What the Heck is "the Gospel"?
Our exciting adventure through 1 Peter has officially begun! Now, if you’re familiar with Peter, you know that his two letters as well as his sermons in the book of Acts are drenched with “the gospel”. Peter is consumed with what he calls the “living hope” that the prophets awaited and it informs all that is says.
But what exactly is the gospel?
Is it that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? Is it a description of how people get saved? Is it about Christ taking our sin and giving us his righteousness? Is it about admitting our sin, believing Jesus died for me and committing my life to him?
According to the New Testament the gospel is none of these things. Of course, each of these is true and biblical. The problem is they are not what the New Testament authors refer to when they talk about the gospel. They had a very specific meaning in mind when they refereed to the gospel, and I believe we would do well to understand it!
In the ancient world the word “gospel” (euangelion) was a technical term that always referred to the announcement of happy or important news. Usually this was news of a great military victory or the accession of a new king. The coming of a new ruler meant the promise of peace, a new start for the world, especially in times of civil war. And the Christian gospel was similar. It was the announcement of good news—a new king has been installed and there is a promise of peace. And this is precisely what Isaiah looked forward to centuries before Jesus when he wrote:
How beautiful on the mountains / Are the feet of those who bring good news [literally: telling a gospel] / Who proclaim peace / Who bring good tidings [literally: telling a gospel], Who proclaim salvation / Who say to Zion, / “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)
The heart of the gospel message is about God’s rule and '"Jesus being Lord". (Romans 1:4) According to the Christian gospel the true Lord is not Caesar Augustus; it’s not the President of United States or the President of the UN; it’s Jesus the Messiah! (Philippians 2:5-11). But there’s more. Gospel is not just: “God is king, believe it!” The gospel in the ancient world also included content of the actual deeds of Roman emperors. In the same way, the early Christian gospel was not just that “God reigns!”; it explains how that reign was revealed in the world. For the early Christians this meant recounting the deeds of the Messiah Jesus—his birth, miracles, teaching, death and resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (click the passage to see the text), a passage that was probably an early church creed, gives us the clearest definition of the gospel in the entire New Testament. It can be summarized as follows:
- Jesus is the Christ (Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah-King of Israel)
- Jesus died a saving death (Jesus dies “with us” / “instead of us” / “for us”)
- Jesus was buried (Jesus fully entered into death)
- Jesus was resurrected (Jesus overcomes sin, death and Satan)
- Jesus appeared to witnesses (Jesus’ work is public and verified)
This declaration of the kingship of Jesus and these five events are the core gospel message we find throughout the New Testament. It is exactly what find in the four gospels, in the seven gospel sermons in the book Acts (2:14-39, 3:12-26, 4:8-12, 1-34-43, 13:16-41, 14:15-17, 17:22-31), and in all of the summary statements of the gospel in the New Testament (Romans 1:1-4, Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 2:8; 1 Peter 3:18-22).
This is the gospel. This is the good news we are to remind ourselves of and declare to the world. It is all about God fulfilling his promises to Israel. It is the story that saves people from their sins and calls for a response of belief, repentance and baptism. So, please, let’s define the gospel like Paul and Peter did. Let’s preach it like the early church did because there is spiritual and God-given power in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18, 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5)
How is the gospel described in 1 Corinthians 15 different or the same as the one you’ve been taught? How is this gospel different than the more individualized definitions of the gospel we sometimes hear? (e.g. four spiritual laws, the cliff illustration, etc.) Why is it important that we define the gospel properly? How does the gospel complete the story of Israel?