What Is the Gospel?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

You would think this question would be pretty easy to answer because the gospel message is something that Christians talk about all the time.  However, it is difficult to find the gospel explained in one place within the Bible.  There is, however, one passage where the gospel is defined, and that is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, specifically 1 Cor. 15:1-8.  Here it is:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Theologian Scot McKnight summarizes some key points from this text in the December issue of Christianity Today.  First, “this is the gospel handed on to Paul (v. 3), which suggests it was the gospel the earliest apostles preached.”

“Second, the gospel saves people from their sins (v. 2-3).”

“Third, the essence of the gospel is the story of Jesus (vv. 3-8) as the completion of Israel’s story (v. 3).  Both the word Christ (Messiah) and the phrase ‘according to the Scriptures’ are central to how the apostles understood the word gospel.”

So what is the gospel?  According to McKnight, “Added together, it means this: The gospel is first and foremost about Jesus.  Or, to put it theologically, it’s about Christology. . . . ‘To gospel’ is to tell a story about Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord, as the Son of God, as the Savior.”

Gary Habermas often summarizes these verses in this way: the gospel is the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

If you’ve overlooked these verses in the past, go back and study them.  After all, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the message we are to give the world.

  • Interesting you should bring this up…

    Bill, as I may have mentioned at some point, my church affiliation is Episcopalian, a group that has experienced considerable and ongoing stress over the past few decades. As I have been engaged in at lease the internet portion of those skirmishes, I have noticed that each of the two camps speak heartily about getting past the present unpleasantness, because it so impedes our mission of spreading the Gospel. Both sides have said that loudly. Makes one think that we could all get along, since we all want the same thing!
    But we don’t.

    Among other differences, we mean radically different things by “Gospel”
    One starts with the bad (but obvious to an observant person) news that we as a species seem incurably addicted to doing things that we know we shouldn’t do, and there is a real tendency among us towards real and true evil; whether of a criminal type, or just in destruction of the weak among us via economic policies. Try as we might, there seems to be no cure for us, and that trait ultimately divides us from all goodness in the world, one another, and even the God who created us. But the GOOD news is that God, through Jesus, has provided a remedy, which will set all to right if we will accept His gift, and accept His Lordship, His headship over us.

    The other notes that we have a tendency to divide into smaller and smaller groups, bitterly opposed over many things and rejecting all who are of different “tribes” ethnically, economically, culturally, etc. Jesus came to proclaim the “good news” that God loves all. All will be well if we Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

    In this view, Jesus appeared to bear witness to this universal love, and live it before us so that we knew what it looks like. He was killed as a witness to what the false ideas of organized religion and state power do to the simple gospel, and he submitted to that (and in some accounts, “rose again” to show that the spreading of this gospel is worth even that risk) –go and do likewise

    That is a very attractive “gospel” and is very prevalent among our more liberal churches, even in the pulpit and higher. But to be truthful, the first Gospel I mentioned does not all that much disagree with it. The main difference comes when and if anyone actually tries to apply that ethical imperative, they find how impossible it is to actually put it into consistent unfailing practice. And even if we can by discipline and the gritting of teeth do it “right” it becomes clear that we are acting against our inner will. We are imposing onto us something that is not really who we are. I know that I am not inwardly “righteous” even if I can manage to act that way.

    And that is when the truly Good News picks up.

  • Paul says that the gospel wasn’t “handed on” to him by man. He received it by direct revelation from Christ. Thus, we cannot conclude based on Paul’s writings that anyone was preaching this gospel before him.

  • bonnie wakefield

    I’ve had some difficulties on answering this question, wonder what you feel the bible says.If a person that is a professing chrisitian kills themself, will they go to heaven?

  • Bill Pratt

    I don’t see why they wouldn’t. I don’t know of any verses in the Bible that speak of suicide as keeping someone out of heaven.

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