What exactly is the gospel? Why do we use that word in particular? And why does it matter so much that we get it right? John Hendryx offers a succinct definition:
In short, the Gospel is the life-altering news that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man, lived a sinless life under the Law, died for sinners, and rose again to reconcile them to himself, eternally victorious over every enemy that stood between God and man.4
I’ll say more about this later, but for now note that Hendryx doesn’t begin with man. Nor does he reduce the matter to sappy sentimentality and a lonely God pining over the prospect of an eternity without you. The gospel is not man-centered sentimentality. Michael Horton explains this further:
"It is interesting that the biblical writers chose the word “gospel.” The heart of most religions is good advice, good techniques, good programs, good ideas, and good support systems. These drive us deeper into ourselves, to find our inner light, inner goodness, inner voice, or inner resources. Nothing new can be found inside us. There is no inner rescuer deep down in my soul; I just hear echoes of my own voice telling me all sorts of crazy things to numb my sense of fear, anxiety, and boredom, the origins of which I cannot truly identify. But the heart of Christianity is Good News. It comes not as a task for us to fulfill, a mission for us to accomplish, a game plan for us to follow with the help of life coaches, but as a report that someone else has already fulfilled, accomplished, followed, and achieved everything for us. Good advice may help us in daily direction; the Good News concerning Jesus Christ saves us from sin’s guilt and tyranny over our lives and the fear of death. It’s Good News because it does not depend on us. It is about God and his faithfulness to his own purposes and promises."5
The gospel is the glorious, Christ-centered, cross-centered, grace-centered news of what God has done in Jesus Christ (the last Adam) to redeem man from the fall of his federal head (the first Adam) and to give man an eschatological hope that all things will eventually be redeemed in Christ.
THE GOSPEL IS NEWS
The gospel is news, first and foremost. The Greek word evangelion refers to news, an announcement or message.
Think about it; the gospel is news! Therefore, we don’t “live” the gospel; we proclaim it. We can no more live the gospel than live the nightly news. Imagine saying, “Let’s go live out last night’s eleven o’clock news headline story.” That’s sheer foolishness. The event has already happened; it cannot be relived. You can live in light of the news, or because of the news, but you cannot live the news. And as famous as certain words of St. Francis of Assisi happen to be, he was wrong; we do not “preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Again, imagine the parallel: “Channel 10 News . . . News So Powerful, We Don’t Use Words!”
I know this flies in the face of the contemporary vernacular, but this is no minor distinction. This is the difference between a life that views Christ and his finished work as the central message of Christianity and one that views its own experience as the central message. If Christ’s life is the central message, then I have to tell the news. If my life is the central message, then my living is enough.
THE GOSPEL IS GOD-CENTERED
The gospel isn’t just any kind of news; the gospel is news from, about, for, and through God.
God, not man, is at the center of the gospel. In fact, the New Testament frequently refers to the gospel as the “gospel of God.” Jesus came “proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14). Paul was “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1; see also 15:6). He was “ready to share . . . the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:8); he “proclaimed . . . the gospel of God” (2:9); and he knew that “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” had been “entrusted” to him (1 Tim. 1:11). Likewise, Peter warned of what the future held for “those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).
THE GOSPEL IS CHRIST-CENTERED
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”—those are the words Mark chose to begin his Gospel. The message of the New Testament is the message of the “gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:19; 1 Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Gal. 1:7; Phil. 1:27; 1 Thess. 3:2).
Matthew begins his Gospel in this way: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). He thus anchors the person and work of Christ within the first proclamation of the gospel in Genesis 3:15, and points to Jesus as the promised “seed.”
John starts his Gospel by going back even further, demonstrating Christ’s deity and eternal origins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1–2, 14)
Martin Luther summarized it best: “Gospel is and should be nothing else than a discourse or story about Christ.”
THE GOSPEL IS CROSS-CENTERED
The gospel we preach is a bloody gospel. As Don Carson notes, “The gospel is not vaguely theological . . . it is decidedly and concretely Christological, that is, centered on the salvation provided through the vicarious cross-death of the Lord Jesus Christ.”6
That’s why Paul could remind the church at Galatia, “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). And it’s why he could say to the church at Corinth,
Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:22–24)
Later in the same letter, Paul adds this:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:1–2)
Indeed, there’s no gospel without the cross. The cross is where the message of the gospel is rooted in history and filled with theological significance. There we see an event that occurred in a real place, at a real time, before real witnesses. This event has real consequences as it points to real sin, real pain, real holiness, real righteousness, and real forgiveness.
This historical and theological reality is captured especially well in Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God withmighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it." (Acts 2:22–24)
Do you see the history and theology in these words?
This is an important point for the family shepherd. We must not present the gospel to our children as though it were a fairy tale. They must know that these are truths worthy to be believed. These things are verifiable; they really happened. Moreover, because they really happened, their implications are inescapable.
THE GOSPEL IS GRACE-CENTERED
Because the gospel is something outside us, it’s necessarily grace-centered. The work of the gospel is applied to those who believe—not because of anything in them, but in spite of the fact that there’s nothing anyone can do to deserve it. The gospel is good news precisely because it is grace-centered.
What a glorious privilege it is to “testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24)! There we were, dead in sin and trespasses—when the message of the gospel announced our unmerited deliverance:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For 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. (Eph. 2:4–9)
Baucham Jr., Voddie (2011-11-18). Family Shepherds (By the author of Family Driven Faith): Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes. Crossway. Kindle Edition.