What is the Gospel?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words”? The problem with this statement is that the gospel at it’s very core is news that to understand in full must be proclaimed with our words. In fact, the term “gospel” itself simply means “good news”. However, this phrase does help lead us to an important truth about the gospel- it is a news that cannot just stay news. It is a news that produces and points to a much fuller reality and response.
Tim Keller described the gospel as “a pool in which an elephant can bathe and a toddler can wade.” This statement speaks to the reality that viewing the gospel solely as a tool for salvation encompasses only part of the truth about the gospel but certainly does not fully describe the scope of its meaning. Speaking to the depth and breadth of the gospel’s influences in our lives, Bob Thune in the Gospel Centered Life states,
“The gospel is not just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation. It is not simply deliverance from sin’s penalty, but release from sin’s power. The gospel is what makes us right with God (justification) and it is also what frees us to delight in God (sanctification). The gospel changes everything!”
Practically, the gospel is “good news” that is to be declared, but it is also the vehicle by which we see the world transformed. Greg Gilbert sums up the primary elements of the Gospel like this:
God. Man. Christ. Response
Obviously, this is an intentional simplification of some complex and profound truths. These 4 Gospel elements are helpful because they help us to focus on the core Gospel story that has been the transforming story of the church since its inception:
“Contexts change, angles change, words change, and approaches change, but somehow and in some way the earliest church always seemed to get at these four issues: We are accountable to the God who created us (God). We have sinned against that God and we will be judged (Man). But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us (Christ), and we take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus (Response).”
To get any value out of these Gospel elements, it’s important that we first understand what each of them means. Each element represents a remarkable truth that can be understood on at least a couple of levels. Each element breaks down like this:
Who is he? What is he like? What has he done? To what is he entitled?
Who are we? What are we like? What do we do? What do we deserve?
Who is He? What has He done? What does this mean?
How can we respond?
The Gospel at an Individual Level
If we think about each of these elements for our own personal lives, the Good News takes on a real weight and importance for us. Think about it like this:
A good and loving God has created you, placed you where and when you are, and has given you all that you have including your gifts, relationships, and resources, etc. He has called you to love, worship, and obey him as this brings you the fullness of joy and gives to him the Glory he deserves.
You bear his image and, because of that, have immense value and worth. But you are also deeply broken. By nature and choice you have sinned against God. Your actions have earned you the just penalty of sin and you are incapable of saving yourself.
But God, sent Christ His son into the world to live the life you couldn’t live, die the death you should have died that you might have the eternal life through his resurrection that you never deserved.
By his life death and resurrection, the grace of God, and the regeneration of the Spirit, you can believe in Christ and have hope as a result of your faith.
The Gospel at a Cosmic Level
We can also understand the Gospel at a cosmic level, that is, how the Gospel plays out through all of history. That story looks something like this:
A holy, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-encompassing God created the universe and established a perfect order of which includes everything, every animal, and human beings which he created in his own image. This universe was harmonious and at peace in its original state.
Created to bear the very image of God, humans were given dominion over the earth and a harmonious relationship with Him. Through the sin of human beings, all of creation has been thrown into chaos such that even the rocks cry out for relief. Because every element of creation has been touched by the curse of sin, creation cannot repair itself, but longs for restoration.
God himself took on the humble form of human flesh and through his life, death and resurrection all creation will be restored and reconciled in God’s perfect timing. He has offered himself as a perfect and atoning sacrifice, broken the bonds of sin, and robbed death of its power, and through Him alone there is hope.
The followers of Christ, the church, follow him and eagerly anticipate his triumphal return and the restoration of all things. We hope in confidence that the lion will lay down with the lamb and that tears, and mourning, and death will soon pass away.
If these elements and levels of the gospel can be grasped, you might ask practically “How do I share the gospel?” It’s true that you could just email the people in your life a copy of the text above. However, maybe a better question is, “How do you personally know the gospel?” If the gospel in its individual level really does produce personal transformation, if it really does free us to delight in God, then shouldn’t we all be craving to preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis?
Besides simply remembering the gospel though, we can look out and see it divinely depicted all over God’s creation- through nature, the seasons, marriage, birth, and even our jobs! Romans 1:20 says:
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Jeff Vanderstelt uses the term “gospel fluency,” to compare this processes of seeing the good news everywhere to learning a new language. Training others to become fluent in understanding and recognizing the gospel will result from a natural overflow of our own learning to live life remembering and trusting the gospel’s transformative power. Witnessing will become less dependent on delivering a one-time presentation of the gospel to a buddy and more about inviting them to look where you yourself are already desperately and daily looking. Because the truth is that no matter how many times we have heard the gospel before, we all need the gospel again today!