What is the Gospel?

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Bible & Theology | 0 comments

As followers of Jesus, we need clarity about the gospel and whether we are being faithful to the gospel. The gospel leads us toward justice, discipleship, worship, mission, church planting, community, neighborhood engagement, peacemaking, and more. But these are an overflow of our relationship with Jesus Christ and dedication to his gospel. If they become our defining commitment without an evident dedication to faithfully understanding, embodying, and proclaiming the gospel as articulated in the Bible (and a willingness to pay any price necessary for being faithful to the gospel), these things can become idols. We risk giving things (ideas, theologies, practices, commitments) a Christian gloss without the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Humans are susceptible to idolatry and deception, so we must be constantly vigilant. 

Sometimes, we realize that our understanding and practice of the gospel are limited and too narrow, so change is needed. We may recognize that our understanding of the gospel isn’t good news for all people or sufficiently biblical. However, the defining text for understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ and how we should respond is always the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Bible. I’m not talking about worshipping scripture here but recognizing that the Bible guides us toward faithfulness to Christ (who is the divine Word) and his gospel. We repeatedly go back to the Bible to ask, “What is the gospel? Are we faithful to this gospel in every area of belief and life? Have our beliefs and practices diverged from the gospel?” 

People sometimes ask me how I would summarise the gospel. It’s a good question. I usually define the gospel by referring to eight things:

1. 2 Timothy 2:8 – The gospel is the story and message of “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”

2. 1 Corinthians 15:1–28 – The gospel is of first importance. 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 tells us that the gospel is “of first importance.” What is the gospel? “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” How does this gospel shape our lives, communities, and theology? “For Christ’s love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

3. John 3:16–21 – The gospel is the message that God loves a sinful, broken, suffering world and sent his only Son to redeem, save, and heal. Those who believe in him are saved, but those who reject him stand condemned. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

4. Luke 4:18–19 – Jesus’s mandate shows us how this gospel is outworked. It challenges us to apply the gospel in compassionate, just, and holistic ways—in word, sign, and deed.

5. The sermons in Acts (such as Acts 2, 7, and 17) give us a window into how the Early Church understood, contextualized, and communicated the gospel.

6. In a broader sense, the gospel is the story of Jesus unpacked in the four Gospels. There is a reason why they were called “the Gospels.”

7. The gospel is the story of God restoring all things (humanity and creation) to God’s original goodness, well-being, peace, and intent (i.e., shalom). This shalom extends to creation (Is. 11:6–8), humanity (Is. 11:9), and nations (Is. 2:2–4). Shalom is God’s gift now in Jesus Christ—but it is only experienced fully in the future. Jesus Christ is shalom. Jesus Christ brings shalom—the healing and restoration of and between all things (humanity, creation, God-humans), both now and then entirely in the future (our eschatological hope).

8. The gospel is also the story of God the Father (Genesis to Revelation), reaching its climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the climax of the defining narrative. This narrative is the story of the triune God, reaching its pinnacle in Jesus Christ’s story. The gospel is the climax of this defining narrative. The entire defining biblical story (Genesis to Revelation) describes our being. It frames our identity. It determines our purpose. It gives us our mission. And it reveals our hope. This story of God (reaching its climax in Christ) must frame, infuse, and shape all Christian beliefs, practices, and theologies. This includes our understanding of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, mission, the church, salvation, and the final age to come.

The gospel story extends from creation to the end of history and the consummation of God’s kingdom. A gospel-shaped theology is a Christ-centered vision that acknowledges the centrality and value of the whole biblical witness and narrative. At the same time, it honors the climax of that story, in the person and work of Jesus Christ (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15). So, the gospel calls us to attend to personal salvation and restore all things in Christ. The gospel is an invitation to join the story of the triune God, biblical Israel, Jewish Jesus, and God’s reign. The story of Jesus defines our vision of the church, mission, and discipleship. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the climax of that story (the defining moment in history and for our lives, the church, and all humanity and creation).

When asked to define the gospel, I always return to 1 Corinthians 15:1–28 and John 3:16–21.

What am I missing? What would you change or add to my summary of the gospel?

(Image by Aaron Burden)

Graham Joseph Hill

Rev. Dr. Graham Joseph Hill serves as Mission Catalyst for Church Planting and Missional Renewal with the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, Australia. Previously, he was the Principal of Stirling Theological College (Melbourne), the Vice-Principal of Morling Theological College (Sydney), and an Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, Australia. Graham is an ordained and accredited minister with the Baptist Churches of Australia. He has planted and pastored churches and been in ministry since 1988. Graham is the author or editor of 13 books. Graham writes at grahamjosephhill.com

Graham's qualifications include: Honours Diploma of Ministry (SCD), Bachelor of Theology (SCD), Master of Theology (Notre Dame), and Doctor of Philosophy (Flinders).

See ORCID publication record: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6532-8248

 

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