like loving others – but they are impossible to live up to consistently, without His death and resurrection. Our constant failure would make His teaching bad news. His death and resurrection are the good news that enable Christians to obey His teaching and follow His example.
Today, there are a great many explanations of what the gospel is. Some people do define the gospel in terms of loving others as Jesus commanded. Other people have different ideas about what the gospel is. But we need to be careful. Remember that Paul said that he passed on what he had received. He didn’t make it up. It is God who defines what the gospel is. And Paul said to the Galatians that any so-called gospel, different from the biblical gospel, is in reality, no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-9).
The core message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. How do you respond to that message? I really hope that you have received it; you have taken your stand on it; you have been saved by it and you are holding firmly to it. I hope that is the case but we all need to reflect on that; what is your response to the gospel message: Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again?