What is the gospel (i.e., the ‘good news’)?
The Good News is God’s message concerning the work He accomplished through His Son, Jesus Christ, in order to redeem a people for Himself, so that He will be their God and so that they will be His people and so that He will dwell in the midst of them forever. What is unique about this message is that though it came through man, it is not from man but from God (Galatians 1.12-13). Thus, it is not merely a story to be understood intellectually, but it is also a message that we are commanded to believe (Mark 1.15).
The Good News about what God did to redeem (”rescue,” “free”) people necessarily implies that mankind is not in a good condition. Rather, God’s message teaches that all people are exceedingly sinful (Romans 3.10-19). Our problem is a heart problem; we are enslaved in the prison of sin. Even though many of us think we are good, God reminds us that we decieve ourselves if we assess ourselves (or each other) in such a manner. For He sees the heart and His Word says that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17.9). Just like the false prophets of old, we perceive ourselves to be on good terms with God. We speak “Peace, peace” to ourselves, thinking we are on good terms with God when in fact “there is no peace” (Jeremiah 13.15). Jesus came to earth precisely for this reason (but more on this later).
Jesus taught us about our hearts: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7.21-23). Therefore, mankind is sinful. The reason why all people are sinful is because they are born with sinful impulses and inclinations, for David confesses “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51.5). The reason why all people are born in sin is ultimately because of the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden. In Romans 5.12-21, Paul explains how Adam is the representative of all of mankind. Paul writes that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5.12), and also “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5.19). Thus, Adam was the representative head for all of mankind. When he rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden all of mankind rebelled against God.
God was with man in the Garden of Eden. He was their God. They were His people and He dwelt in the midst of them. However, when they rebelled against him, they became sinners and God cast them from His presence, that is, He cast them from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3.23). They died in the sense that they were cut off from a close and good relationship with God. Furthermore, they literally began to die – their days were numbered. They had become sinners and they were enslaved in their sin. Their hearts were beyond cure. The whole world was cursed (including them). As Jesus taught when he came to earth, the punishment for those who are not right with God is “everlasting” or “eternal” (Matthew 25.46). Indeed, all of mankind was cursed and doomed to bear the fierce wrath of God’s holy and righteous anger. Indeed, mankind was not in a good condition. Mankind was enslaved in the prison of sin.
But God, in spite of man’s rebellion, being rich in mercy and great in love, had predetermined to redeem a people for Himself so that He would be their God and so that they will be His people and so that He will dwell in the midst of them. So, even when Adam and Even rebelled against Him, He promised to send a son who would conquer Satan (Genesis 3.15). Furthermore, God promised to bless people from all the nations of the earth through a descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12.2-3). Furthermore, all of Scripture was pointing to this future Son, Jesus Christ (John 5.39), who God would use to accomplish salvation. In other words, God’s plan (in His love) was to send His Son to do what needed to be done to redeem people from all nations and to bless them by being their God, having them as His people and by dwelling in their midst.
The work that needed to be done was at least three-fold. First, Jesus needed to live a perfect life to fulfill all of God’s righteous demands. God’s standard is absolute perfection (Matthew 5.48), thus, those who dwell with Him must be perfect as He is perfect. By living a perfect life, Jesus would accomplished a perfect righteousness that is freely given to all who believe (in Him and the sufficiency of His work to please God on their behalf). Secondly, Jesus came to suffer on behalf of those who He came to redeem. Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6.23); thus, all sinners deserve to die (not just physical death, but eternal death/punishment). But, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). Thus, Christ’s life and death were both substitutionary. He came to live the life we cannot live, but which God demands we live; and He came to suffer in our place (for our sins) so that we will never suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins! Thirdly, Jesus Christ rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.3-5)! He has risen! He is alive! God proved that He accepted the work of Christ by raising Him from the dead. Redemption accomplished! But redemption applied? Who get the benefits of Christ’s work to count for them?
We are at the heart of the Good News! Nothing stated above is Good News (for you) unless there is a way for you to receive the benefits of Christ’s work so that you can be qualified to have God as your God, and so you can be His and dwell with Him forever.
Scripture is very clear on this point. Paul wrote to real Christians in Ephesus and told them: “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2.8-9). So, the way to get saved (from God’s wrath) is NOT by doing good or being a better person or by trying really hard to follow Jesus or by faithful church attendance. The way to get saved is NOT by works at all. Any attempt of your own effort to gain God’s acceptance would be an attempt to do something that would give you the right to boast. God will have none of that (”so that no one may boast”). Furthermore, any attempt of your own effort to gain God’s acceptance indicates that think quite highly of yourself; it indicates that you think you have what it takes to satisfy the demands of an infinitely Holy God. God hates such pride. Furthermore, such attempts reveal that you insult the work of Christ by not really believing in the sufficiency of his life and death on your behalf. You believe that you must add to it (as if there is something lacking in his work). He is the Great one. He is the one who accomplished redemption. To Him alone be the glory. The way to get saved must be faith alone, that is, trusting in Christ and in the sufficiency of His work on your behalf. True belief is full confidence in the work of Christ on your behalf.
And what does this faith look like? Though it begins with a decision to look to Christ for forgiveness and life, faith is far more than a one time decision. Paul writes that “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1.17). In the physical world I live by breathing, eating, and drinking. If I stop doing any one of these things for a prolonged period of time, I will die. It is the same with faith, you must keep believing the Good News. This is why Paul speaks of “the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 16.26). All people are under the command of God to believe the message of the Gospel. Thus we are always commanded to believe the Gospel, and to live in this grace that I have been explaining above. This is why Paul and Barnabas urged new converts “to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 14.43). They were to keep believing the Good News of God’s grace.
And what are the free benefits of grace that you get? The following list, though not exhaustive, includes these blessings: being counted righteous, receiving the forgiveness of sins, becoming a child of God, receiving the Holy Spirit, entrance into the Kingdom of God, eternal life, fellowship with God, a future resurrection body, future perfection (being conformed into the image of Christ), and all of these benefits (and more) qualify you to partake of the main blessing of God’s work of redemption: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21.3-4). This certainly is Good News for the believer, for, in God’s presence their is fullness of joy and it His right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16.11).
One last note on the Greatness of the Good News of Jesus Christ – this message is a message about the very character of God. His love, grace, mercy, sovereignty, faithfulness, holiness and justice are all displayed in the cross of Christ. Behold, this is God! This is Good News! Turn to Him for life! In His love, God commands you to “repent (turn from your sin, and from living your life your way) and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1.14) that you might have God as your God, that you might be part of the people of God and that God might dwell with you forever.