What is the Gospel?

One of the first things that children are taught in Sunday school is that word “Gospel” means “good news.” Sadly, not all children are taught what the good news is. Not all adults are taught what the good news is. Not all churches teach the good news. There are some people who don’t even think there is such a thing as good news. They even go so far as to say that that there is no such thing as truth (by the way, whenever a person expresses that there is no such thing as truth, just ask that person if he believes his expression to be true). So many people live life as if everything is meaningless. “Eat, drink, and be happy, for tomorrow we die.”

Jesus said, “Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

What is the Gospel? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man in order to save us from our sins. This is the good news! Jesus wants to save us! He knows we could never save ourselves. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a gift. It is not something we work for. You don’t work for a gift. You receive a gift with thanksgiving. This means that getting to heaven does not depend on how well we live. All false religions teach that getting to heaven depends on how well we live. But that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says that if getting to heaven depended on how well we live, then no one would get to heaven, because no one can live well enough to get there. The best we can do is not good enough for God: “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This is why the Bible says that in God’s eyes “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). If this sounds pretty hopeless, it is, if you are hoping that you can be good enough for God to accept you.

The good news is that you do not have to try to be good enough. The good news is that God’s Son, Jesus Christ was good enough on our behalf. Jesus came to earth and was born of the virgin Mary in order to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He lived a perfect life. He never once sinned, not in thought, word, or deed. And His sacrificial death on the cross once and for all removed the eternal penalty which our sins deserved. All we have to do is ask God to save us from our sins for Jesus’ sake, believing that Jesus did everything for us, and we will receive eternal life as a gift (John 5:24). We do not have to do anything else in order to get to heaven! Is that not good news?

Does this mean that after we believe in Jesus we don’t have to worry about living good lives? Does it mean we do not have to obey Christ? Of course not! Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” If our faith in Christ does not lead us to obey Christ, then we really do not have a true faith in Christ; “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). A true faith in Christ always produces obedience to Christ. However, our motive for obeying Christ is not out of fear of going to hell. Rather, we obey Christ out of love and thankfulness because we have already been saved by His grace. A child obeys his father not in order to be accepted by his father, but because he is already accepted by his father and he loves his father and wants to please him.

Beware of false gospels! “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). All other gospels are accursed. They are accursed, first of all, because they say that Christ’s death on the cross is either not necessary or is not adequate enough to get a person to heaven (Christ’s death needs to be supplemented with something else, whatever it might be). Secondly, all other gospels are accursed because they take comfort away from God’s people. They make God’s people rely on their performance instead of causing them to rely on Christ alone. Thirdly, all other gospels are accursed because they send people to hell. They give people the false assurance that they are saved as along as they are trying to be good. That is what the Pharisees thought. They thought they were living well enough to get to heaven. They “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). They did not realize that their best was not good enough for God (if our best is good enough for God, then Jesus died for nothing).

So here is the choice: either getting to heaven depends on how well a person lives. Or getting to heaven does not depend on how well a person lives. Only one view is right. The Bible does not contradict itself by teaching both views. I’ll let you be the judge as to which one is truly good news.