What is the Gospel?

The English word gospel is used to translate the Greek word "euaggelion". The Greek word means a reward for good tidings or simply good tidings. In the New Testament the word is most often used with the meaning of good tidings or good news. It represents a particular body of facts.

The message of good news began with John the Baptist. John preached in the wilderness near the Jordan river where he baptized. People from nearby towns came to hear John's message. On one occasion the Pharisees and Sadducees came to hear him. But, John recognized that they would not change their ways. His message to the religious establishment was sometimes caustic:

Matthew 3:1-3, 7-8, 10, 12

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'"

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.Ē

The message to repent is repeated by Jesus, Peter, and Paul. It means to change your way of thinking. Jesus called on people to change their attitudes (repent) because the kingdom of heaven is drawing near. Peter, in his first message after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit called on people to repent and be baptized. Paul told the philosophers in Athens that God now commands all men everywhere to repent.

Matthew 4:17

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Now, what were people to repent of? What were they to turn away from?

Simply, treating God and people poorly. Jesus gave simple instructions for good conduct. He describe the behavioral habits that makes for a happy life for all:

Matthew 5:3-12

Happy are the poor in spirit: for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Happy are those who are sad: for they will be comforted.
Happy are the gentle: for the earth will be their heritage.
Happy are those whose heartís desire is for righteousness: for they will have their desire.
Happy are those who have mercy: for they will be given mercy.
Happy are the clean in heart: for they will see God.
Happy are the peacemakers: for they will be named sons of God.
Happy are those who are attacked on account of righteousness: for the kingdom of heaven will be theirs.
Happy are you when men give you a bad name, and are cruel to you, and say all evil things against you falsely, because of me.
Be glad and full of joy; for great is your reward in heaven: for so were the prophets attacked who were before you.

These are simply principles to live by. Jesus summed up all the commandments in two simple rules when he answered the question from one of the lawyers:

Matthew 22:34-40

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

Repenting simply means to change your mind about defrauding your neighbors and do right by them. It means to quit dishonoring God and to recognize God and give him honor, respect, and your loyalty.

The prophets of old foretold of a kingdom where people would be free and every person would be able to know their Lord. They foretold of a time when people in the kingdom would be at peace with God.

Quoting God, the prophet Jeremiah described a time when God would make a new agreement or covenant. It would not be like the old covenant made after he brought Israel out of Egypt. Rather, God would place his laws in the hearts of men and he would forgive their wrongdoings.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.

"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

"And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

Jesus told people that it was this kingdom that was drawing near. He indicated that the time the prophets foretold was about to be fulfilled.

Mark 1:14-15

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."

Now, that time is fulfilled and the kingdom is here.

But, the kingdom is not of this world. That is, it is not composed of territory, acres or square miles of ground or ocean. Rather, the kingdom is composed of those individuals who place their allegiance in Jesus as their Lord and master; those who have changed their minds about doing things their own way and submit to the teachings and commands of Jesus

Peter said that the time is fulfilled in his message to the Jews just after the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's power descended on the disciples as tongues of fire. This power enabled the disciples to speak to Jews gathered from many foreign nations in their own native dialects. Some who did not understand the foreign languages being spoken thought the disciples were drunk.

But, Peter indicated that the prophesies about the last days are now fulfilled.

Acts 2:14-21

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

"'And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that
everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"

So, Peter taught that one must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. That is, you must make Jesus Christ your Lord, believe him, by loyal to him, be committed to him. These are the requirements to be saved.

Peter emphasized this when the Jews asked what they must do. Peter answered that they must repent (change your mind or attitude) and be baptized.

Acts 2:37-39

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

This message presents an opportunity for all people to become part of the kingdom of heaven by repenting and being loyal to their Lord Jesus. God, then, would forgive their sins. But, not everyone is willing to do this.

Jesus also taught that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Many people followed after Jesus because he performed miracles, healing many and casting out demons in others. While Jesus seemed to be Lord over diseases and demons, many were not willing to make him Lord of their lives. They were not willing to repent (change their attitudes) and begin following the teachings and commands of Jesus.

People will even pretend to be followers of Jesus and do many things in his name. But, if they do not truly follow him, he will reject them in the day of judgment.

Matthew 7:21-23

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

"On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'

"And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

Jesus here indicated that pretending to be his follower, but rejecting his commands, was really lawlessness.

The New Testament was originally written in Greek. In producing English Bibles, translators select common English words to translate Greek words or phrases. The Greek word "pisteuo" is a verb that basically means to believe, trust, and be committed to. It is often translated as simply "believe" and many have taken it to mean to simply believe intellectually. But, it's meaning is richer.

On one occasion Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, a ruling Jewish Pharisee. They had a discussion about being born anew from above.

Jesus disclosed to Nicodemus that he (Jesus) must die (be lifted up) so that anyone who is faithful could avoid perishing and, instead, receive eternal life.

John 3:14-16

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

This was a clear indication to Nicodemus that believing in, trusting, and being committed to Jesus as well as being born anew was a way to escape the final condemnation and, instead, receive eternal life.

As Jesus traveled around the region he would send his disciples ahead of him to tell people the good news that the kingdom was close at hand. Jesus, himself, then went to the cities and towns where his disciples had introduced him and his message.

Matthew 10:5-8

These twelve Jesus sent on a mission, after giving them their instructions: "Go not," He said, "among the Gentiles, and enter no Samaritan town; but, instead of that, go to the lost sheep of Israelís race. And as you go, preach and say, 'The Kingdom of the Heavens is close at hand.'

"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay."

Gospel Message Taken to the World

Later, Jesus commanded his disciples to continue taking the message to all the world.

He told his disciples what message he wanted them to preach:

Luke 24:25-27 Jesus, after eating fish with the apostles:

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said, "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise again from among the dead; and that proclamation would be made, in His name, of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem."

While his immediate disciples went to many nations, they, by no means, were able to take Jesus' message and teachings to all the world. That mission remains for us today.

Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Jesus' disciples then began to proclaim in Jesus' name that people should repent so their sins could be forgiven. They began their work in Jerusalem and expanded to the Jewish cities of Judea.

Eventually Gentiles, non-Jews, heard the message. Disciples continued to introduce Jesus and his message to the non-Jewish towns in Samaria.

Acts 8:25

And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

The Apostle Paul was once a Pharisee who vigorously defended the Jewish religion. He persecuted Christians who were drawing people from Judaism to become disciples of Jesus. Through a miracle, Paul recognized that Jesus, whose followers he attacked, actually was the promised Messiah. Paul became a convert himself and began to promote the gospel.

Paul wanted to deliver the message of the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. He dearly wanted his Jewish brothers to accept the gospel. He indicates in his letter to the Roman church that he does not feel any disgrace or humiliation in promoting the gospel.

Romans 1:16

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.

Later, Paul went on several journeys to mostly non-Jewish areas. He introduced Jesus and taught his message.

Though little of what Paul actually said to non-converts is recorded, we do have a portion of his teaching in Athens. Paul spoke to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens. Paul began by introducing the concept that there was an unknown God to whom they long ago built a monument. He then went on to say that they ought to repent or reform their ways because this God would eventually judge their deeds. Paul concluded by saying that this God was a man who was raised from the dead.

Acts 17:22-31

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription,

'To the unknown god.'

"What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.

"Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

"'In him we live and move and have our being';

"as even some of your own poets have said,

"'For we are indeed his offspring.'

"Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God 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."

We can gain a little more insight as to how Paul introduced Jesus to non-converts through his letter to the church as Plilippi. In part, he wrote to reconfirm their understanding of who Jesus was. These words became part of an early Christian hymn.

Philipians 2:6-11

[Jesus] Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As a more complete introduction of Jesus, Paul, in a letter to the church as Corinth, indicated the essential aspects of the good news that he proclaimed. He summarized the message he brought to them and delivered to people wherever we journeyed.

I Corinthians 15:1-8

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that

  • Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
  • And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
  • And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
  • After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
  • After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
  • And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Just as Jesus told his disciples to preach the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons, so Paul also used miraculous power to proclaim that the kingdom had come near his audience. Paul indicated that using miracles with the message was a complete preaching the gospel.

Romans 15:19

Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

So, the gospel became a message that both introduced Jesus to non-converts as well as a means of conveying to them the teachings of Jesus.

What is the Gospel?

So, what is the essential message of the gospel?

We can use the above statements to draw together a picture of the message John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul preached. This the gospel message contains concepts that include:

  • Introducing Jesus
    • Jesus was the prophesied deliverer (Messiah or Christ)
    • Jesus died for our sins
    • Jesus was placed in a tomb (buried)
    • He arose from the dead and now lives
    • He was seen by numerous witnesses
  • You can be a part of the kingdom of heaven
  • Jesus' death caused your sins (misdeeds) to be forgiven and forgotten
  • You can be avoid perishing and receive eternal life by believing, being committed and loyal to Jesus
  • You must repent and follow Jesus' teachings to love your neighbor and to love God
  • Your sins will be forgiven
  • You must be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit
  • Jesus will come again to judge mankind

These are the essential points of the gospel.

But, people today often seek to gather others around them instead of teaching others to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus. The message of these people emphasizes concepts outside these essential teachings.

False Gospel

While Paul journeyed from region to region, he left the churches he established in the hands of disciples he had trained.

While it is clear that many of the people he trained were loyal to Jesus and his teachings, some people joined the church for other reasons. Perhaps some wanted to gather a following after themselves. Others may have wanted to promote some other ideas or agendas.

Paul wrote to the church at Galatia about some who were transforming the church into an organization organized for other purposes. They were emphasizing other concepts.

Paul wrote that he was amazed that they so quickly accepted these new concepts or principles.

Galatians 1:6-9

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

While it is difficult to list all the false messages that parade as the gospel today, we can classify them under certain categories. You can probably identify some groups whose main message can be found in one or more of these classifications.

  • Social Gospel -- Christian principles should be introduced in social areas to help solve society's problems, including working for social justice and transforming social institutions to support ideas about religion.
  • Anthropocentric Gospel -- Man's comfort, happiness, wealth and success can be satisfied by following certain Christian principles.
  • Universal Salvation -- Everyone will be saved from perishing and receive eternal life regardless of whether they have faith in and loyalty to Jesus or not.
  • False Christs -- Jesus was merely a good man, a wise teacher, an angel, a disembodied spirit, rather than a Lord who has authority and should be obeyed.

For example, very early in the church some claimed that the grace of God saved them and thus allow them to engage in all sorts of sensual pleasures. In Jude's letter, he urges his readers to contend for the faith they once had.

Jude 3-4

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

So, what you believe is up to you. But, by believing the gospel of Jesus you will be saved and inherit eternal life rather than possibly perish in condemnation.

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