Have you ever heard someone use the term “gospel” and wondered what it means? The word “gospel” means news. It is the news about who Jesus Christ is, what He has done, and how that changes everything for all of us.
The gospel, or the good news about Jesus, is the best and most important news you will ever hear. It’s the most life-changing news you could ever share with someone else.
As you explore the question “What is the gospel?” below, our hope is that you will deepen your understanding of what it means and grow in your experience and confidence to communicate it with others.
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The gospel is so simple that a child can comprehend it yet so profound that you will spend a lifetime exploring and experiencing its fullness.
There is only one gospel, and it is very important that we get it right. Of course, there are other so-called "gospels” out there, but the better you know the true gospel, the easier it will be to recognize the counterfeits and the distortions.
To begin with, the apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament (the latter part of the Bible, written after the life of Jesus) talks about “the gospel of God … concerning His Son” (Romans 1:1-3, English Standard Version). These seven words highlight two important truths about the gospel.
First, it is the message that has come to us from God. It does not originate in any person or church. It is “the gospel of God.”
Second, it is a message about Jesus, God’s Son. That is what makes it so important and life-changing. The gospel is the message that God has given you so that you can experience Jesus Christ as your Savior (the One who saves you from your sins) and Lord (the One who guides and is in charge of your life).
To wrap your mind around this life-changing message, you’ll find it helpful to think of the gospel in both its essence and its fullness.
The gospel can be distilled down to an essence. While not everyone might explain the gospel the same way every time, there are critical elements that should always be included. What are those elements? They are who Jesus is, what He has done and why He has done it.
Here’s one example, written by Paul, from 1 Corinthians:
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, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, ESV, emphasis ours)
The elements of Paul’s gospel can be framed with five questions. Each of these elements is also found in a similar passage, Luke 24:45-49, in which Jesus explains His life and mission. The following table compares these two summaries.
There you have it. Comparing these two passages, we can now summarize the essence of the gospel as announcing:
Who is Jesus: He is the Christ. That is His title as our Savior, Lord and King.
What has Jesus done: He died on the cross and rose from the dead. This is the work of salvation — what Christ did to save us.
Why has Jesus done this: He has done this to forgive your sins and bestow on you the benefits that come with salvation.
How can we know that it is true: Because it fulfills the Old Testament Scriptures, and many eyewitnesses have testified to His resurrection.
How should we respond: With repentance (that is, by turning to God) and faith.
To clarify the essence of the gospel is not to have said everything important about it. There is a much greater “fullness” to the gospel. Its truths, themes and implications are so vast and rich that it will take you your lifetime to explore, understand and experience.
To start, think of the first four books in the New Testament. They are titled the Gospel According to Matthew, the Gospel According to Mark, the Gospel According to Luke and the Gospel According to John. They communicate the same gospel (that is, who is Jesus, what has He done and why), but they do so in a fuller narrative form, each sharing the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection with its own theme or emphasis. That is why these gospels are so loved.
For example, Matthew builds his book around “the gospel of the kingdom,” or how Jesus came as Israel’s long-expected king — only in quite unexpected ways. John emphasizes (among other things) eternal life. They emphasize different things but present one message, and by reading both, you gain a fuller understanding of the one true gospel and of Jesus Christ.
As you move on into the book of the Bible called the Acts of the Apostles, you read various “gospel messages.” If you look closely, you will discover that each communicates the essence of the gospel. So when Peter spoke to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and Paul to the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:22-32), they both shared Jesus, but each did so in a manner relevant to his particular audience and situation.
After this, if you continue reading the New Testament, you will reach the epistles — letters that the earliest Christian leaders wrote to local churches.
The theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the gospel (see Romans 1:1-4,15-17). Like Galatians and the other New Testament letters, it explains the gospel while unpacking its fuller theological and practical implications.
For instance, one of the benefits that come through Christ’s saving work is that we are adopted into the family of God, the community of all true believers. The gospel not only brings us into a right relationship with God, it’s the foundation for our relationships with one another. Learning to love each other well — or, as Jesus said, to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34-35) — is a direct outworking of the gospel.
This is just one of many examples of how the gospel leads us to Jesus and how Jesus transforms all of life.
But there is more. Jesus taught the disciples to see that the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms (that is, all the Old Testament Scriptures — the parts of the Bible written before Jesus’ life) speak of Him (Luke 24:44-49). They all point to gospel truth.
The gospel, at its core, is always a message about Jesus, and all of the Bible communicates gospel truth. No wonder it takes a lifetime to explore.
To experience the gospel involves more than simply understanding its truths. It involves the ongoing experience of the presence and power of Jesus Christ. This is why the gospel is life-changing.
It is through the gospel that you can receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and begin experiencing the new life that only He can give. Knowing four truths has helped many people enter into this relationship with Jesus.
The gospel reveals God’s great love for us: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9, ESV).
Through the gospel, we also grow in the awareness of our own failure and need. Each of us has turned from God and gone astray at many times and in many ways. This is what the Bible calls sin. The result is that we are spiritually dead or separated from God and the life He gives. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, ESV).
This is the heart of the gospel, its essence, which meets our need. As the Savior and Lord, Jesus died in our place, paying the penalty for our sins. But He did not just die. He rose from the dead and is alive today, reigning as the Lord of all. “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV).
As we understand who Jesus is and what He has done for us, we realize there is nothing we could do on our own to earn or merit salvation from our sin and its consequences. Jesus Christ has done it all. So now we can receive Him into our lives through faith (John 1:12). Paul describes this as the gift of God’s grace: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV).
Has Christ entered your life, forgiven your sin, given you eternal life and begun changing you into the kind of person you were meant to be?
Perhaps you haven’t yet made this change of course in your life journey. If not, you can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer.
In your own words, honestly admit to God that you have sinned and fallen short. Thank God that Jesus died in your place, paying the penalty for your sin, and now lives to be your Savior and Lord. Ask Jesus to enter your life, forgive your sin and begin changing you into the person He wants you to be. As an expression of your faith, thank Him for answering your prayer.
To explore a fuller explanation of these truths, read, “Would You Like to Know God Personally?”
Having begun a relationship with Christ through the gospel, you do not move on to some other, deeper truth. The gospel is not just an initial message for the follower of Christ; it is the message you come back to again and again throughout the entire Bible and throughout your entire life.
We are gospel people, so we always seek to apply gospel truth to our lives.
Think of it as being changed from the inside out. The Christian life is about more than just changing your behavior. It is a life of inward transformation, in which God’s Spirit uses His Word, the Bible, to expose the sin and brokenness in your heart.
The answer to your deep needs is the same: It’s experiencing the love of Jesus and the power of His Spirit as you obey His Word. Doing this, you discover what makes the Christian life so exciting — it is Jesus Christ living His life in and through you by the power of His Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20).
Find out more about the Holy Spirit and how you can experience God in your life.
When you experience Jesus Christ through His gospel, it is natural to want to introduce others to Him. That is a genuine expression of love. But how can you communicate the gospel with clarity and relevance?
In one sense, telling the good news of Jesus Christ can be as simple as sharing what you have experienced and inviting someone else to consider Him.
That is what happened when Andrew met Jesus. He immediately went to his brother Peter and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41, ESV). Likewise, Philip went to his friend Nathaniel and said, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.... Come and see” (John 1:45,47, ESV).
Another simple but powerful way to communicate the gospel is to use the Bible. Many people start believing in Jesus Christ after reading one of the four biblical accounts of His life: the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Inviting a loved one to read one of these Gospel accounts can be a great way to enable them to get to know Jesus for themselves. You might find it helpful to suggest they begin with Mark (the shortest account) or John (many people’s favorite).
Alternatively, you may suggest they watch the “JESUS” film. This story of Jesus is based on the Gospel of Luke and is one of the most watched films of all time. You can view the “JESUS” film online or download the free Jesus Film App, which can show the film in over 1,800 languages.
Often, it’s most helpful for another person to hear a clear explanation of the gospel. There are many examples of this in the book of Acts. For instance, when Philip discovered the Ethiopian eunuch puzzling over an Old Testament prophecy, “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35, ESV).
As you talk to the people in your life about the gospel, make sure you are clear about Jesus while communicating in a relevant and effective manner. There is no one way to do this. However, there are tools that help people from all kinds of backgrounds and circumstances understand and experience Jesus personally.
Download the free GodTools app to see different ways of explaining the gospel to someone as you sit and talk with them. You might begin with “Knowing God Personally” or “Teach Me to Share.”
One last thing: While the gospel is a message that’s communicated through our words, it is important to recognize the role that our lives play in relation to it.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27, New International Version). We begin doing that by obeying the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV). As we live a life of love with those closest to us, within our broader communities and in the world beyond, the good news of Jesus Christ will spread in a powerful way.
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