What is the gospel? In short, the gospel is the good news of what God has done for believing sinners in Jesus Christ. This is the essence of the gospel. But the gospel is not merely news to be reported (though it is that), it is also news that demands a response.
We might arrange the message of the gospel around four questions.
Question 1: Who is God?
There may have been a time in Western history when the word “God” carried some weight. There may have been a time when people had some understanding of what you meant when you said “God.” That time has passed.
In the pluralistic age in which we live, it is necessary for us to define what we mean when we speak of God. The gospel finds its roots in the God of the Bible.
At grassroots level, the gospel has to do with the God who, “in the beginning … created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This is where the Bible begins, and this fact defines the God of whom the gospel speaks.
Because God created the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, he owns the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them. All of creation is accountable to him. Since humanity is part of that creation, humanity is accountable to him. That means that he has the right to tell us how to live, and we are accountable to obey his commands.
While the God of the Bible is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” and while he is a God who is characterized as “keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” he is also a God “who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6–7).
Question 2: What is man?
When God created human beings, he gave them commands and a restriction. The commands involved populating the earth and overseeing his creation (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). The restriction involved a forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:16–17). In the garden in which God placed our first parents, he also planted all sorts of trees. They were permitted to eat the fruit of all those trees—except one. Two trees stood in the middle of the garden: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The man and the woman were evidently permitted to eat from the tree of life but were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was the only restriction they were given. In the day they ate of the forbidden tree, they would come under a divine death sentence.1
The man and the woman did not obey. Tempted by the serpent, they chose to rebel against God and ate the forbidden fruit. As God had warned, they came under the divine death sentence. They were now sinners, destined to die. Consequently, God drove them from the garden and set a guard at the entrance so that they could no longer access the tree of life. Since the wages of sin is death, it was necessary to prevent them from eating of the tree of life.
But not only did the man and the woman bring the death sentence upon themselves; they also brought it on all of their descendants. Since the man had been given the primary responsibility,2 he bore the weight of the sin. When he sinned, all of humanity sinned in him (1 Corinthians 15:21–22). “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The sin nature of our first parents were passed on to their children, and to their children, and to their children, so that every human being ultimately inherits the sin nature of the man and the woman in the garden. And since humans are born with a sin nature, they commit sinful acts. Humans sin because they are sinners. And they die, as the first man and woman did, because they sin.
Sin is any word, deed, thought or motive that rebels against God’s commands and does not have his glory as its ultimate end. Sin is rebellion against God. And since all humans are born with a sin nature, all humans rebel against God. The Bible is clear: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore, all humans come under the divine death sentence.
The sin that we inherit from our first parents explains the need for the gospel. Sin brings death, and so all humans are destined to die. Because sin is so deeply engrained in our nature, there is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from certain death. Death is not a natural part of life; it is the direct result of God’s curse for human sin. God is pure and therefore hates sin. Sinners cannot stand before a holy God. The man and the woman were created to be in perfect fellowship with their creator, but their sin excluded them, and excludes us, from that fellowship and destines us, instead, to separation and death.
Question 3: Who is Jesus Christ?
But God had created mankind with the intention of fellowship. For humanity’s benefit, a plan needed to be made to rescue humans from the consequences of sin. God therefore gave the man and the woman a promise: One day, a descendant of theirs would be born who would bring an end to the serpent and his evil work (Genesis 3:15). One day, someone would come who would defeat sin and death. This was the promise of the gospel.
The Bible makes it clear that that person was Jesus of Nazareth, who was both the son of man and the Son of God. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, fully deserving of the glory that belongs to God alone. But he did not count equality with his Father something that he must hold onto. Instead, he became a servant to his Father, who wanted to save mankind, by becoming human himself. In Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Son of God became human.
Born to a virgin, Jesus lived a life without sin. Because he did not sin, he did not deserve to die. But he had come to earth with a mission: to save the sinners whom God loved. He therefore suffered the wages of sin for those he came to save. He died in the place of his people. He suffered the curse that they deserved so that they could be forgiven. His death was violent, bloody and humiliating—the death of Roman crucifixion—even though he did not deserve it. He died in order to give his people the gift of life.
But because Jesus was divine, death could not hold him. His lifeless body was removed from the cross and was laid in a borrowed tomb, where it remained for three days and three nights. But then he proved that he had truly conquered sin and death by rising from the dead. Forty days later, he ascended to heaven and sat on his throne at the right hand of His Father.
Question 4: What must we do with Christ?
The gospel is good news. It is a message about something that happened. It is a message that is rooted in history. Jesus was actually born of a virgin, actually lived a sinless life, actually died a substitutionary death, actually rose victoriously from the grave, and actually ascended to heaven, where he rules and reigns today over all his creation.
But that historical message demands a response from those who hear it. God had a purpose in sending His Son to die: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The death that we deserve because of our sin can be negated because Jesus died for us. Without Christ, you are destined to perish; with Christ, you can have eternal life.
The gospel is the good news of what God has done for believing sinners in Jesus Christ—for believing sinners. Jesus Christ has done the work, but sinners are now called to believe what he has done for them. Those who hear the gospel are called to believe its message, to repent of their sins, and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from the penalty of their sins.
Jesus lived the life that sinners could never live. He died the death that sinners deserved. He rose from the grave to prove that, by his death, he had conquered sin and death. And now he calls you to believe that news and to turn to him in faith and repentance for salvation.
Do you believe that, by your sin, you have rebelled against the holy God to whom you are accountable? Do you believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became the son of a man in order to die the death that your sins deserve? Do you believe that he rose from the grave and today lives as your substitute and savior? If you believe these things, then call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of your sins, and you will be saved.
Having repented of your sins, you should find a good Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church that will disciple you and help you to grow in Christ. They will baptise you (which is your first public step of obedience to Christ) and teach you the Word of God. If you desire to read more about this wonderful miracle of new life in Christ, we recommend Ultimate Questions by John Blanchard.
- God warned the man and the woman that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). In the original, the phrase is actually just a repetition of the Hebrew word for “die”—God warned them that, in the day they ate the forbidden fruit, they would “die die.” Our English translations tidy up the language for readability’s sake. Sailhamer argues that this terminology speaks of passing the death sentence, not of actually executing it. The warning, in other words, was not that they would die in the same day that they ate of the fruit but that, when they ate of it, the death sentence would be pronounced upon them. The execution of the sentence would happen later—much later, as it turns out—but the pronouncement of the sentence was instantaneous. See John H. Sailhamer, Genesis: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 1990), 48. ↩
- The command to tend the garden and to steer clear of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:15–17) was given before God created the woman (Genesis 2:18–25). The man was given the responsibility and was meant to inform the woman of the commands and the restriction. While she was guilty in her own right for disobeying, he carried the greater responsibility for not protecting her. ↩