The gospel is a proclamation that is to be heralded. It is the greatest and most important message in human history. There is nothing more vital to hear and believe. Nothing. It is the proclamation that changes literally, everything. So what is this message?
Simply stated, the gospel is the declaration that God is able and willing to redeem, reconcile, and restore us and all of creation to a holy and harmonious relationship with him through his Son, Jesus Christ. Essentially then - God saves sinnners.
Stated with more detail, the gospel is the proclaimed declaration that God has done what he promised to do through the prophets in accomplishing salvation for his people. It is the good news that man, who was spiritually dead and separated from God because of sin, can be made spiritually alive and reconciled to God through no doing of his own, but by the grace, mercy and love of God. It is specifically the good news that Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, took on flesh in becoming a man and then lived his whole life under the Law, yet in every way - free from committing any sin. Even more, Jesus lived in perfect active and passive obedience to all the precepts in the whole Law of God. In the appointed time, Jesus willingly died on the cross for sinners and rose again on the third day to reconcile them to himself eternally, having in his death and resurrection, defeated sin as well as satisfying the holy demands and the wrath of God against sin. Man individually then has this reconciliation with God through faith in trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ and since this faith and salvation is not something that we obtained by our own power or will, we then are also secure and need not ever fear losing it. All of nature has restoration as well, and will receive it at Christ’s 2nd coming, when he comes back for the elect - his bride, the church, to give glorified bodies and to defeat and judge the enemies of God once and for all, and to usher in a new eternal age of peace and love with God without any of the effects of sin for those who are in Christ. This is truly good news.
Do you want to have that holy and harmonious relationship with God? Do you know how to find it? More accurately, do you know in whom it is found in?
The Bible tells us that peace with God is possible through Jesus Christ alone. To bring the most clarity to this, it is helpful to think of the gospel in four categories.*
1. The Person of God; the Righteous Creator:
The beginning of the Christian message is that there is a God. Even more, that there is only One God (who is a Trinity)** and he is the creator of all that is. That’s even the start of the Christian Bible (Genesis 1:1). That of course means that he is the creator of all people (Genesis 1:26, Isaiah 43:7, Revelation 4:11). Because he created us, God has the right to tell us how to live (Genesis 2:15-17). In other words, he is Lord of all (Revelation 19:16). Now God isn’t on some power trip. He instructs us for our good and his glory which is good, but we must consider the problem of sin (more on that in the 2nd category).
God, in his character is among other things - loving, compassionate and forgiving (Exodus 34:6-7). It's popular to think of those attributes of God, but we must affirm that he is also just, righteous and holy as the Scriptures tell us “he will by no means, clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7). God doesn’t overlook, ignore or tolerate sin. His rule over the universe, his sovereign lordship over creation, is founded upon his remaining forever perfectly righteous and just. In order to do that, he must exhibit his wrath over all unrighteousness and ungodliness (Romans 1:18, Habakkuk 1:13). This too is for our good and his glory.
2. Man; the Sinner: (Guilt)
We have all fallen short of God’s glory and deserve his wrath (Romans 3:23). It is important to note that we are fallen – meaning that man didn’t begin this way. Adam, the first man (Genesis 2:20), was created in the image of God (Imago Dei) without sin and in perfect fellowship with God. When Adam sinned (Genesis 3:6), his nature became fallen and he was no longer righteous before God. Likewise, all people are created in the Imago Dei but Adam represented all of mankind and his failure to uphold the covenant that God made with him in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15-17), meant that the nature of sin and death has been passed on to us all (Romans 5:12).
How can one man represent all others you may ask? How is that fair? First off, we will like this one man representation when it comes to being restored to God (Romans 5:17). Even still, we are no better than Adam is. We too would have sinned (Jeremiah 17:9). In a way, it's like a common team sport. When one person makes a mistake, the whole team gets penalized. So it is with God's wisdom in creation. Mankind has a sin problem that begins with guilt from Adam and is contriubted to with our own sins.
What then is sin? Sin is transgression against the law of God. Simply put, it is evilness. The Bible says that anything we do apart from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). It is not living in accordance to the law of God (Exodus 20:1-17) and we should, because he is Lord. God is holy and just. He does not turn a blind eye to evil. He judges it, all of it (Psalm 7:11). Not only have we inherited sin from Adam, but we have all broken the laws of God ourselves (by lying, cheating, stealing, and so on). We all deserve his wrath. People all over the world live in open rebellion to the Lord of Lords. The Bible tells us that, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). The Bible is clear on this point: because of sin, people apart from Christ are separated from the paternal and saving love of God and cannot please or be pleasing to God (Romans 8:6-7). It is more than just a broken relationship though; it is a rejection and betrayal of his kingly majesty. Our sin is larger than we know, for it is against a holy, eternal and perfect God. And the truth is, is that none of our good deeds are sufficient to atone for our sin. No matter how "good" we may think we are, it is not good enough. God's standard is so great, because he is so great! Even our good deeds, are not truly "good" (Isaiah 64:6). In fact, if we would earn our salvation, we would need to be perfect. Consider these words of Jesus:
”You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We have no hope of being perfect in our own efforts. As the Apostle Paul said, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If we’re going to be saved, it must be by another way – by the perfect works of another – by grace.
Thankfully, there is hope -
3. God’s Gracious Provision: Jesus Christ: (Grace)
God is not only just, he is also gracious. And in his grace, he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to live a sinless life. He was no ordinary man. He is the God-man – being fully God and fully human (the doctrine known as the hypostatic union) (John 1:1,14). While on earth, Jesus offered that sinless and perfect life on the cross for us, in our place. Jesus suffered and died as our substitute. On the third day, he rose again from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), signaling his victory over the grave and the sufficiency of his work. He took the wrath of God upon himself and forever away from those who trust in Him. It is through this work of Jesus, that God can clear the guilty, because Jesus has paid the price. Jesus, and Jesus alone is the only way to salvation (John 14:6). Consider these verses:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” – Isaiah 53:6
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Notice what that last verse is saying! Not only does Jesus take away our sin, but in Christ, God’s grace replaces our sin with Christ’s righteousness. In Christ, we can be made truly holy in God's sight – considered as holy as God’s one and only Son! Think of it like this. At the cross, the punishment for our sin was imputed to him and his righteousness would be imputed to us. As people are in Christ, they are declared righteous (justified).
4. Our Response: Faith in God’s Provision: (Gratitude)
We need a true and saving faith to be righteous before God. True and saving faith in God is not merely believing facts taught in the Bible. It is a living and active trust in those truths and reliance upon the object of faith (Jesus). True saving faith (explained in detail below) is enduring trust in God; that salvation is by His grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. If you will truly believe (trust) in God’s offer of grace through Jesus, you will be saved (John 3:16). This is the promise of God: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Even more, if you believe and have faith, the Bible tells us it is because you have been born again or regenerated (John 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5). Salvation is the work of God from start to finish (Hebrews 12:2).
Consider also these words of Scripture:
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved...For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:10,13).
Faith Further Explained: What’s Next:
Maybe you have known the Lord God through Christ Jesus for some time now. Praise God if so! But perhaps you didn’t have, or are unsure about having a saving/good relationship with God through Christ prior to reading this article. Do you desire to place your trust in Christ and be saved? You can! Truly, if you have that desire, it is because God has revealed that need to you. We desire that you would be saved - that you would flee to Christ! The Scriptures say that “Today is the day of salvation”. (2 Corinthians 6:1-3).
However, this is not "cheap grace." You must count the cost of following Jesus. Following Jesus means responding (not causing) to his salvation through things like:
a. Receiving Christ:
Now if you believe the things that were mentioned in the four categories above (i.e., that there is a God, that you are sinner, that God sent Jesus to pay the price for your sin, and that your faith must be in Christ and what he has done), then you are displaying evidence that you have been born again. That you have saving faith. The Scriptures say: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13). So then, you must receive Christ - call on his name for salvation. That's what you do with this information. You don't leave it for something to do later, you mustn't. You can't. That's what it means to have received Christ. Sometimes, this is known as "conversion". It is you, consciously choosing Christ because he first chose you (John 15:16).
You may be inclined to pray (talk to God) at this point – perhaps for the first time even (prayer is surely a sign of saving faith). This prayer may be something like, but not limited to – “God, I thank you for showing me my need of you and of Christ’s work on my behalf. Grant me the grace I need to grow in Christ and glorify you, Amen”. One thing must be clear though - saying a prayer doesn't make you saved. It's your response to God's work.
Saving faith is never alone though -
Repentance is not simply an option for some Christians who wish to be holier than others. It is a crucial evidence of faith (Luke 13:3, Romans 6:1). If you're not 'in Christ', until now, you’ve sought peace, joy, and satisfaction in many ways opposed to God. Maybe it was in the approval of others. Maybe it was alcohol and drugs. Maybe it was sex. Maybe it was power, prestige, or possessions. Whatever your false sources of trust, you were striving to find in them what you can only truly find in Christ. Truly trusting in and turning toward Christ means turning away from these false sources of refuge, and resting more and more everyday and now finding satisfaction in God alone. It's not that we forsake our sin to come to Christ, but that we forsake our sins because Christ has bid us to come to Him. This is something the Bible calls “repentance.” None of that means that you will be perfect or without sin. In fact, you will continue to struggle with sin until you are glorified with Jesus (Romans 7:18-20; Galatians 5:17; 1 John 2:1). But it does mean that you will no longer live at peace with your sin.
Repentance is not easy, but God is gracious (Ephesians 2:4-5)! In fact, God provides ordinary, everyday means by which we can grow to renew our perspective (way of seeing God, ourselves, and our world), our priorities (what we value), and our practices (our behavior, speech, and so on). The Bible calls this process of renewal, sanctification (theologians identify two kinds of sanctification: declarative - meaning that we are in some sense fully set apart from God's point of view at the moment of conversion. Progressive - meaning that God works in us over time to be more holy through grace). God is very active in our sanctification (setting us apart for himself). For our sanctification, God desires that we routinely observe the means of grace - which consist of weekly gathering on the Lords Day to hear the Word preached and observing the sacraments and praying with the church. We can also do individual things like studying His Word, praying, reading theological books, and fellowship with one another during the week (Ephesians 2:10). God gives us these desires too, so pray to him that he would increase this desire in you.
Your Next Steps
If your faith is now in Jesus, be sure to find a church family that preaches the truth of God’s Word, a family of faith in which you can grow to know more about the good news of Jesus for every aspect of your life. If you happen to live in the East Bay Area, please consider joining us at First Family Church in Antioch CA! We’d love to have you as our guest.
However, if you don't live in the East Bay Area and would like some help finding a solid church, please contact us . We would be happy to help you find a church in your area, one that preaches the truth of God's Word and the good news of God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
*The four categories have been modified from a helpful book by Greg Gilbert.
Gilbert, Greg, What is the Gospel, Wheaton, IL. Crossway, 2010
**Chapter 2, section 3 of the 1689 LBCF on the Trinity reads - In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him. (1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:14,18; John 15:26; Galatians 4:6)
- Pastor Paul Abeyta