What is ''Gospel''?

 

As you browse our website, you will see the word “Gospel” used time and again: from “Gospel communities” to “Gospel-centred preaching”. Language is important, so when we say “Gospel”, what do we mean?

When we say “Gospel” we have in mind a word which is used frequently in the Bible; we would even say it is the central message of the Bible, and the basic message of Christianity. It is how God is restoring this world, and how He is restoring individuals into a right relationship with Him. It is the message that “God has done what we could not do” and God has done it “by sending his own Son”.[2]  Let me explain.

             a world of injustice

Most people recognize that something is wrong with our world. We see heartache, disease, poverty and outright cruelty perpetrated against one another everyday; we need only to turn on the News if it isn’t in front of our very eyes. For C.S. Lewis, before he became a Christian, this was one of the best arguments against the existence of God. He wrote, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.”[3]

This is something we should all be able to admit. The question is, “why is the world this way?”

There are some people who argue that the injustice was necessary; it was how some species historically survived over others, and this process simply continues today. Yet we as human beings recognize the injustice around us as exactly that; we recognize that this world is not right. C.S. Lewis wrote again, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.[4]

Others put their hope in Human Rights Legislation or education, yet even here in North America, where human rights are highly prized, our daycares have had to add bars around their playgrounds and our high schools have added metal detectors at their doors. This is the world in which we live.[5]

What is the Christian’s answer?

             God is making everything right again (Rev 21:5)

The Bible begins with the account of God’s creation of the world. The original creation narrative finishes with these words, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”.[6] Tim Keller, a pastor from New York, explains:

God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent. Neil Plantinga, a theologian, puts it like this: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight”—[this] is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We translate it “peace,” but in the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. It describes a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts are faithfully and fruitfully employed, all under the arc of God’s love.[7]

This state of perfect peace (shalom) was ruined when mankind turned against God’s commands and decided we could live without Him. The result was the continuing injustice and cruelty we see today.

But God has not abandoned His creation. Immediately after the fall of mankind, God made a promise that He would destroy sin and once again set all things right. He then began the process of rebuilding.

The Bible promises that God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice”;[8] God will set every wrong right, and:

Of the greatness of his government and peace (Hebrew: shalom) there will be no end.  

He will reign …over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.[9]

             we are unjust (Rom 3:10)

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, then you are probably wondering, “Why doesn’t God end the injustice now? Why wait?”. Or maybe you’re thinking that this all sounds great and, “If only it’s true, I’ll just wait it out and everything will be great”.

But what the Bible shows us is that the problem is not just the world around us, the problem is in our own hearts. Jesus said:

Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.

[…]

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”[10]

If we want God to destroy all injustice, that means destroying each of us, because each of us is filled with the very injustice that we hate around us. Rap artist Lecrae Moore once wrote:

But if we want God to stop evil, do we want Him to stop it all or just a little bit of it? If He stops us from doing evil things, what about lying, or what about our evil thoughts? I mean, where do you stop, the murder level, the lying level, or the thinking level? If we want Him to stop evil, we gotta be consistent, we can’t just pick and choose. That means you and I would be eliminated right? Because we think evil stuff. If that’s true, we should be eliminated!”[11]

In other words, sin hasn’t just affected our world, it has infected the very core of our beings as individuals. There is no one who is immune: the Bible tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.[12]

Most people would agree that a world of perfect justice and peace would mean there is no murder, but the Bible shows us, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him”.[13] Most agree that a world of justice means a world where people do not betray each other, especially the person closest to them, but Jesus explained, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[14]

We should also agree that a world of perfect justice is a world without lying or stealing. But as some have pointed out, if you’ve told lies, that makes you a liar; if you’ve ever stolen anything, even something small, that makes you a thief.

Does anyone believe a world of justice would include murder, adultery, lies or theft? Of course not! But that means that before we can be included in a just world, something has to change on our inside.

More than anything else, our problem as a people, and as individuals, is our continued rebellion against God. We refuse to recognize that which is most worthy of recognition, and refuse to honour that which is most worthy of honor. The Bible explains our state:

What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.[15]

This too is unjust: like bragging about a painting but refusing to acknowledge the brilliant and talented painter (or denying that it is the painter’s work at all).

             from bad to worse…

So recognizing this is the problem, what do we do? It isn’t just a matter of trying to be better: as we saw, the problem comes from within us. And more than that, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin”:[16] try as we might, we are enslaved to our injustice; we can never love the way we should, act the way we should, or even think the way we should.

For most of us, the way we try to deal with sin in our lives is either to make excuses for ourselves, or blame others.[17] But neither of these will work: our rebellion and injustice are serious! We saw that part of setting things right means that God “will judge the world with justice”. God is a just judge, and justice means that sin and evil can’t just be ignored. The wrongs we’ve done have to be set right.

Not only should we be eliminated if God is going to make this world just, but this is exactly what we deserve. The Bible tells us, “the wages of sin is death”;[18] in other words, if we were eliminated, we would be getting exactly what we’ve earned. One of the first Christian’s wrote, “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escapethe judgment of God?[19]

But the Bible tells us that God loves the world and desires the best for us.[20] So how can God both maintain His justice, and yet let sinners go unpunished?[21] Or as Jesus asked the people, “how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?[22]

             the just has died for the unjust (1 Pet 3:18)

With the whole world guilty of rebellion and injustice and deserving only death, it would take someone who is perfect to die for us who are not. And that means the only person who could make us right with God was God Himself. And so God sent His only Son: Jesus was born, lived the perfect life which none of us could live, then took on Himself the punishment that our sins deserve by letting sinful and unjust mankind convict Him even though He was innocent, and put Him to death.

The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us“.[23] It says the purpose of Jesus coming into the world was “to save sinners”.[24] It says:

He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds.[25]

[…]

Out of the anguish of His soul God will see and [His justice will] be satisfied; [Jesus] will make many people right with God; he will carry away their sins.[26]

And finally the Bible says, “Christ himself suffered for sins once. He was not guilty, but he suffered for those who are guilty to bring you to God.”[27]

Do you see how serious sin is? Because God is a perfect judge, He cannot let sin go unpunished — If God didn’t punish for sin, it would be like a court judge in our city who has a guilty criminal in front of him, but lets the guilty criminal go free without any punishment. That judge would not be very honest – but God is honest and perfect, He will not let sin go unpunished.[28]

After three days, Jesus rose from the dead. The Bible says that Jesus resurrection is “proof… to everyone” that God “will judge the world with justice”:[29] Jesus “was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay”.[30] His resurrection was a declaration that Jesus is “the Son of God in power”.[31]

             they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21, NIV)

Jesus has taken the penalty our sins deserve, but God’s just judgment is coming against this world. The question now is, “what must I do to be saved?”;[32]how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?[33]

The Bible answers:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For …“Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.[34]

Jesus is the only one who could say, “I am the Living One; I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death”.[35] By raising from the dead, He proved that He has eternal life. Now He offers that life whoever believes by promising, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”.[36]

Because the punishment for our rebellion has been satisfied at the cross, God offers forgiveness and pardon to any person who confesses their sins, turns from their rebellion, and relies on Jesus to make them right with God.

This is what it means to “repent”. The prophet Jeremiah pleaded with the people, “Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God … and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the Lord.”[37] Earlier we saw that the Bible says of mankind, “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him”. To confess that “Jesus is Lord”, means to give Jesus His rightful place, it is to deny that you are in control and instead acknowledge that Jesus is the rightful ruler and judge of the earth.

             counting the cost (Luke 14:28)

This is not to be done lightly. If you really believe that Jesus is in control, then He can ask anything of you. Jesus once said:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.[38]

Then He added, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?[39]

To one rich man Jesus said, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.[40]When Jesus’ closest followers reminded Him, “See, we have left everything and followed you”,[41] Jesus told them that “in the new world” they will be judges over their peers and then promised, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.[42]  To follow Jesus will cost you something today — you won’t be able to continue living your life your own way — but you will gain far more in eternity.

             why Jesus?

A friend asked me once “Why do we have to believe in Jesus instead of just believing in God?” The answer is that to believe that God exists does not do anything about our sin. Even evil spirits believe that God exists.[43] To believe in Jesus means to understand that He is the only one who can make us right with God. We are trusting that He has saved us through His perfect life and His death in our place, rather than by anything we have done. All we can do is respond by confessing to God our sinfulness and submitting to Jesus as Lord.

             the new creation in us

If God only forgave our sins, we still wouldn’t be fit to join in the “new earth, in which justice dwells”.[44] What about our sinful nature and the evil the comes from within our hearts?

God promises in the Bible:

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.[45]

He does this by giving us His Holy Spirit at the moment when we believe. The Bible says:

When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.[46]

And just as He is renewing the world, the Bible says:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.[47]

God has begun the new creation in us who believe, and He will finally complete it when Jesus returns to judge the world and set all things right. Until that day comes, God has held back His judgment and “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”.[48]

To those who refuse God’s gift of forgiveness and new life, the Bible says:

Do you suppose … that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.[49]

             the invitation

At the very end of the Bible, Jesus, Himself, promises, “Behold, I am making all things new”,[50] and then, once again, He adds an open invitation to everyone, saying, “whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely”.[51] You can trust in Jesus and accept forgiveness today: turn to God, confessing you are guilty of rebelling against Him, and accept His forgiveness in Jesus name.

             so what is the gospel?

The Gospel is the good news of what God has done and continues to do in this world. He is making all things new, with perfect justice and peace, and out of “every tribe and language and people and nation[52] God is calling individuals into a right relationship with him. Those who accept His invitation, He recreates into a new people and a new identity; a people who will seek after “justice and mercy and faithfulness”.[53]

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”[54]

If you’re not sure about this God thing, that’s OK. But we would challenge you, if you do nothing else, at least read the Bible for yourself and let God speak for Himself through it.

If you don’t have a Bible of your own, we would love to give you one. You can pick one up for free by stopping in at our Connect Centre at a Sunday Gathering, or request one by filling out a Connection Card online.

If you are trusting in Jesus, we encourage you to be baptized as the first step of obedience in your new faith, and to join a Light Community so that you can connect and grow with other Christians.  Please speak to one of the members of Our Leadership Team, or complete a Connection Card.

 

Endnotes:

[1] This video is part of study course by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, The World We All Want.

[2] Romans 8:3, ESV.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Lewis continues, “But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?

[4] Ibid.

[5] These are meant only as examples, not exhaustive arguments against these positions. For a fuller response, we recommend Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God.

[6] Genesis 1:31, ESV.

[7] Tim Keller, “Justice,” (preached in October 2005 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City), online.

[8] Acts 17:31a, NIV.

[9] Isaiah 9:7, ESV.

[10] Mark 7: 15, 21-23 ESV

[11] Lecrae Moore, Truth. Lecrae adds, “But thanks be to God that Jesus stepped in to save us from our sin! Christ died for all evilness! Repent, turn to Jesus man!

[12] Romans 3:23 ESV.

[13] 1 John 3:15 NIV, and compare with Jesus words in Matthew 5:21-22.

[14] Matthew 5:27-28 NIV.

[15] Romans 1:19-23, ESV.

[16] John 8:34, NIV.

[17] See Romans 2:15.

[18] Romans 3:23, ESV.

[19] Romans 2:3, ESV.

[20] See John 3:16-17 and 1 Timothy 2:4.

[21] See Romans 3:21-26.

[22] Matthew 23:33 ESV.

[23] Romans 5:8, ESV.

[24] 1 Tim 1:15, ESV.

[25] Isaiah 53:5, GW.

[26] Isaiah 53:11a, ESV, 11b NCV.

[27] 1 Peter 3:18, NCV.

[28] We can compare this to a court fine, or a bail charge, where the court does not care who pays it, justice is done as long as it is paid.

[29] Acts 17:31, NIV.

[30] Acts 2:31, NIV.

[31] Romans 1:4, ESV.

[32] Acts 16:30, NCV.

[33] Matthew 23:33, and compare Romans 2:3.

[34] Romans 10:9, 11 ESV.

[35] Revelation 1:18a NIV, 18b KJV.

[36] John 11:25, ESV.

[37] Jeremiah 3:13 ESV.

[38] Mark 8:34-35, ESV.

[39] Ibid, v 36, ESV.

[40] Luke 18:22, ESV.

[41] Matthew 19:27, ESV.

[42] Ibid, v 29, ESV.

[43] See James 2:19.

[44] See 2 Peter 3:13.

[45] Ezekiel 36:26-27, ESV.

[46] Ephesians 1:12b-13, NIV.

[47] 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, ESV.

[48] 2 Peter 3:9, ESV.

[49] Romans 2:3-5, ESV.

[50] Revelation 21:5, ESV.

[51] Revelation 22:17, KJV.

[52] Revelation 5:9, ESV.

[53] Matthew 23:23 ESV, and compare Titus 2:14 and Micah 6:8.

[54] Romans 8:3-4, ESV.