What is the Gospel?
In a recent witnessing encounter, I met a young Bible college graduate who was unable to answer the question: “What is the gospel?” Unfortunately this is not an isolated experience, I have talked to many professing Christians who are unable to explain what the gospel is, which is why I am writing this. The gospel is the most important message anyone could ever hear, it should be shouted from the rooftops and proclaimed to the world. If you do not yet know Christ, my prayer is that this article will aid you in coming to know Him. If you do know Christ, my prayer is that this will better equip you to share the gospel with others. Saved or unsaved- we all need the gospel every day, so learn it, learn it well, remind yourself of it often, and whatever you do, don’t keep it to yourself.
Who is God?
In order to understand the gospel we must first understand who God is and what He is like. The Bible teaches that God is the Creator of the world and everything in it:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” -Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” -John 1:1-2
“For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” -Colossians 1:16
“Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” -Revelation 4:11
Borrowing an example from the evangelist Ray Comfort- if you look at a building, you know there must be a builder. If you look at a painting, you know there must be a painter. When you hear a song, you know there must be a composer. When you look at the splendor and complexity of creation, you know there had to have been an all-wise Creator- God. Not only is God the creator of all things, He is also the owner of all things:
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” -Psalm 24:1
“Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture” -Psalm 100:3
I would like to borrow yet another example here to illustrate this point, this example is from my father. If you had just purchased an expensive, new car and were to let me borrow it for the day, you would also have the right to give me guidelines for how to use it. If you asked me not to take the car off roading onto muddy terrain, I would not have the right to do so. You, as the owner of the vehicle, would have the authority to set the parameters for how I could or could not use your car. Much like this, God is the owner of the world and everything in it, He has the right to set the parameters and guidelines for how we should live. He is the Creator and the Owner, therefore, He is also the Rule maker.
Another important aspect of who God is that will help us understand the gospel better is His character. When most people think of God’s character, the first things they typically think of are His love, forgiveness and mercy. As we can see from the verses below, God is all of these things:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
“God is love…” -1 John 4:7
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And it is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9
In focusing solely on God’s love and mercy, many people often neglect God’s other characteristics such as His justice, wrath, holiness, and righteousness. These things too are a part of who God is and should not be overlooked. Scripture has much to say about these attributes and they are am important key to understanding the gospel:
“Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.'” -Isaiah 6:2-3
“You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”
“For You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.”
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face.” -Psalm 89:14
God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day, if a man does not repent, God will whet His sword; He has bent and readied His bow; He has prepared for him His deadly weapons making His arrows fiery shafts.” -Psalm 7:11-14
“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” -Revelation 19:15
God’s holiness is just as much a part of His character as His mercy, His justice is just as much a part of His character as His love. If God were to simply turn a blind eye to murderers and rapists, he would be corrupt by nature. It only makes sense that if He is good and just, He should punish those guilty of committing evil. This is exactly what the Bible teaches, that “God will by no means clear the guilty” (Numbers 14:18) and that “He will bring ever work into judgment, including ever secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
So who is God? He is the Creator of all things, the Owner of all things, the perfect law Giver and the righteous Judge.
Sin and the Law
We are rebels by nature, we have each inherited a sinful nature that chooses to rebel against our Creator rather than submitting to God’s holy will. But what exactly is sin? According to 1 John 3:4 “sin is the transgression of the law.” To sin means to fall short of God’s perfect and holy standard.
As we learned above, God has the right to give us rules and parameters by which to live. God has given us the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) which He wrote with His own finger, take a look at them below and ask yourself if you have honestly kept them.
- You shall have no other gods before Me
- You shall not make for yourself a graven image
- You shall not take God’s name in vain
- Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy
- Honor your father and mother
- You shall not murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not lie
- You shall not covet
Did you pass the test? Have you kept God’s commandments perfectly? Have you always loved God with “all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27)? Have you ever made a god in your own image- a god who suits you better, making you feel better about yourself- perhaps a god who is all love and no judgment? If you have done either of these things, you have broken the first two commandments. James 2:10 tells us “Whoever keeps the whole law, yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” The standard is high and contrary to what many people think, Jesus did not lower the bar but rather, He raised it. Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28 that if you have so much as looked upon someone with lust, you are guilty of committing adultery with that person in your heart. Jesus also said that whoever is angry with his brother has committed murder in their heart (Matthew 5:21-26 and 1 John 3:15).
By this standard can we honestly say that we are innocent? Are you, and have you always been “pure in heart”, perfect in thought, word and deed?
The truth is none of us are like that. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” -Romans 3:23 “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” -Romans 3:10 If we are completely honest with ourselves, we are guilty before God. Because of our sin, we are separated from God and can have no fellowship with Him (Isaiah 59:2).
The Two Inevitables- Death and Judgement
Everyone dies. This is an inevitable truth. Though we can sometimes postpone death with medical advances, none of us can escape it. One hundred fifty thousand people die every day. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once and after this comes judgement.” Every human alive will someday die and every human who dies must face God on judgment day. Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 says, “Rejoice, young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”
One day we will each be called upon to give an account for every sin we have ever committed. Romans 2:5 tells us that there will be a day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed. As we saw above, we have broken God’s laws and our verdict is guilty. What will God sentence us to? Some would say that because God is loving and forgiving, He would simply let us off the hook but let’s try that in a human court of law. Imagine with me for a moment that you are guilty of murdering a child. As you stand before the judge preparing to be sentenced, you make a plea to the judge saying, “I know that you are a loving and forgiving judge, could you please just forgive me and let me go free?” If this were a good and just judge, he would tell you that you are out of your mind, your crimes must be paid for. If an imperfect human judge would do this, how much more would a holy and perfect God punish sinful people. Our due punishment is hell.
Jesus describes hell as a terrible place with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Revelation 14:10-11 tells us, “He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night…” Jesus says that if your eye is causing you to sin, it is better to tear it out, rather than continuing to sin and to enter hell with two eyes. That’s how serious our sin is to a holy and just God. So how can we be reconciled to a holy God whose justice demands that sin be punished? How do we escape His wrath and become forgiven? How are we reconciled? The answer is found in Christ.
Christ is our Messiah, our Deliverer. The Bible teaches that to bring about the salvation of man, God would do something miraculous and incomprehensible. He would show us His love by becoming man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus- God in the flesh- God’s Son, would live the perfect, sinless life that you and I are incapable of living. He would then go to a cross- a cruel instrument of torture and death- and He would not only die, but He would take upon Himself the punishment for our sin.
Imagine yourself back in that courtroom, you have pled for mercy, but the righteous judge demands justice, you cannot be forgiven, you must pay the penalty of your sins. As you are being sentenced to death, someone runs into the courtroom crying “Stop! I will take their place! I will endure the torture, the death, the penalty for their crime on their behalf.” This is what Jesus has done for us. Jesus did not only suffer torture and death, but He also bore the penalty for our sins so that God’s wrath and justice could be satisfied completely. On the cross, our sins were laid upon Him and all the punishment of a holy and just God, fell upon Jesus- He suffered it to the fullest. Right before Jesus died, He cried out “It is finished”. The fine had been paid; the debt satisfied in full. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 tells us that Jesus stood as the mediator between us and God by giving himself as a ransom. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” Romans 5:10 tells us, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”
Jesus did not stay dead; He rose again on the third day conquering death forever. He was then seated at the right hand of the throne of God where He now rules and reigns: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
“Looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” -Hebrews 12:2
How Can You Be Forgiven?
The Bible teaches that Jesus is “the way the truth and the life” no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). In order to be saved you must come to Jesus, believing in Him: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” -Act 16:31 This should not merely be an intellectual belief, for “even the demons believe and shudder”, we must believe that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for us. We must trust in Jesus, just as we would trust in a parachute if we were preparing to jump hundreds of feet off of an airplane. We must trust in Christ alone, nothing else. The Christian is the only person who can honestly say that they are going to heaven without being self-righteous. In other religions, it is believed that you must do good works in order to enter heaven. In true Christianity, we are not reconciled to God through our own goodness or any merit of our own, the Christian realizes that they cannot earn their way of heaven regardless of how much good they may do. We can only be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We don’t trust in our good deeds, in our religious duties, in our church attendance, or any of these things, we trust in Christ. We have all sinned too much to save ourselves, but His death is more powerful than any sin we have ever committed. His atonement is sufficient for us.
In order to be forgiven, you must repent of your sins:
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” -Luke 13:3
“The times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” -Acts 17:30-31
Repentance is a change of mind and heart about your sin where you recognize how serious it truly is. Repentance results in turning from your sin- not that you must “clean your life up first” before you trust in Jesus, but it is absolutely necessary to recognize how terrible your sin is, and to desire to be rid of it. We must confess our sin and forsake it, turning instead to Christ. If you truly understand how horrible your sin is in the eyes of God, it will bring conviction. Conviction leads to godly sorrow, godly sorrow to repentance, repentance to forgiveness. If you believe in Christ- believe what He did on the cross was sufficient for you- if you let conviction lead to repentance, if you submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then God will put a new heart within you. A heart that desires to do His will and be pleasing to Him above all else. Not that you will never sin again, but when you do, you will feel great remorse, recognizing what Christ endured to pay for it- this is the result of salvation.
Have you looked at your sin and felt conviction and remorse? Have you repented of it and asked Christ to forgive you? Have you put your faith and trust in Him alone? Have you asked Him to a put a new heart within you? If you haven’t, please don’t waste another moment, none of us know when we will die and there is nothing more important than your eternal salvation. If you have already done this, then continue seeking to grow in Christ- read His Word daily, commune with God through prayer, fellowship with His people often, seek to learn and understand His ways more and more, and share this astounding message with the world around you who has yet to meet Christ.