What is the gospel?

The gospel is the foundation of Christianity and the central message of the Bible, so it is the focus of everything we do. In the gospel, we find hope, our lives are given purpose, and God is seen as He truly is– the only person worthy of our worship. Because the gospel is so important, it is crucial that we understand exactly what it is.

According to the Bible, the gospel is the good news that God sent Jesus to do all the work necessary to make us right with God. This is the central message that God has revealed to us in the Bible. It is the message that God wants every human to hear and believe.

salvation accomplished

The Gospel is news about what God has done in history to save us, rather than advice about what we must do to reach God. The Gospel is news that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in history has achieved our salvation. We do not achieve it, only accept it. Jesus does not bring good news; He is the good news.  

The Gospel is that Jesus lived the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died, in your place, so God can receive you, not for your record and sake, but for his record and sake.

How is it possible for God to forgive me? Unfortunately many Christians view Jesus on the cross as a random act of forgiveness. In this section we are going to examine the human condition first, then determine exactly what is necessary to accomplish our salvation.

Redemption Accomplished

1) God is holy

Isaiah 6:3 “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts”

2) Humans are not holy

We all know Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned”, but have you ever read Romans 3:9-20?

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

11 no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good, not even one.”

13 “Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Because we are sinners, the fact that God requires everyone to meet his holy standard is bad news. Because he is a holy and righteous judge, God must punish sin. Because every person is a sinner, every person deserves the wrath of God. The wrath of God is the just punishment that he must enact upon every sinner. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the “wages” our sin earns us is death. God’s justice demands that sin be paid for with death. This death is more than physical. It is spiritual and eternal. Sin causes an eternal death that separates us from the indescribably wonderful presence of God, and leaves us as worthy recipients of God’s eternal judgment.

But the good news is that God did not leave us to die in our sin. This brings up the final component of the Gospel - Jesus’ sacrifice.

3) Jesus’ holy sacrifice

Because of our sin and God’s holiness, we deserve the wrath of God. God would be perfectly just to condemn us to death, because we willfully rebel against him and choose to worship things he created instead of worshipping him. But, because of God’s incredible love, he did not leave us in our sinful state to die and suffer the punishment we deserve. He sent Jesus to take our punishment for us. Because he is just, sin must be punished. But, because he loves us, he offers us forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul explains this in Romans 3:21–26.

[21] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—[22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In verse 24, Paul says that we are “justified by his grace as a gift.” The word “justified” is a legal term that simply means, “to be declared righteous.” It is equivalent to a judge looking at the accused and pronouncing him “not guilty.” What Paul is telling us here is that we are given the status of being righteous not because we are righteous, but because God in his grace gives it to us. How can God simply declare us to be righteous, even though we are not righteous?

He answers this question in the next phrase. Jesus Christ has redeemed us (literally: he has freed us from the penalty we deserve) because God offered him “as a propitiation.” The fact that Jesus was our propitiation means that he bore the wrath of God for us. Because of this, we no longer receive God’s wrath, but instead we become recipients of God’s favor.

Our guilt and blame for having sinned is taken care of, because Jesus suffered the punishment in our place. As a result, we receive God’s grace, we are forgiven, and we receive eternal life instead of eternal death.

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, which was initiated by God’s love, our sin is credited to Jesus’ account and Jesus’ righteousness is credited to our account. Consequently, the relationship that we were created to have with God is completely restored. We are made right with God because of, and only because of, the work that Christ has accomplished for us.

How do we receive this gift? All that is required from us is to believe. Look back at verse 22 in this passage, Paul says that this is available “through faith for all who believe.” He says again in verse 25 that this is “to be received by faith.” We can do nothing to earn salvation. We cannot work hard enough or do enough good to be seen as righteous in God’s eyes. Jesus has done it all. He lived the perfect life that we should have lived (in perfect obedience to the Father) and he died the death that we deserved to die (the Father punished him for the sins that we committed). Only by repenting of (i.e. turning from) our sin and placing our hope in him can we be forgiven of our sin and have our relationship with God restored.

We never move past the reality that Jesus is our only hope and the only reason we are at peace with God. The Christian life is one of growing in our appreciation for what Christ has done for us, and letting the truth of the Gospel impact every aspect of our lives.

Resting in Christ’s Righteousness by Milton Vincent

"The Gospel encourages me to rest in my righteous standing with God, a standing which Christ Himself has accomplished and always maintains for me (Romans 5:1-2; 1 John 2:1-2). I never have to do a moment’s labor to gain or maintain my justified status before God! (Romans 4:5; Hebrews 4:3; Matthew 11:23).  Freed from the burden of such a task, I now can put my energies into enjoying God, pursuing holiness, and ministering God’s amazing grace to others.

The Gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine (Romans 5:18-19). On my worst days of sin and failure, the Gospel encourages me with God’s unrelenting grace toward me (Romans 5:20-21; 6:1; 1 John 2:1-2). On my best days of victory and usefulness, the Gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness and not mine".


Affirmations and Denials:

1. We affirm that the Gospel entrusted to the church is, in the first instance, God’s Gospel (Mark 1:14; Rom. 1:1). God is its author, and he reveals it to us in and by his Word. Its authority and truth rest on him alone.

We deny that the truth or authority of the Gospel derives from any human insight or invention (Gal. 1:1-11). We also deny that the truth or authority of the Gospel rests on the authority of any particular church or human institution.

2. We affirm that the Gospel is the saving power of God in that the Gospel effects salvation to everyone who believes, without distinction (Rom. 1:16). This efficacy of the Gospel is by the power of God himself (1 Cor. 1:18).

We deny that the power of the Gospel rests in the eloquence of the preacher, the technique of the evangelist, or the persuasion of rational argument (1 Cor. 1:21; 2:1-5).

3. We affirm that the Gospel diagnoses the universal human condition as one of sinful rebellion against God, which, if unchanged, will lead each person to eternal loss under God’s condemnation.

We deny any rejection of the fallenness of human nature or any assertion of the natural goodness, or divinity, of the human race.

4. We affirm that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, the only mediator between God and humanity (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

We deny that anyone is saved in any other way than by Jesus Christ and his Gospel. The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshipers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ.

5. We affirm that the church is commanded by God and is therefore under divine obligation to preach the Gospel to every living person (Luke 24:47; Matt. 28:18-19).

We deny that any particular class or group of persons, whatever their ethnic or cultural identity, may be ignored or passed over in the preaching of the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-22). God purposes a global church made up from people of every tribe, language, and nation (Rev. 7:9).

6. We affirm that faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Word (or Logos, John 1:1), the second Person of the Trinity, co-eternal and co-essential with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Heb. 1:3), is foundational to faith in the Gospel.

We deny that any view of Jesus Christ which reduces or rejects his full deity is Gospel faith or will avail to salvation.

7. We affirm that Jesus Christ is God incarnate (John 1:14). The virgin-born descendant of David (Rom. 1:3), he had a true human nature, was subject to the Law of God (Gal. 4:5), and was like us at all points, except without sin (Heb. 2:17, 7:26-28). We affirm that faith in the true humanity of Christ is essential to faith in the Gospel.

We deny that anyone who rejects the humanity of Christ, his incarnation, or his sinlessness, or who maintains that these truths are not essential to the Gospel, will be saved (1 John 4:2-3).

8. We affirm that the atonement of Christ by which, in his obedience, he offered a perfect sacrifice, propitiating the Father by paying for our sins and satisfying divine justice on our behalf according to God’s eternal plan, is an essential element of the Gospel.

We deny that any view of the Atonement that rejects the substitutionary satisfaction of divine justice, accomplished vicariously for believers, is compatible with the teaching of the Gospel.

9. We affirm that Christ’s saving work included both his life and his death on our behalf (Gal. 3:13). We declare that faith in the perfect obedience of Christ by which he fulfilled all the demands of the Law of God in our behalf is essential to the Gospel.

We deny that our salvation was achieved merely or exclusively by the death of Christ without reference to his life of perfect righteousness.

10. We affirm that the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead is essential to the biblical Gospel (1 Cor. 15:14).

We deny the validity of any so-called gospel that denies the historical reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ.

11. We affirm that the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is essential to the Gospel (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Gal. 2:16).

We deny that any person can believe the biblical Gospel and at the same time reject the apostolic teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. We also deny that there is more than one true Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).

12. We affirm that the doctrine of the imputation (reckoning or counting) both of our sins to Christ and of his righteousness to us, whereby our sins are fully forgiven and we are fully accepted, is essential to the biblical Gospel (2 Cor. 5:19-21).

We deny that we are justified by the righteousness of Christ infused into us or by any righteousness that is thought to inhere within us.

13. We affirm that the righteousness of Christ by which we are justified is properly his own, which he achieved apart from us, in and by his perfect obedience. This righteousness is counted, reckoned, or imputed to us by the forensic (that is, legal) declaration of God, as the sole ground of our justification.

We deny that any works we perform at any stage of our existence add to the merit of Christ or earn for us any merit that contributes in any way to the ground of our justification (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9;Titus 3:5).

14. We affirm that, while all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are in the process of being made holy and conformed to the image of Christ, those consequences of justification are not its ground. God declares us just, remits our sins, and adopts us as his children, by his grace alone, and through faith alone, because of Christ alone, while we are still sinners (Rom. 4:5).

We deny that believers must be inherently righteous by virtue of their cooperation with God’s life-transforming grace before God will declare them justified in Christ. We are justified while we are still sinners.

15. We affirm that saving faith results in sanctification, the transformation of life in growing conformity to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification means ongoing repentance, a life of turning from sin to serve Jesus Christ in grateful reliance on him as one’s Lord and Master (Gal. 5:22-25; Rom. 8:4, 13-14).

We reject any view of justification which divorces it from our sanctifying union with Christ and our increasing conformity to his image through prayer, repentance, cross-bearing, and life in the Spirit.

16. We affirm that saving faith includes mental assent to the content of the Gospel, acknowledgment of our own sin and need, and personal trust and reliance upon Christ and his work.

We deny that saving faith includes only mental acceptance of the Gospel, and that justification is secured by a mere outward profession of faith. We further deny that any element of saving faith is a meritorious work or earns salvation for us.

17. We affirm that, although true doctrine is vital for spiritual health and well-being, we are not saved by doctrine. Doctrine is necessary to inform us how we may be saved by Christ, but it is Christ who saves.

We deny that the doctrines of the Gospel can be rejected without harm. Denial of the Gospel brings spiritual ruin and exposes us to God’s judgment.

18. We affirm that Jesus Christ commands his followers to proclaim the Gospel to all living persons, evangelizing everyone everywhere, and discipling believers within the fellowship of the church. A full and faithful witness to Christ includes the witness of personal testimony, godly living, and acts of mercy and charity to our neighbor, without which the preaching of the Gospel appears barren.

We deny that the witness of personal testimony, godly living, and acts of mercy and charity to our neighbors constitutes evangelism apart from the proclamation of the Gospel.