What is the Gospel?
What is the Gospel?
By Andrew McGill
What is the Gospel?
At Providence Church, we often throw around the word gospel. We want to be a gospel-centered church with gospel-centered community and gospel-centered preaching. If there were a local coffee shop that sold gospel-centered coffee, we would proudly serve it. Yet when faced with the question, “What is the gospel?” our answers would vary as widely as our donut options on Sunday mornings.
If we preach the gospel on Sunday mornings and live it out during the week, we should probably define what it is. Yet, it isn’t that simple. Simultaneously, the gospel is so simple that a child can understand it (Mark 10:14), yet so complex that angels look at it with wonder (1 Peter 1:12). It is a message filled with power, to convict sinners and exhort saints.
The fullness of the gospel is difficult for me to define. Luckily for us Paul gives a definition in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
In Paul’s definition, he gives a clear, concise statement that leaves a lot of questions. This gospel definition is then expounded in the subsequent chapters of the first half of Romans. I don’t yet have the intellectual fortitude to give an in-depth exposition of the first half of Romans, but I do have enough time to share with you four common themes found in Romans (and in the rest of the Bible, for that matter) that will help make sense of this gospel we keep talking about.
One of the first themes we see in correlation to the gospel is that God is the Creator. In Romans 1:25, Paul implies that God is the Creator of all creation. The rest of the Bible agrees. All the way back in Genesis 1 and 2, it says that God created everything and that it was good. At the core of why everything was good was this perfect relationship with God. God created Adam and Eve and it says that He would walk with them! He was not merely standing off in the distance as an uncaring deity that sparked the universe into existence only to check out. In truth, God is sovereignly and providentially intertwined with His creation (Psalm 8). Even in 2018, God still knows the number of hairs that are on your head (Luke 12:7).
The reason the garden of Eden was good was because God created it. Creation was in perfect relationship with its Creator. God’s creation of everything, and it being good, is the basis of Paul’s explanation of the gospel.
The next theme found in the gospel is the fall of mankind, or sin. If everything was perfect in the garden, but nothing is perfect now… what happened?! Paul identifies the problem in Romans 1:25. He argues that worshipping created things rather than the Creator blinds us to the truth of who God is.
Sin also severed the perfection of the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned, according to the just nature and perfection of God, He cast them out of the Garden of Eden. Being out of the Garden of Eden wasn’t the lot of it. Not only were they kicked out of paradise, but their perfect, life-giving, life-sustaining connection to God was severed (Genesis 3). The second they sinned, the first people damned the rest of us to live in a severed relationship with God (Romans 5:12).
Paul also says that no person is exempt from sin (Romans 3:23). He even goes as far to say that everyone who has sinned deserves eternal death (Romans 6:23)! Because of the perfect nature of God, He will deal righteously and justly with this sin (Romans 2:5-6, John 3:36, Psalm 2:1-6). If we observe carefully though, even in God’s confrontation of Adam and Eve’s sin we can see hope (Genesis 3:15).
The next theme that we can see in the gospel is this answer to our problem: the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. If God created everything and it was perfect… then we ripped it all apart by sinning… God’s answer to our problem was Jesus.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness (Romans 3:23-25a),”
These are simultaneously terrible words and beautiful words.
What is terrible and heart-wrenching is that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s righteous and perfect nature. The Greek word that Paul uses for “all” in this passage literally means… all. Everyone has sinned. The sad truth is that we have all let down our Creator by worshipping created things.
What is beautiful though is Paul does not end with the bad news. Like musicians that play a minor chord to make the major chord sound that much brighter, Paul gives us the bad news which makes the good news that much better! Paul says that justification (being in a right standing with God) comes through the redemptive (purchased for a price) work of Christ. Paul further clarifies that redemptive work by saying that it came through Christ being a propitiation (an appeasement of wrath). The beneficiaries of this justification, redemption, and propitiation are those who receive it in faith. It is a gift!
This courtroom terminology describes the legal transaction that takes place in salvation. Everyone has committed a crime against God by sinning. The just nature of God requires that He punish sin. God offered Himself to endure the punishment for sin. Therefore the righteous wrath of God that we deserve is poured out onto Jesus, and the righteousness of Jesus is given to us. We receive this gift by responding in faith to God and repentance of sin.
The final theme of the gospel is that Jesus is returning and bringing with Him a complete overhaul of everything. Jesus said to His disciples when He left that He would be coming back (John 14:2-3). And when Jesus comes back, He will bring with Him a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21). You only need to read a few of the prophets in the Old Testament to understand what will happen when Jesus returns. On one hand, it will be filled with destruction, wrath, and judgement. On the other hand, it will be filled with restoration, peace, and justice.
Ultimately, the truth about the gospel is that Jesus is returning and for those whom He has justified, He is making all things right (Romans 8). On that great day when Jesus returns, all will be made right. I think a passage from J.R. Tolkein’s The Return of the King captures this well:
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"
“A great Shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”
When Jesus returns, our lives as Christians will be as if everything sad is untrue. When Jesus returns, pure joy will be restored to His people - the kind that had not been felt for “days upon days without count.”
The gospel is something that is so complex that it has been revealed over millennia, through the Law, Prophets, and Apostles. It culminates in the person and work of Jesus. It is so complex that the angels look at it with wonder. It is so simple that a child can understand it. Paul says it is the power of God for salvation for all people. Paul interminably speaks about the gospel throughout his letters.
At the heart of the gospel is a beautiful story. You can see the same themes over and over again. God seeks intimacy with his creation, we fall short of his perfection, and then he redeems and restores our lives. If you look closely, you can see this story play out again and again with different people throughout history. But the one thing that stays the same is God’s character and relentless love for us all. What good news!