WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
Recently, in a local church newsletter, a pastor asks, and answers, the most important question concerning the church, "What is the Gospel?" This should be the heart cry of every Pastor. He begins the article with several provocative questions, i.e., "Have too many churches assumed that their congregations understand the Gospel, and therefore have failed to clearly and regularly proclaim the Gospel to their people? Have too many churches become sidetracked with lesser themes, while ignoring the grandest and most important theme of all? " His message echos that of so many great men of God who have gone before. As the late J.C. Ryle stated:
“You may spoil the gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith--Jesus Christ--and to substitute another object in His place… and the mischief is done.
“You may spoil the gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honor, and the mischief is done.
“You may spoil the gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done.
“Lastly, but not least, you may completely spoil the gospel by confused and contradictory directions… Confused and disorderly statements about Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all. Religion of this sort is not evangelical."
Let us now hear the powerfully important words of this local Pastor:
Why deal with a question like this in a publication mailed primarily to Christians? Don’t our readers already know what the Gospel is? I hope so. I’m sure many do, but evidence continues to mount that many Christians do not. It is not only those who are irreligious or members of false cults or non-Christian religions, or even those entrenched in apostate denominations. Increasingly, those who identify themselves as “born-again” Christians reveal an appalling ignorance regarding the Gospel. Have too many churches assumed that their congregations understand the Gospel, and therefore have failed to clearly and regularly proclaim the Gospel to their people? Have too many churches become sidetracked with lesser themes, while ignoring the grandest and most important theme of all?
THE GOSPEL IS GOOD NEWS. Nearly everyone knows that the word “gospel” means “good news.” And good news it is, when properly understood! But the message of the Gospel is not all good news. It contains a significant measure of bad news, and if people do not understand the bad news, they will never comprehend the good news. In an effort to be always cheerful, positive, and breezy, many evangelicals have attempted to present the Gospel only in terms of good news, ignoring crucial elements of sin and eternal condemnation. Aspects of the Gospel such as the absolute holiness of God and His burning wrath toward sinners are commonly omitted in the interests of not sounding negative. In so doing, the true message of the Gospel is badly skewed.
WHAT THE GOSPEL IS NOT. Yes, the Gospel is good news. But that doesn’t mean that everything that sounds like good news is the Gospel. The message of food for the hungry is not the Gospel. It is good news to those who need food, but the Gospel it is not. Provision of medicine for the diseased is not the Gospel, nor homes for orphans, nor justice for the oppressed. These are all good projects for people of good will, but we must not confuse these, nor any other good deeds with the message of salvation for sinners. When we, in our enthusiasm for good causes, represent them as if they are the Gospel, and portray them as the church’s primary commission from her Lord and Master, we do great harm to the souls of men by confusing lesser issues with the most important mission of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel to needy sinners. Nor is the Gospel the message that Christ can improve your self-esteem, your physical health, and your financial welfare. While it is true that Christ is able to do all this and more, if and when He chooses, none of this is the Gospel. And to assure people that Christ always promises these things, when we have no Biblical warrant to say so, is a cruel hoax, evidently intended to deceive those who are more interested in temporal than eternal salvation.
A CURRENT ILLUSTRATION. For many years, our church faithfully and enthusiastically supported our local Right to Life activities. We are solidly pro-life and anti-abortion. But we became increasingly uneasy as more and more of these rallies confused the message of “choose life” with the Gospel. Some participants seem to believe that the message of life, as opposed to abortion, is the Gospel. It is not. It is extremely important that Christians not confuse this important issue. True, the Gospel is a message of life, but it is not the message of “give human life a chance,” but that Christ’s vicarious death on the cross brings eternal life to sinners who trust in Him alone for salvation. Big difference! I’ve received rally materials in the mail inviting Christians to come and take a united stand for the Gospel. Yet I know that some in both leadership and attendance do not believe the Gospel. What Gospel do they represent? What do they think the Gospel is? How could we continue to support such public confusion! We are thankful for every citizen who exercises his political freedom to protest the scourge of abortion. We desire to stand for life, but how can we join in public desecration of the Gospel? If these rallies were strictly civic, not religious, we could happily join our fellow citizens to peaceably assemble and protest the politics of abortion. But when the impression is given that this is a united Christian witness to the Gospel, we must reluctantly step aside. Our absence must signal our disagreement with such misrepresentations. Love for Christ and the souls of men demands serious efforts to clarify, not muddy the Gospel. The Gospel is not the message of Pro-life. The Gospel is the message of Eternal Life by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? It is the message that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. It is the solemn truth that we have all sinned grievously, and fall under the just condemnation of a Holy God. It is the amazing message that God gave His own beloved Son to earn the righteousness required of us, dying the agonizing death of the cross, and absorbing unto himself the wrath of God deserved by us. It is the promise that whoever turns from his sins and trusts in Christ alone will be declared righteous in the sight of God, and granted eternal life as an adopted son of God. It is the glad tidings that hell-deserving sinners can be justly forgiven by the vicarious sacrifice of Christ in their place, and that whoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life.
That, in a nutshell, is the Gospel. That is good news to those who understand their condition as condemned sinners with no hope of salvation apart from Christ. The Gospel is good news for sinners who fully recognize their sinful condition and are desperate to be cleansed from their sins. Minimizing man’s sinfulness is a great hindrance to the Gospel. If I can find a sinner, I can tell him some incredibly good news. However, for self-righteous people, there is no good news to offer because Jesus has no good news to offer. He said, “I came not to call the righteous (that is, the self-righteous, those who think they are sufficiently righteous in themselves), but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). Confusing the Gospel with humanitarian projects tends to make people self-righteousness, not repentant. That is no way to help people understand their need for the life-imparting Gospel of Christ.
Pastor of Beacon Baptist Church
Burlington, North Carolina