What is the gospel? Can you define that word? What elements must be present in a message for it to be the gospel? You might say, "I will leave that hair-splitting for the preachers and theologians. All I know is that I'm saved and I'm going to Heaven, and that's all the religion I need."
We need to know what the gospel is for two very important reasons. First, we want to make sure we have heard the true gospel and have responded to it, lest we build our faith on a false foundation. Second, Jesus has commanded every one of His children—every one of us—to go into the world and preach the gospel. We had better know what the gospel is if we are going to proclaim it.
The word "gospel" means "good news." We already know the bad news: we are separated from a holy God by our sins. There is nothing that we ourselves can do to meet His righteous requirement of perfection.
I believe one of the reasons this picture is given to us in Scripture is the same reason a jeweler displays a beautiful diamond against dark velvet. We can better appreciate the beauty of the jewel against the dark background.
So God shows us this dark background of our sin and tells us the bad news. And then in the midst of this bad news, He tells us the good news. The apostle Paul wrote, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
God in His great love sent His own Son to come down from Heaven and die on the cross in our place. That is the gospel. That is the great Good News!