When I was in college, I asked other Christians a simple question and always got different answers. Some would just stare blankly at me. Others would get anxious and start fidgeting or stirring as if I were about to interrogate them. Some of them thought that it was a trick question.
All I asked was What is the gospel?” It seems like it would be an easy answer, but when I asked this question people seemed to get stuck.
Some answers were:
“It’s that Jesus died!”
“It’s that Jesus lives.”
“It was written by...Matthew? Yeah, the Gospel of Matthew.”
“Jesus is in my heart.”
If I were to ask you this question, what would your response be? The reformer Martin Luther once summarized the gospel as this: “that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as Lord over all things” (“A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels,” LW: 35:118). This is a pretty solid definition.
When we think of the gospel—that is, the good news—our minds should immediately go to the person and work of Jesus Christ. His birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, and ascension, as well as his present intercession for us, his kingly rule on the throne of heaven, his glorious return, and his eternal consummation with the new creation—all of that is truly his “gospel.”
What makes this gospel such good news, though, is not simply that Jesus did and presently does these great and true and wonderful works. That’s important, nay, essential—but none of his work matters to us if what he did was not for us. The gospel is everything that Jesus has done to accomplish salvation for us.
In Christianity and Liberalism, an American Presbyterian theologian named J. Gresham Machen wrote:
‘Christ died’—that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’—that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.
The very fact that Jesus died has little to no meaning in and of itself. It’s no different than saying anyone else in the past is dead; it’s just a simple fact that is distant and removed from our present experience. But if I say, Jesus died for you, then the death of Jesus takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? His death brought about something that has affected or impacted you personally.
Without for you, his death would just be lost in the past, but now, it has meaning in the present and eternal meaning for the future. That statement is a loaded statement, though. That Jesus died for you would still mean nothing if it didn’t mean so much more than that. His death had to do something; it had to matter and change the course of your future in order for it to be something worth believing in.
That his death has satisfied the just standard of God’s holy law, that it has turned God’s wrath away from you and onto Jesus, and that you are now considered a child of God carries all the more significance. That is, in effect, what we communicate when we say the gospel is what Jesus has done for you. So, the gospel is not just what Jesus has done, but it’s also everything that Jesus has done for you.
That’s what makes it truly good news for people like me and like you. That is why this question “What is the gospel?” matters so much. It’s a question with an answer that has all the power of heaven on earth to change your whole life. It’s news that alone has the power to overcome and overturn death. Do you believe it?
To learn more about the Christian faith, check out Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton.
If someone were to ask you, “What is the Gospel?" what would your response be? Would you have an answer for them? Give us your answer in the Facebook comments or on Twitter and use the hashtag #knowwhatyoubelieve so we can read it!