Gospel. We say it frequently in our conversations and in our sermons and in our songs, but too often when we are asked, “What is the Gospel?” we don’t have an answer. My goal in this post is to put forth a succinct, biblical, definition of the Gospel that will be easy to commit to memory and to share when we are asked, “What is the Gospel?”
Paul tells us what is most important in defining the Gospel; he says, “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, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5, emphasis mine).
Verses 3-5 (bold) are simple enough to be committed to memory and easily recited. But there are deep truths embedded in Paul’s definition of the Gospel. Paul begins by addressing the church members, his “brothers.” He says to the gathered church that Christ died for our sins. This means that Jesus died for His church, see Matthew 1:21, for the forgiveness of sins. We also see that the Gospel is all encompassing when Paul uses the past, present, and future to describe more fully what the Gospel is: “received” (past), “stand” (present), and “being saved” (future). The Gospel, therefore covers our past, our present and our future. It is all of Christ for all of life.
Now, we have to ask the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Paul tells us that Christ died for our sins so that we might be saved from the wrath of God. The death of Christ has made peace between God and His church (Romans 5:1-9). It is also important that Christ was buried and rose from the dead, proving that He is the Son of God. It is important to explicitly say that Jesus died, because if He did not die, His sacrifice was not real. Also, if He did not rise from the dead, we have no hope for our future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
We must also proclaim that the risen Christ appeared to the living; the story of the Gospel was not done in a corner, but out in the open upon the stage of the world (Acts 26:24-26). The story of Christ is history, it is real and true and has never been hidden, and the entire event was planned and orchestrated by God (Acts 4:27-28).
Paul also tells us that the Gospel is something that has fulfilled the prophecy of the Scriptures (this is Paul’s way of speaking about the Old Testament). For example, take some time and read Isaiah 53:3-12 and see how Isaiah speaks about the unblemished servant suffering for God’s people and their restoration. You can also turn to Hosea 6:2 and Jonah 1:17 in relation to Matthew 12:38-40.
So, when we speak, sing, or think about the Gospel, let this come to our mind: Christ died for our sins and made peace between His church and God. He was buried for three days and rose from the dead promising us resurrection from this mortal life. These are the two great promises of the Gospel and they should never be forgotten and should always be shared. As Paul says in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.?
Belgic Confession Article 20
The Justice and Mercy of God in Christ
“We believe that God—who is perfectly merciful and also very just—sent his Son to assume the nature in which the obedience had been committed, in order to bear in it the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death.
So God made known his justice toward his Son, who was charged with sin, and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who are guilty and worthy of damnation, giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.”