My little buddy Matt proposed a wonderful question in response to what I’ll be preaching this upcoming Sunday. Let me first say this about Matt. Matt is someone I love dearly; and at times someone who is a rock in my shoe. But not in a bad way – seriously. This is a good rock. Pastors and preachers shepherds will too often expound rhetoric about the gospel, but won’t ever explain or share the gospel. As Scott Thomas said yesterday via Twitter: “A sermon where the language is perfectly appropriate and pristine and yet devoid of the gospel is both eloquent & shameful.”
That being said – I do want to answer your question rather than sending you all over Cyberspace to find what I perceive the gospel to be. So, your question once again:
What is the gospel?
Here’s my response:
One of the most clear, detailed, and succinct explanations of the gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. It reads: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 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…“ (ESV) emphasis mine.
Like I said, I think this pretty much explains the gospel from a Biblical perspective. What I love about this explanation is that it begins with Christ – Jesus Christ that is. It always will be and it always has been about Jesus. When we read the Scriptures we see a free and even radical God who came-into-the-flesh-lived-the-sinless-life-we-were-created-to-live-died-on-the-cross-for-our-sin-rose-again-from-the-grave-so-that-we-might-now-be-made-right-with-God… this story (the Gospel) is so shocking that nobody could have just “made it up” or “pulled it out of a hat” it’s just that good and true. I mean, we are the benefactors of life when we deserve death. That is good news friend!
Then it affirms that the Bible gets it right in regards to Jesus, salvation, life, etc. Everything that took place, happened in such a way to affirm the way in which God said it would happen (Luke 24:27; John 2:19, 22; Acts 17:2–3; Rom. 1:2–4. Paul may be thinking especially of Isa. 53:3–12, which describes the substitutionary death and the vindication, after death, of God’s servant, but also of other OT passages. For the resurrection, see also Hos. 6:2 and Jonah 1:17; 2:1 (Matt. 12:40), and for the OT in general pointing to Christ, see Luke 24:25–27. (thanks ESV Study Bible)!
Now that we have an understanding of what the gospel is, I don’t think that is an oversimplification at all… it’s what the Scriptures say about the gospel. I think we’ve overcomplicated the gospel… or maybe we add to it. In the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Screwtape says that his aim with Christians is “Christianity and…” The point? The enemy wants to complicate things for us. That is his goal. So, the gospel is actually quite simple to those that believe while it’s foolishness (complicated) to everyone else. I mean, 1 Corinthians 1:18 says as much: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (ESV). What I think is being said here is that the gospel is the message of Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross (gospel) is sheer silliness to those who are hellbent on destruction… but for those who are saved/being saved/will be saved (justification/sanctification/glorification respectfully) it makes perfect sense.
That being said: there are some implications of the gospel we must take into account. I think this is where you’re getting to. I think many of us don’t really want to be saved from our sin… we just want to be saved from the penalty of our sin. We don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it… we’re merely sorry because God is going to punish us. I think most of us think the the old sinful life is better than the new life Jesus gives us upon confession and repentance. This is why the gospel is good news!
- Because of the gospel; this great and wonderful fact, this truth, we come to new life – peace with God and thus free from the bondage of sin, from hell, from Satan – for the glory of his name.
- Because of the gospel – I don’t have to worry about momentary things (money, cars, homes, etc.) my focus and perspective changes. I don’t spend my time thinking about life on earth, I think much more about eternity in heaven.
- Because of the gospel – when confronted with minor trials I rejoice because my God and King Jesus Christ has endured much much more than I ever will.
- Because of the gospel – when/if we have kids I can discipline my children with confidence and then promptly share with them Christ’s redeeming work on the cross who covers all their errors (of which they just committed).
- Because of the gospel – I don’t have to be afraid of what my neighbors think about me; I don’t have to worry about rejection, or feel uncomfortable about talking to them about Jesus.
- Because of the gospel – I no longer stand in opposition to Jesus rather at his feet as his child.
The list goes on and on and on. One of the best ways to express this to others comes from C.J. Mahaney who shared with me (in a book/not face-to-face) that when someone asks you how you’re doing, your response (because of the gospel) is “I’m doing better than I deserve.” Why? Because I deserve death, punishment for sin, hell, etc. for my sin – but despite that – God in his loving, sovereign, grace and choice am saved… so I am doing better than I deserve.
I love the gospel. I am striving to live the gospel as well. Living the gospel changes everything – from how we treat others; how we think of others; how we view ourselves; and how grateful we should actually be for what He’s done. I hope that in the (brief) time you were in our ministry you found us not just talking about the gospel rather loving and living the gospel as well.