When You Assume the Gospel, You Lose the Gospel

The gospel is not ultimately about us or how we can improve this world or ourselves. Rather, it’s about Christ.

And it’s not merely about Christ in general or what he can do for us in the here and now. Rather, it is about what he did during a particular time when Tiberius was reigning as Caesar and Pontius Pilate was the procurator of Judea. It’s about Christ’s death for sin and his resurrection on the third day, testified by the prophets before it happened, witnessed by the apostles when it happened, and richly explained by them after it happened.

We’re dealing with real time and space events that are first and foremost to be understood as true rather than helpful, useful, or life changing. This gospel may have the effect of changing a person’s life, but that is to be understood as a fruit of the gospel and not the thing itself.

Assuming the Gospel

These days, we’ve turned things around. We don’t talk about the truth of the gospel anymore, just its therapeutic value—what it can do for our finances, how it can repair our broken relationships, how it solves loneliness, etc.

As we go around repeating these kinds of things, many people will respond, “Oh that’s great for you; I’m glad that you found something that works.” Others say, “I’m doing just fine with my finances and relationships, thank you,” or “What worked for me was reading Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. That book changed my life!”

But a truth claim is something different. If Jesus really rose again from the dead, then as with all historical facts, this would be true not merely for me but for everyone. And if it’s true for everyone, we would all do well to pay attention to what Jesus says about himself and the claims he makes about where history is headed, about our true nature, and about our need for redemption.

Rediscovering the Gospel

The gospel is the announcement concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul says in the first two verses of 1 Corinthians 15 that it is the gospel “in which you stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached.”

In other words, this isn’t merely an announcement of a particular set of facts, but is something of eternal significance for us all. We are not made right before a holy God by the things we do. However, we can be saved by attending to these particular words about a particular event that took place some two thousand years ago, having to do with a certain Jewish rabbi who got himself crucified and didn’t stay dead.

This is why we put such an important emphasis on preaching and proclamation. The gospel saves, not attending church, caring for the poor, spiritual journaling, pursuing social justice, or trying to be a decent person in a fallen world. As Paul says in Romans 4:25, “Christ was raised for our justification.”

We are declared righteous based on the events of his life, not our own. And if clinging to this gospel is what saves, then preaching this gospel is the main business of Christian ministers in Christian churches throughout the world until he comes.


Adapted from Shane Rosenthal, “What the Gospel Is and Why We Should Believe It,” White Horse Inn blog, June 14, 2013.

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