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What is the Gospel?

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

(1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV) 

On Sunday, I argued that when we treasure the gospel, we will live accordingly. But what is the gospel? Many people seem confused as to what the gospel is. To clarify the gospel, some begin with a via negativa, highlighting what the gospel is not, which is very helpful, of course, but we cannot stop there. There are several places in Scripture where the gospel is briefly summarized, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is one of those places. There the apostle Paul reminds us:

The gospel is the revelation of God's plan to reconcile sinners to Himself (1 Corinthians 15:3). This saving plan was prophesied long ago (1 Peter 1:10-12), revealed to the New Testament apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20) and inscripturated for our sake under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). In other words, the gospel is not a man-made message (Galatians 1:11-2:11) but a divine revelation that is received (1 Corinthians 15:3).

The gospel is about Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The revelation of this saving plan came in a progressive but limited fashion to the Old Testament prophets, and then in full disclosure to the New Testament apostles and prophets concerns Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-4). God reconciles all things to Himself through Jesus (Colossians 1:19-21). Consequently, the Father sent Jesus at the appropriate time in history to face the “hour” of His death on the cross for us (John 12:23-28; 17:1). In this sense, we may also say that the gospel is an unrepeatable event in history.

The heart of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for this historical event was the plan which has now been revealed (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

  1. Jesus Christ died as a propitiatory sacrifice for sin (1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:14-17). We are born sinners, and, as a result, owe a debt too large to pay (Romans 6:23). Thus, the gospel is not a message of what we must do to redeem ourselves—that’s religion. The gospel message announces that only the Father can cancel the debt of sin that we owe by counting it against Jesus, His own Son (Colossians 2:13-14; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). This penal-substitutionary death was according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53:4-5).
  1. Jesus Christ was buried. The point here is that contrary to Greek philosophical ideas that Jesus only appeared to die, He really died, and He really was buried (cf. Isaiah 53:9). 
  1. Jesus Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4; see also Acts 2:23-32). Without the resurrection, there is no gospel, no good news. Without the resurrection, we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-18). The resurrection reminds us that in the same way Jesus was raised, all who hope in Him will also be raised.


What are we to do with this gospel?

  1. We are to repent (turn away) from our sins and receive Jesus’ work on our behalf by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Mark 1:14-15).
  1. We are to remain in this gospel by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), for the gospel is that on which Christians stand. In other words, we will never outgrow the gospel.                                                                                                   
  1. We are to proclaim this gospel, for it is the only hope of salvation to the world (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3). This is the gospel priority (1 Corinthians 15:3). It was Jesus' priority (Luke 4:18, 42-44); it was Paul's priority (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 9:23); it should be our priority (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44-47). 
  1. We are to treasure the gospel (Philippians 1:27). The gospel is like a magnificent, multi-faceted diamond. And we can consider the gospel from its various facets: reconciliation, propitiation, atonement, forgiveness, adoption, justification, sacrifice, salvation, and on and on. When we understand the value or worth of the gospel, we will live our lives accordingly – in a manner worthy of the gospel. So, let us treasure the gospel and live in a manner that exalts Christ and the work he has done in our place.