What Is the Gospel?

So here is the problem. Man is a guilty sinner, God is a holy God. How can the two be brought together? The answer is the cross of Christ.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross[1]


 “God was in Christ,” writes Paul to the church at Corinth, “reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing [counting] their trespasses to [against] them (Second Epistle, 5:19)

Two thousand years ago, God acted dramatically in Jesus of Nazareth to bring back to Himself an estranged human race.  This is the world’s Good News — its best news, in fact — and in the Bible it is called the Gospel.[2] It was this message that formed the heart of the mission of Jesus’ earliest followers after His death and resurrection.  This kerygma the apostolic proclamation, foreshadowed in the Old Testament, is revealed fully in the New Testament.  This, in fact, is likely the chief role of the New Testament in God’s plan — to disclose the Good News to all of humanity. In theological language, the New Testament is principally the enumeration, interpretation and application of the redemptive events centered in the Person of Jesus Christ.[3]  The Good News is that God hasn’t left us to ourselves.  The Good News is that God has done something by means of Jesus  — He has taken the initiative — to bring us back into His good graces.

What Is the Bad News?

The backdrop of the Good News is the bad news.  In fact, we won’t understand how good the good news really is until we grasp how dreadful the bad news is.

The bad news is that humanity, and each of as individuals, is sinful.  What is sin?  Sin is violating God’s will for us as His rational creatures: breaking God law — and His heart (1 Jn. 3:4).  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created righteous.  But they were also created with free will.  They exercised that will to turn against the benevolent God Who created them.  Under the serpent’s seduction, they wanted their way rather than God’s way.  They wanted self-autonomy.  This is the heart of Original Sin — man’s way rather than God’s way.

We — all of us, all humans (except Jesus) — have followed our first parents in this sin.  We’re complicit in their sin (Rom. 5:12-21).  We are liars and adulterers and hypocrites and rebels and racists and sexual deviants and cowards and bullies.  We slander and covet and lust and profane God’s holy name.  We’re envious and proud and resentful and thoughtless and uncharitable and faithless and domineering and self-serving (Rom. 3:10-23).  Even our apparent virtues become vices in our proud, sinful hands.  We’re a bad lot, we sons of Adam, we daughters of Eve.  Sin is a self-inflicted moral disease, and it plagues each of us.

This disease wreaks all the havoc we see in the world.  It alienates us from one another.  It alienates us from our environment, God’s good creation.  It even alienates us from ourselves — our greatest battles are those that enflame from our own bosom. Sin sets man not just against his fellow man and against his environment, but also against himself.  Man is at war with himself because of his sin (Jas. 4:1-4).[4]

Worst of all, sin sets us against God.  Sin alienates us from our Creator (Is. 59:2; Eph. 2:12).  God is a righteous God, and we are unrighteous people.  God created us for fellowship with Him, but sin destroys that fellowship.  This sin elicits a penalty — death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23a).  God is righteous, and His righteousness demands that sin be dealt with righteously.  Consequently, man in his natural state stands under a divine death sentence: eternal judgment by God (Jn. 3:18-20).  If all men and women are sinners, and if God visits His judgment on all sinners, then the human race is condemned to God’s judgment.  This is the bad news.

The Good News is that the bad news is not the last news.

Good News for Sinners

God is not only a righteous God.  He’s also a loving God (1 Jn. 4:8).  When Adam and Eve sinned, God didn’t throw them on the cosmic ash heap.  God created man (male and female), with His express purpose to enjoy us in an eternal relationship; and He loves man as His good creation — a creation that has gone bad, but a good creation from His hand.  In His love, God set in motion a great reclamation project.  God’s plan for humanity is to redeem, not destroy.  God is not just man’s awesome judge; God is man’s glorious Redeemer.

That redemption is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, very God of very God, in the words of the Nicene Creed.  In His cruel death on the Cross, Jesus carried the punishment for the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29; Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Pet. 3:18).  In His resurrection from the grave, He broke that very power of death that had shackled man from the Garden of Eden, and thereby showed God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as sufficient (1 Cor. 15:35-58).  This redemptive work reconciled man to God (Eph. 2:11-13).  Man is no longer alienated from God.  Why?  Because Jesus fulfilled the demand of God’s justice — death, the penalty for sin (Rom. 3:24-25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24).[5]

God’s love and His justice meet and look each other squarely in the eye at Calvary’s cross.  God loves sinful man, but His righteousness won’t allow Him to excuse man’s sin.   The Cross is the great, public demonstration both of God’s justice toward and His love for humanity.  God imposed the righteous penalty for man’s sin, and then God Himself in His matchless love paid the penalty in the Person of His Son, Jesus.  God judged man, and then God Himself suffered His own judgment in Jesus Christ.  Jesus died in the place of sinful man.  And then Jesus rose triumphant over that sin, and ascended to sit with God in Heaven.

This is why Paul summarizes the Good News as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

Appropriating the Good News

The Good News carries a universal dimension.  Jesus died for the sins of the world (1 Jn. 2:2).  But all people are not saved.  Salvation is not for all without qualification, but only for those who trust in Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are sufficient for all but only effective for those who believe (Jn. 3:16-18).

Faith is the all-important factor here.  God wanted to remove from salvation all self-autonomy (which got man into trouble in the first place).  So He arranged it that man could never get the credit.  God alone gets the credit for man’s salvation.  Since salvation is not man’s plan or by man’s achievement, man can never boast (Eph. 2:8-9).  Man gets the benefit of Jesus death and resurrection only if he believes — if he trusts in Jesus and Him alone for His salvation (Rom. 3:27-5:5; 10:9).  Man is saved by trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Of course, this presupposes that man understands and accepts both the horror of his own sin and state, and the wonder of God’s love, and therefore longs for that love and relationship.  This faith, which is God’s gift, rests on the promises of God — that if we trust in Jesus alone and all that He has done to redeem us, we will have eternal life.  God requires that we rely on the work of Another, not on ourselves.  Salvation is entirely by God’s grace.  God actually saves us; He doesn’t help us save ourselves. Faith means resting on Jesus, not on ourselves. [6]

But this faith is active, not passive — it hangs onto the good promises of God in Jesus and consecrates oneself to the Risen Christ.[7]  It is not merely assent to religious beliefs, even the right beliefs; in addition, faith casts the sinner’s life entirely on Jesus Christ.  In appropriating His work to us, faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.  Faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:14-26).  This faith that saves carries with it repentance, turning away from sin and turning toward God (Ac. 3:19; 2 Cor. 7:10).  This faith that saves submits to Jesus as Lord and Master — it makes one a disciple (Mt. 16:24-27).[8]  This faith submits, not only out of duty, but also out of amazement, and with a responsive love toward our merciful Lord.

The Good News puts man back into his proper place — as the glorified servant of God.  And the Gospel exalts Jesus to His proper place — as the cosmic Lord and King of the living and the dead (Ac. 2:29-39; Rom. 14:9).

The faith that saves finds all its salvation, all its hope, all its peace, all its destiny in Jesus of Nazareth.  In the lyrics of Robert Lowry’s memorable hymn: “This is all my hope and peace, Nothing but the blood of Jesus/ This is all my righteousness, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”  Salvation is entirely by God’s grace, appropriated by an energetic, obedient faith in Jesus alone.


As a Gospel minister, I would be derelict in my duty if I neglected to say this: if you are without Jesus Christ, you face God’s awesome judgment.  The Good News is that you need not face His judgment.  Jesus died for your sins and for mine.  If you place all your hope and trust in Jesus of Nazareth as your Savior and Lord, you can be saved today.  If you turn from your sins and vest your faith in Jesus, you will become God’s redeemed child right now.

If you understand and confess, your sins will be forgiven.  God will wipe away all of your sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in Whom you trust.  You will stand in Jesus’ righteousness, justified in the sight of God.  God will give you His Holy Spirit, Who will fill you and seal you until the day of your redemption.  God will transform you from a rebel into an obedient son or daughter.  You will be His disciple all the days of your life.  You will become a member of the Lord’s army, His church, called to exert stewardship of the earth for Christ the King, looking toward the day when all the nations bow in submission to King Jesus (Phil. 2:5-11).  At Christ’s Second Coming, you will be resurrected to bodily life on a renovated, resurrected earth; and you will live eternally on this renewed earth with all the saints and with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Rev. 21:1-4).  This eternal life is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.

The Good News is that God has overcome the bad news in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway, 1986), 33.

[2] Alan Richardson, “Gospel,” in ed., Richardson, A Theological Word Book of the Bible (New York: MacMillan, 1956), 100.

[3] George E. Ladd, “The Knowledge of God: The Saving Acts of God,” in ed., Carl. F. H. Henry, Basic Christian Doctrines (New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1962), 7-13.

[4] P. Andrew Sandlin, “Global Ecology and Godly Stewardship,” Free Inquiry, April-May, 2008, 30-32.

[5] Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, 1960).

[6] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), ch. 4.

[7] Donald Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), 1:223-227.

[8] James I. Packer, “Evangelicals and the Way of Salvation — New Challenges to the Gospel: Universalism, and Justification by Faith,” in eds., Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry, Evangelical Affirmations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 130-131.


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