What is the Gospel, Really?

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At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, emphasis added). This is a command that Matthew also includes at the end of his Gospel:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

This passage from the Book of Matthew has come to be known as the Great Commission. Both of these passages drive home the importance of telling people about what Jesus has done. Mark communicates this command very succinctly. He wants us to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

But what does that mean? What do we need to understand about the gospel in order to communicate it effectively? 

What exactly is the gospel?

There will always be those attempting to preach a different gospel from Christ’s simple message. We need to be educated on what the true gospel is, lest we be distracted or deceived into championing a useless, watered down gospel.

The word “gospel” (euangelion in the Greek) literally means “good news.” And it appears more than 70 times in the Bible. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23, emphasis added).

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1, emphasis added).

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7, emphasis added).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

The word gospel isn’t unique to Christians. Throughout the ancient world, any positive announcement would be considered gospel. For instance, Rome might issue a gospel proclamation with the installation of a new Caesar. Or a young couple’s birth announcement might be considered gospel. When Jesus begins His ministry, Matthew tells us that he was announcing the good news of the kingdom of God. Mark starts his account of Jesus’s ministry by calling it the gospel.

But it’s Paul that really cemented the term gospel as a way of explaining what Christ’s death and resurrection achieved to reconcile lost and wayward humanity with God. To adequately understand the gospel, we need to be able to answer a couple of essential questions:

  1. Why are we here?
  2. What is humanity’s problem?
  3. How did God solve our problem?
  4. How can I be reconciled with God?

Let’s look at each of these questions in turn.

Why are we here?

When it comes to how the world and everything in it came to be, there are a lot of conflicting reports. Some ancient religions attribute the world’s creation to a huge cosmic battle between powerful deities that resulted in the accidental creation of galaxies and planets. On the other hand, many scientific explanations reduce the world’s origin to a one-in-a-bajillion cosmic accident.

The Book of Genesis tells us that God intentionally created the world. And at every point throughout the process, the author wants us to know that God’s creation was good (Genesis 1:4, 10,18, 21, 25). In fact, when God finishes with His creation, He reflects on it again and is satisfied that it is “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

The creation of humanity

The formation of men and women featured as a central part of God’s creation. Mankind wasn’t simply a sub-species in the animal kingdom. They were unique:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

While there is some room for debate over what it means to be made in God’s image, the clear, uncontested point is that humanity was special. We were created with attributes not found in the rest of God’s world.

In this ideal state, humanity was prepared to fulfill its role in creation. Genesis tells us what that role looked like. Humans were to:

  • Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28)
  • Rule over the earth as stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 1:28)
  • Tend to the garden and care for it (Genesis 2:15)

These responsibilities were to be carried within a loving relationship with God—but then things went sour.

What is humanity’s problem?

Genesis tells us of an act of disobedience so catastrophic that it threw all of creation out of alignment (Genesis 3). By disobeying God, Adam and Eve undermined their fellowship with their Creator and death entered the picture.

Mankind was thrown out of the garden and the seeds of rebellion were sewn into the fabric of humanity. It only took the space of one generation for murder to be introduced into the world (Genesis 4).  And yet, we didn’t lose that element that set us apart. We still carried God’s image within us.

Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind (Genesis 9:6).

This infection spread throughout humanity. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul says, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

This rebellious sin that infects all of humanity dethrones God. It causes humans to reject God’s authority—even though they have no power to consistently choose goodness. When we’re being honest, all people will admit that they know both the unhealthy behaviors and choices they need to stop and the positive things they need to start doing, but they feel powerless to do so.

Humanity’s rebellious and sinful state was not a condition that God could simply ignore. Not only does God’s anger burn against sin and the damage it does, but His enemy, the devil, exploits mankind’s weakness to sow more misery and grief.

Mankind’s problem is not social injustice, racism, or political issues and how we can help deliver its victims out of oppression. Rather, these are only symptoms of the deeper problem of sin. The condition of one’s soul is the important issue and we must not get sidetracked by current events that might distract from the real gospel message—Christ’s work on the cross.   

How did God solve our problem?

Our problem is severe. We’re not just talking about sin as some bad behavior that we could potentially amend. We’re talking about “Sin,” a spiritual malaise that infected us down to our very core. The prophet, Jeremiah, summed up the situation well:

Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil (Jeremiah 13:23).

And as Paul described it to the Roman Christians, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). The only possible outcome for a humanity mired in sin was physical death, spiritual death, and complete separation from God. How could God ever solve this problem?

Thankfully, God has never stopped being faithful to His creation (2 Timothy 2:13). He loves us with a never-ending and unmatchable passion and zeal. So even though our condition was beyond our scope or ability to rectify, God had a plan that would allow humanity to experience forgiveness and eternal life.

Jesus: Savior of all mankind

At just the right time, Jesus came to solve humanity’s biggest dilemma. He came into the world as a man—but He was so much more than a man. He was a teacher—but He was so much more than a teacher. He was a religious leader—but He was so much more than a religious leader.

John’s Gospel explains His significance right from the jump:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1–5).

When John talks about the Word, he is talking about Jesus. Here are a few things we learn from this powerful passage:

  • Jesus is eternal. John’s words are intended to remind us of the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
  • Jesus is the perfect expression of God. Just like we use words to communicate thoughts, Jesus reveals what God is like (John 1:18).
  • Jesus is God.
  • Jesus played a part in the creation of everything.
  • Jesus is a light that no darkness of sin can overcome.

Jesus accomplished what we were unable to achieve. He lived a completely sinless life. And as the writer of Hebrews tells us, that’s exactly the kind of mediator we needed:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26).

Paul tells us this was significant because “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus’s sinless life made it possible for Him to absorb the penalty for our sin. This is what Christians mean when they say, “Jesus died for your sins.”

As we look back over the Old Testament, we discover that the cross was God’s plan from the beginning. The Hebrew Bible is full of very specific prophecies about Jesus, and among those prophecies, God told us how He would reconcile the world to Himself:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6, emphasis added).

But the story doesn’t end there. Three days after dying on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead, confirming to the world that He was precisely who He claimed to be—our Messiah and Savior. Through Jesus’s death and resurrection, God has instituted his plan to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). Not only does Jesus facilitate our peace with God, but in Jesus, God is redeeming all things:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19–20).

This is why Jesus could so definitively say, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

How Can I be reconciled with God?

The gift of forgiveness that is found in Christ is completely free. We don’t have to work for it or earn it—we simply need to accept it:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

One of the most enduring pictures of God’s salvation comes from Jesus’s own words in Revelation, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).

Being reconciled with God requires nothing more than receiving the gift Jesus provided. Paul puts it simply, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

And once we accept Jesus’s sacrifice and become reconciled with God, we learn what it means to lay aside our rebellion and start living as friends of God:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7).

The gospel in a nutshell

It’s important to understand the gospel so that you can respond to questions. The gospel can be summed up quite easily, as Paul does with the Corinthian church:

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 (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).

What Jesus did for us is truly remarkable, and that’s why the apostle Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes …” (Romans 1:16). Once we truly grasp what has been achieved on our behalf, you just want to invite everyone into God’s kingdom.

If you’re interested in a resource to help you better understand Jesus and the gospel, check out the Jesus Film Project® app. It includes a digital library of more than 200 full-length movies, miniseries, and short films that all share the common goal of helping the world know Jesus better. Not only will these videos encourage and inspire you, but they also make ideal tools for generating discussions with your family, friends, and others with whom you might want to share the life-changing message of Jesus.