What is "the gospel"?
[A brief word about quotations and the way I've used them here: I have snipped out brief quotes relating directly to the point being made. It's always difficult to start and stop quotes- I want to just quote the entire Bible! I highly urge you when reading this and any other discussion, to get an actual Bible and read the verses quoted in context. "In context", of course, means that you may have to do quite a bit of reading and studying to fully understand the significance of, for instance, Paul preaching on Mars hill. There's much more than meets the eye, but what meets the eye should be enough to both fulfill your thirst and increase it! That's just part of what makes the Bible so fascinating. In any case, I've made an effort to use quotes with respect to the context from which they were taken. All quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960-1995 by the Lockman Foundation.]
The word "gospel" means "good news". We first see it used in Matthew 4:23:
Matthew 4:23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.
Before we can understand the need for the "good news", though, we need to hear the "bad news".
The Bad News
The bad news starts with this- God is holy. Webster's 1828 dictionary provides us with both a definition of the word and quote from the Bible showing that God is holy:
1. Properly, whole, entire or perfect, in a moral sense. Hence, pure in heart, temper or dispositions; free from sin and sinful affections. Applied to the Supreme Being, holy signifies perfectly pure, immaculate and complete in moral character; and man is more or less holy, as his heart is more or less sanctified, or purified from evil dispositions. We call a man holy,when his heart is conformed in some degree to the image of God, and his life is regulated by the divine precepts. Hence, holy is used as nearly synonymous with good, pious, godly.
Be ye holy; for I am holy. 1 Pet 1.
2. Hallowed; consecrated or set apart to a sacred use, or to the service or worship of God; a sense frequent in Scripture; as the holy sabbath; holy oil; holy vessels; a holy nation; the holy temple; a holy priesthood.
3. Proceeding from pious principles,or directed to pious purposes; as holy zeal.
4. Perfectly just and good; as the holy law of God.
5. Sacred; as a holy witness.
Holy of holies, in Scripture, the innermost apartment of the Jewish tabernacle or temple, where the ark was kept,and where no person entered, except the high priest, once a year.
Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, the Divine Spirit; the third person in the Trinity; the sanctifier of souls.
Holy war, a war undertaken to rescue the holy land, the ancient Judea, from the infidels; a crusade; an expedition carried on by christians against the Saracens in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries; a war carried on in a most unholy manner.
We see from def 1, that "holy" is "perfectly pure, immaculate, and complete in moral character. Many passages proclaim that God is holy- 1 Peter (above) and Isaiah 6:3- "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" are just two.
God is the judge of all things. This concept is prevalent all throughout the Bible. Below is a sampling from Genesis to Revelation.
Genesis 15:14 "But I [God] will also judge the nation whom they will serve...
2Titus 4:8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge...
Hebrews 10:30 For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE."
Revelation 6:10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
We should see by now that God is a holy judge. In addition, though, God is sovereign. Scripture says:
1Titus 6:15-16 ...which He will bring about at the proper time--He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. Daniel 4:35 "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?'
From Webster, again:
SOVEREIGN, a. suv'eran. [We retain this babarous orthography from the Norman sovereign. The true spelling would be suveran from the L. supernes, superus.]
1. Supreme in power; possessing supreme dominion; as a sovereign ruler of the universe.
2. Supreme; superior to all others; chief. God is the sovereign good of all who love and obey him.
3. Supremely efficacious; superior to all others; predominant; effectual; as a sovereign remedy.
4. Supreme; pertaining to the first magistrate of a nation; as sovereign authority.
SOVEREIGN, n. suv'eran.
1. A supreme lord or ruler; one who possesses the highest authority without control. Some earthly princes, kings and emperors are sovereigns in their dominions.
2. A supreme magistrate; a king.
3. A gold coin of England, value 20s or $4.44
Establish this fact in your mind- God is the Sovereign Holy Judge whose judgment is totally righteous and correct and who is above all. He can make no error and His will is always done. This, in itself, is not The Bad News. We're getting to that....
Let's establish the fact that all have sinned. Besides the fact that Paul says so in Romans 3:23 "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", we can examine the facts and see for ourselves. First, sin is:
1. The voluntary departure of a moral agent from a known rule of rectitude or duty, prescribed by God; any voluntary transgression of the divine law, or violation of a divine command; a wicked act; iniquity. Sin is either a positive act in which a known divine law is violated, or it is the voluntary neglect to obey a positive divine command, or a rule of duty clearly implied in such command. Sin comprehends not action only, but neglect of known duty, all evil thoughts purposes, words and desires, whatever is contrary to God's commands or law. 1 John 3. Mat 15. James 4. Sinner neither enjoy the pleasures of nor the peace of piety. Among divines, sin is original or actual. Actual sin, above defined, is the act of a moral agent in violating a known rule of duty. Original sin, as generally understood, is native depravity of heart to the divine will, that corruption of nature of deterioration of the moral character of man, which is supposed to be the effect of Adam's apostasy; and which manifests itself in moral agents by positive act of disobedience to the divine will, or by the voluntary neglect to comply with the express commands of God, which require that we should love God with all the heart and soul and strength and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. This native depravity or alienation of affections from God and his law, is supposed to be what the apostle calls the carnal mind or mindedness, which is enmity against God, and is therefore denominated sin or sinfulness. Unpardonable sin, or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is supposed to be a malicious and obstinate rejection of Christ and the gospel plan of salvation, or a contemptuous resistance made to the influences and convictions of the Holy Spirit. Mat 12.
2. A sin-offering; an offering made to atone for sin. He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin. 2 Cor 5.
3. A man enormously wicked. [Not in use.]
4. Sin differs from crime, not in nature, but in application. That which is a crime against society, is sin against God.
1. To depart voluntarily from the path of duty prescribed by God man; to violate the divine law in any particular, by actual transgression or by the neglect or non-observance of its injunctions; to violate any known rule of duty. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Rom 3. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned. Psa 51.
2. To offend against right, against men or society; to trespass. I an a man more sinn'd against than sinning. And who but wishes to invert the laws of order, sins against the' eternal cause.
We see from definition 1 in both cases, that both an active transgression and a passive failure count as "sin". We also see that sin is primarily against God. What exactly is the "duty" prescribed by God? Most of us know the 10 Commandments, but even these can be pared down to just two:
Matthew 22:35-40: One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
So, then, the first commandment is to "love the Lord your God" with basically everything you have. Who has done this? More correctly, what unconverted person wrestling with the idea of God in the first place has done this? The command is to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. That is, you love God wholeheartedly, holding nothing back and putting no other God before Him- not your job, not your family, not your hobby, nothing. God gets ALL your heart. Hmmm....Secondly, you are to love God with all your soul- all your internal being. And finally, you are to love God will all your mind- that is you are to study, question, debate, decide, analyze, pursue, and wonder at God, who He is and what He has done. Whew! I think it's safe to say that no one has done this. Not one. I certainly have not. We could go on and discuss the second command, but I think we'll stop here. You can examine yourself honestly and see if you indeed have loved your neighbor as yourself, always, all the time, every time. If not, even if you've slipped just once then....you....have....sinned! And that is The Bad News. We are, indeed, all sinners.
"Oh' c'mon!", a lot of people will say at this point, "surely God wouldn't condemn someone to hell just because they slipped one little time!". Let's stop right here and wrestle with that point a little bit. We saw above that God was The Judge and that God's judgement was Holy. Now, if God let a sinner (that is, a person who is disobeying God's law) get away with something, even just a little teeny-weenie little thing, then he would not be just, would he? "Getting away with something" is still "getting away with something", no matter how thin you slice it. If the speed limit is 65 mph and you drive 85 mph, you're breaking the law, right? If you drive 66 mph, you're still breaking the law, aren't you? You're breaking it by less, but you're still breaking it. In this example, we would pretty well all agree that the fines for going 85 mph should be greater than those for driving 66 mph. This is called "the punishment fitting the crime". To use another example, we probably wouldn't give a person life in jail for stealing a candy bar any more than we would give them a $100 fine for murder. The punishment fits the crime. So, why would God cast a person in hell for violating just one little bit of His commands?
In addition to being holy, righteous, and sovereign, God is also infinite. Psalm 147:5 tells us that "his understanding is infinite" and Deuteronomy 33:27 calls Him "the eternal God". Since we agree that the punishment should fit the crime and since we see that we are sinning against an eternal, infinite God, then it follows that our punishment should be eternal and infinite. And it doesn't matter whether it's a little bit or a lot- infinite is infinite. For instance, if we ran a single strand of barbed wire (I use this example with ranchers and farmers...) from here to infinity, how much wire would we have rolled out? An infinite amount. Suppose we roll 5 strands of barbed wire from here to infinity- how much do we have rolled out now? We still have an infinite amount. Thus, James can say:
James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
And thus, when we sin in just one small point, God must respond with judgment. If He were to overlook this judgment, that is, to just ignore and/or tolerate it, then he would not be holy. Go back up and read the definition of "holy" again. If a policeman overlooks the fact that you were going 66 in a 65 mph zone, your guilt remains. You committed the crime, but because of the policeman's mercy, your punishment has been waived. However, if your crime goes totally unpunished, then the policeman was neither just (because he allowed you to escape punishment), nor holy (because he tolerated lawlessness), and he's certainly not sovereign (because you might be able to go faster than him and thus escape being caught altogether). God either shows mercy or He demands payment, depending upon His good will and your intentions. We can dig into this concept in a lot more depth (and should!) but we'll have to hold that thought for now, in order to proceed. In many cases, God will defer your punishment- that is, He doesn't require it right now, but is storing it up for judgment day.
Romans 2:5-6 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: Deuteronomy 32:34-35 'Is it not laid up in store with Me, Sealed up in My treasuries? (35) 'Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.'
How are you going to make this payment? Remember, the payment is infinite because we have sinned against an infinite God. Do you think you can pay this punishment by doing good works?
Isaiah 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
How can you, a finite person make an infinite payment? In short, you can't. You cannot make the payment for the sins you have committed against God. Remember this?:
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Its says not only that all have sinned, but also that all fall short of the glory of God. Only someone who is the equal of God can make the payment and there is none equal to God. Yet, His righteous sense of justice demands payment for our sins. What are we going to do? We're in trouble. And now we get to.....
The Good News!
The gospel! And this gospel is this- Jesus Christ died for your sins.
1John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:8-11 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (10) For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (11) And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Act 4:8-12 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people, (9) if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, (10) let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. (11) "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. (12) "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
We saw above that no normal, mere human being can ever pay the price for our sins, but Christ, as the perfect son of God, IS God. Watch this...
Hebrews 1:1-4 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (2) in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (3) And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (4) having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
Notice that the passage calls Christ the "exact representation of His nature". Not "close", not "image" (as we are), but "exact". Also notice that the one who "upholds all things by the word of His power" is Christ. If you question the deity of Christ, then we will need to discuss that elsewhere. For now, just know that the foundation of the Christian faith is that Christ is the earthly representation of God the Father and, as such, is the only one capable of paying the price for our sins. Here are a few more relevant passages:
Hebrews 9:11-15 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (12) and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (13) For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, (14) how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (15) For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. (5) But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. (6) All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
So, we now have the "good news", the gospel. What will you now do with it?
Acts 2:21 'AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.' Acts 16:29-34 And he [the jailer] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, (30) and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (31) They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (32) And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. (33) And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. (34) And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. Romans 10:8-17 But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, (9) that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; (10) for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (11) For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; (13) for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." (14) How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (15) How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" (16) However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" (17) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Hebrews 4:6-7 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, (7) He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS."