What Is the Gospel?
The gospel is the message that God will give us pardon from our sins and eternal life with Him in Heaven, if we will turn away from our sins and turn to Him, accepting His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This simple message is for all the world.Back to Top
Why Do We Need to Understand the Gospel?
What would you think of a surgeon who just started making an incision in a patient without really knowing what he was doing? You would probably wonder how that doctor even came to practice surgery. If he were to make one mistake, his patient could be disabled for life—or even killed. Yet, when it comes to sharing the gospel, many people are as inept as an incompetent surgeon, even though people's eternal destinies hang in the balance.
What is the gospel? You might say, "I'll leave that to the preachers and theologians to figure out. All I know is that I'm already saved and going to Heaven!"
But wait—we all need to know the gospel for two very important reasons:
- We want to make sure that we have heard and responded to the true gospel, lest we have a false hope concerning a salvation that we think we have.
- Jesus told us to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15). Those words are not merely addressed to pastors, teachers, evangelists, and missionaries; they are addressed to every follower of Jesus Christ!
We cannot be disengaged or disinterested in this subject, for it has eternal ramifications.Back to Top
How Can We Distinguish False Gospels from the Real Thing?
The apostle Paul showed us the importance of understanding and guarding your beliefs when he told Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV).
Paul also strongly urged his fellow believers to stay away from false or counterfeit gospels. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from Heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:6–8 NIV).
False gospels usually fall into one of two categories:
The watered-down gospel
- It offers God's forgiveness, telling you that all you must do is believe, without any mention of repentance.
- It presents Jesus Christ as though He were some mere additive to make one's life a little better.
- It tells you about Heaven, but leaves out the message of Hell.
The rule-laden or overly complex gospel
- It strips the true gospel of its simplicity and power.
- It comes laden with rules and regulations that we must keep to find forgiveness.
- It is so complex that no one can unravel it.
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What Are the Essential Elements of the Gospel of Christ?
Scripture reminds us to "rightly [divide] the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). We must be careful to accurately present the gospel. For that reason, we must be able to identify its key elements.
We all stand as sinners before a holy God.
A technical definition of the word gospel is "good news." Yet, just as a jeweler displays a beautiful ring or necklace against a dark velvet background to accentuate its beauty, so God first tells us the bad news to show just how good the good news of the gospel really is. That bad news is that we have all sinned—sometimes in ignorance, but often knowingly.
Seeing our complete weakness, and our inability to do anything to alleviate our wretched condition, God did the ultimate for us. "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6–8).
Because there was no other way to satisfy the righteous demands of God, because of our inability to improve ourselves (much less save ourselves), because we faced a future in Hell because of our sin, God, in His great love, sent His own Son to come down from Heaven and to die on the cross in our very place.
Paul personalized this by saying, "[Christ] loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father.
We know that God is perfect. We know that man is imperfect and sinful. The only way God could resolve this serious sin issue was to send His Son, Jesus, to take our place and to pay the price for our sins.
Why Jesus? Because Jesus, who was both God and man, without sin or fault, was uniquely qualified to bridge the gap between sinful humanity and a holy God:
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18–19 NIV).
The gospel is not about what you or I did to please or reach God; we did everything to displease Him. Rather, the gospel is about how God reconciled Himself to us through Jesus Christ. Quite simply, Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father.
- Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
- The apostle Peter echoed Jesus' words: "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
- Paul said the same thing: "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).
If we, as Christians, were to say that God could be reached through any other means, we would be guilty of misrepresenting the gospel! For on that cross, some 2000 years ago, all of the sin of the world was poured upon Jesus Christ as He became the sin sacrifice for us. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The cornerstone of the gospel is Christ's death and resurrection.
Jesus' final words on the cross were "It is finished!" This can be translated several ways.
- "It is made an end of."
- "It is paid."
- "It is performed."
- "It is accomplished."
What was made an end of?
Our sins and the guilt that accompanied them.
What was paid?
The price of redemption.
What was performed?
The righteous requirements of the law.
What was accomplished?
The work that God had given Jesus to do.
What was finished?
Satan's stronghold on humanity (see Colossians 2:14–15).
Paul puts the gospel in a nutshell: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He rose again the third day (see 1 Corinthians 15:3–4).
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A Simple Summation of the Gospel
The gospel is the message that we are all separated from God because of our sin. The result of this sin is an emptiness, an ever-present guilt, and a certain fear of death. Yet, because God loved us, in spite of our rebellion, He sent His own Son to die in our place and to bridge the gap between Him and ourselves.Back to Top
How Should the Gospel Be Presented?
The apostle Paul was a brilliant orator and communicator. He was deeply schooled in biblical law, as well as in the wisdom of Greece. If anyone could have leaned upon his own intellect, it would have been Paul. Yet, as you read the accounts about Paul's encounters with powerful government leaders in the Book of Acts, you'll find that he kept his presentation simple.
Keep it simple.
Paul would typically begin with his personal testimony, and then he would always zero in on what happened when Jesus died on the cross. He said to the Corinthians, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1–2).
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:17–18).
In the Book of Romans, Paul reminds us about the distinct power in the simple message of the life, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: "For 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).
Don't underestimate the raw power of the gospel.
- Don't underestimate its appeal.
- Don't be ashamed of its simplicity.
- Don't add to it or take away from it.
- Just proclaim it and stand back and see what God will do.
Your One-Minute Message
Your personal testimony can be a powerful example of the transforming power of Christ to others. It doesn't have to be long and detailed. By focusing on three key points, you can share your testimony in just one minute.
"But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!"—John 9:25 NLT
Three Keys of a One-Minute Message
My Life before Christ
Don't glorify your past, but mention how you were before Christ:
- "I had a void in my life nothing could fill" (see Ecclesiastes 3:11).
- "I felt separated from God" (see Isaiah 59:2).
- "My life was dominated by sin and with pleasing myself" (see Luke 15:11–24).
Share how you never felt you could become the person you ought to be.
My Life Changed by Christ
Now summarize how you came into a relationship with Christ. Be sure to mention the key elements of the gospel:
My New Life in Christ
Talk about how your life is noticeably different now that you are in Christ. Put into your own words the following benefits of being in Christ:
- My Life before Christ
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How Does One Enter into That Relationship with God?
Jesus clearly lays out the way we must accept the message of salvation offered in the gospel in these words:
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28–30).
We must come to Him.
Conversion is not some long, drawn-out process. It is immediate and instantaneous. You don't need to clean up your life before you come to Christ. You simply come with all of your problems, sins, and shortcomings and He will accept you as you are (see John 6:37).
We must take up His yoke.
When Jesus spoke these words, people readily understood, that animals (such as oxen) were often placed under yokes to work in the fields. In essence, Jesus is asking us to come under His direction for our lives. Many have their own plans for their lives, and they just ask the Lord to come along for the ride. But Jesus has no interest in this kind of arrangement. You either come on His terms or you don't come at all.
What are Jesus' terms?
- First, we must believe.
To believe means "to take hold of something." We must admit that we are helpless sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
- Second, we must repent.
To repent means "to let go of something." We do this when we put our trust and faith in Jesus and turn the direction of our lives over to Him. That means turning away from our old, sinful lifestyles and being willing to change and become a different person.
- Third, we must learn of Him.
As we walk and talk with Jesus Christ in our heart and lives, and as we begin to read His Word, we begin to see things the way Jesus does. We have new eyes because we have become a new creation.
Perhaps you already know everything we have covered here. If you do know it and you believe it, when is the last time you declared it? God wants to use you to spread the gospel (see Romans 10:14–15).
- First, we must believe.
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version™. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.