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What is the Gospel?

By Nick Brzozowski

The Gospel is a Story.

Stories play a powerful role in our lives. Psychologists talk about the effects of stories in forming identity and connection. And the same is true with the gospel story. It is so critical to shaping a person’s identity as a Christian that you can’t follow Jesus without an awareness of the gospel.

The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word for “good news.” Before it was a religious word, it was a political word, used to describe stories of emperors. So, when Jesus wanted to describe the message that saves, restores, and gives life, it seemed fitting to him to use the word, “gospel.”

In Romans 1:16, Paul calls this story the power of God. But, just because it has the power to save does not mean that we all recognize its importance. John Lalgee compares the gospel to a lifeboat. We can go our whole lives taking it for granted. But, when we are in a precarious situation, we come to fully appreciate the great news it truly is!

But, what is the actual story? Can it be distilled to one moment when the Son of God offered his life for us on the cross two thousand years ago? Well, I think so. But, I think the gospel is a bit like an accordion. For instance, you could sum it up with the words: “Jesus died for our sins and rose again.” At least, Paul thought you could (1 Corinthians 15). But, the gospel story can also expand to the entire life of Jesus (Mark 1:1). In fact, it can expand the whole story of God’s work throughout history (sometimes called salvation history). I tend to see the gospel message as our overall understanding of Genesis through Revelation.

Theologians use four headings to describe the gospel: Creation (God made everything), Fall (Our sin ruined everything), Redemption (Jesus is fixing it), and Consummation (In the end, it will all be fixed).

My favorite pneumonic that helps me remember the message comes from Dare2Share. Instead of four headings, there are six. Notice how it also follows the same structure for stories — good, bad, but wait.

The Gospel is a Character.

The gospel and the word of God can often be viewed as synonymous. And just like the word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), the gospel acts as one of the main characters throughout the New Testament.

The book of Acts follows the narrative of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Of course, the main character of the gospels is Jesus. But, who is the main character of Acts? If you read it in one sitting, you would walk away thinking that Paul was the main character. The apostle Paul is definitely a big deal for Acts and the advancement of Christianity, but he doesn’t show up until chapter 9! Nope, the one character who is present throughout the book is the gospel (sometimes referred to as the word of God).

Acts is a book chronicling the adventures of the gospel as it travels from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Notice the overarching theme of the gospel in the first five books of the New Testament. It starts off with four biographies of Jesus, called gospels. And then those grow feet and start traveling everywhere. The movement of the gospel, by the apostles and early Christians, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, is the launch of Christianity in the world.

Following Acts, the New Testament writers continue describing the gospel as a character.

  • It is the power of God (Romans 1:16).

  • It can be disobeyed (Romans 10:16).

  • It empowers Paul to be a spiritual father (1 Corinthians 4:15).

  • It can be hindered (1 Corinthians 9:12).

  • It is key to receiving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).

  • It unites us together (Philippians 1:5).

  • It is worth sacrificing for, even dying for (Philippians 1:12, 2 Timothy 1:8).

  • It comes not just with words, but with demonstrations of power (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

  • The last time the word appears in the New Testament, it is being preached to every tribe and nation (Revelation 14:6).

Seeing how the gospel is personified will help you appreciate the prominence it holds for Christians today.

The Gospel is a Diamond.

Just like a diamond, the best way to fully appreciate the gospel is by viewing it from different angles. Any time I say “this is the simple gospel story,” I feel compelled to add, “but there’s so much more!”

Consider the different angles from which the writers of the Bible describe the message of the gospel:

Angle 1: The Righteousness of God (Romans 1:16-17).

The gospel is the revelation of God’s perfect justice and righteousness. It shows how God can be just and the one who justifies sinners. It also shows how we can receive his righteousness (innocence) through faith in Jesus.

Angle 2: Jesus is King (The Gospel of Mark).

Mark intentionally borrows language used in his time to describe emperors and applies that description to Jesus. And throughout his gospel, Mark portrays Jesus as the ultimate king who is always acting in power. Even demons and nature itself obey Jesus. And he came preaching the message that the Kingdom of God was coming down to the earth — where things are as they should be, including the poor cared for, oppression resisted, sicknesses healed, etc.

Angle 3: Jesus is raised (1 Corinthians 15).

The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel. Without it, Christians are most to be pitied. Paul makes clear that our entire hope rests in the resurrection of Jesus alone. Because he was raised from the dead, we can trust that he is God. Because he was raised from the dead, we can trust that we will be raised as well. Because he was raised from the dead, we know that Jesus is working to restore both the physical and non-physical, both the spiritual and material, both heaven and earth.

Angle 4: Through Abraham the nations will be blessed (Galatians 3:8; Ephesians 3:6)

The gospel is the story of how one family is a blessing for the world. The mystery of the gospel is that all the Gentiles can be just as much God’s people as the Jews. The gospel is for all people. It is transcultural and multiethnic.

Angle 5: Jesus paid our debt (economic)

For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Angle 6: Jesus defeated evil (military)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

Angle 7: Jesus declares us not guilty (legal)

Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. (Romans 8:33-34)

Angle 8: Jesus reconciles us with God (relational)

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10).

Angle 9: We are saved by grace through faith

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The Gospel is a Responsibility.

Some news is not just information. Some news carries an implied responsibility. Finding out that your parent is sick or that you won the lottery or that you are going to be a mom or dad all have a responsibility linked to the information. And so does the gospel.

There are at least four responsibilities from hearing the gospel.

Responsibility 1: Believe it.

Belief is both intellectual and relational. Believing the gospel entails trusting in Jesus, which brings eternal life.

Responsibility 2: Share it.

As news, the gospel is meant to be shared out loud with words.

Responsibility 3: Live it.

The gospel invites us to share in the life of God, himself. It involves experiencing the love of God, serving one another by the strength that God supplies, bringing God’s Kingdom to earth (racial equity, care for the poor and oppressed, health for the sick, etc.), and being filled with the Spirit.

Responsibility 4: Study it.

Paul talks of different gospels (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-7). If the true gospel gives life and peace, then false gospels keep people from experiencing life. Our responsibility is to study enough to know the difference.

Further resources:

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