What is the Gospel?

If I were to ask you what you are into as far as a hobby, or skill, or anything else you enjoy doing, what would that be? Would you be able to tell me with some detail as to why that thing is so great, or be able to tell me how I could do that thing? In recent years, I have become an avid ocean and wave photographer. Living in California, I have grown up with a love for the ocean. I have surfed for over ten years, and have been going to the beach for twice as long. A few years back, my in-laws got me a GoPro camera and immediately I realized I needed to start doing cool things. I decided I wanted to start taking pictures of waves in the water. In the time since then, I have sold some of my images, I picked up sponsorships from a few companies, my images have been featured on websites, and I have made my wife get out of bed hours before the sun comes up to go with me to shoot waves at sunrise to get the perfect lighting.

I wouldn’t say I am a professional or expert at ocean and wave photography, but I could easily sit for hours and tell you what spots to shoot waves at, what time of day to go, what conditions to look for, proper techniques for getting the perfect shot. I actually don’t know everything about ideal camera settings, but I could tell you enough about it to at least get started. The point is, I can’t tell you everything there is to know about wave photography, but I can tell you and show you enough that you could do it yourself. And if you are in southern California the offer is out there.

But, I say all this to say that it is very easy for us to talk about and explain things we are good at or we find important. We might not be able to explain everything, but we could, at the very least, tell people the most important or crucial things they would need to know in order to do it themselves or be decently informed.

I have to admit that for a long time after becoming a Christian, I could not tell you what the message of the gospel was. You might ask, “how do you know you were saved if you couldn’t explain what the gospel was?” Great question. I knew that I had repented of my sin, and placed my trust in Christ, but I could not tell you exactly why all that was necessary. Since that was the case, I was virtually no good for the kingdom because I didn’t know the gospel well enough to tell others.

In the last six or so years, I have taught the Bible in a number of different settings. There is always something that I love to press on those I am teaching, and that is their knowledge of the gospel. I don’t think there is anything more crucial in Christianity than a believer’s knowledge of the gospel. I typically pose the question something like this, “how many of you would agree that in order for a person to be saved, they have to believe the gospel message?” Sometimes the question needs some clarification, but I can get most people in a room to agree with me when I ask the question. Once that happens, I ask, “Then who can tell me what the gospel is?” I then get nothing but quietness and blank stares. After a few seconds of awkward silence, one person will sheepishly start raising their hand. I quickly jump to call on them and ask them to assume that I am not a Christian, and ask them to tell me what the gospel is. They usually say something like, “Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins so that we can go to heaven.” While this is absolutely true, a statement like this leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Who is Jesus? Why did he die? What are sins? It’s amusing to watch other people with a look on their face that shows their relief that they are not the one on the spot. This then leads into a wonderful discussion on what the gospel actually is.

I don’t do this for the sake of making people doubt their salvation, but I do want them to seriously consider it. If we truly believe that a person needs to believe the gospel message in order to be saved, then how do we know we are saved by it if we cannot properly articulate what the gospel is? Aside from that, how can we impact the kingdom at all if we don’t know the gospel well enough to tell others? After all, making disciples of all nations is what we are commissioned to do (See Matthew 28:19). Disciple-making begins with bringing people into obedience to Christ through proclamation of the gospel.

Think back to the story I told in the beginning about my hobby for wave photography. I may not be an expert or know everything, but I can definitely tell how to get started and even become decent at it. I could thoroughly explain and even demonstrate for hours, and do it happily. You could probably do the same with something you find important or enjoy doing. Why is it so different for Christians when it comes to something so important as the gospel? Hopefully, we can all get to the point where we might not know everything or consider ourselves an expert in theological matters, but we would be able to thoroughly explain for hours what it is to be a Christian, and do it happily. Is there any greater joy than being used by God to proclaim the good news about what he has done for us in Christ? In order to experience this joy, we must have a good understanding of what the good news is.

By now you are probably saying, “Okay, what do you say the gospel is?” First, let me give credit where it is due for the way I explain the gospel. It comes from a model set out by the book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. I would imagine Gilbert wouldn’t want credit for this method for explaining the gospel because ultimately the credit belongs to God, but I am going to at least give Gilbert some credit. The method covers four crucial components: God, man, Jesus, and the response. My explanation of the gospel goes something like this:

There is a God who is creator of all things and is completely sovereign over his creation. God is also righteous and holy. This means that he always does what is right and just, and he is absolutely and morally pure. God created man in his image to be holy like him, however, man rebelled against God, and now all humanity is cursed with a sin nature. Since God is holy, he cannot be in right relationship with sinners or look favorably on sin. Since God is just, this demands him to respond to sin with his wrath and judgment. In other words, God must punish sin because he is a just judge. Humanity is sinful, but also depraved. This means that humans are not only sinful, but they have no ability to change or remedy their situation before God. In order for God to look favorably on sinners without punishing them, the price for sin has to be paid, and their sin has to be atoned for. God loves sinners so much, that he offered grace and mercy through Jesus coming and paying the price for sin that we owe. Christ suffered under God’s wrath on our behalf by dying on the cross. But, he resurrected as proof that the debt for sin has been paid. Christ paid the price for our sin, but he also gave us his righteousness. Now, if our response to this good news is to repent of our sin and place our trust in the finished work of Christ then we will be saved. However, if we reject God’s offer of grace and mercy we are still under his wrath because Christ’s atoning work does not apply to us and we will pay the price for sin.

This is just an outline I follow in explaining the gospel, and it would obviously look different in a conversation setting. Plus, I would want to point people to Scripture where it attests to these things. However, what I have written above can be explained to someone in a matter of minutes, and sometimes that is all we might have with a person who needs to hear the gospel.

Something I want to leave you to consider is: can you explain the gospel with the same effectiveness that you could with something you are good at or enjoy doing? If the gospel is as important as we say it is—probably the most important of all things—then we should be able to communicate it more clearly than anything we are good at or enjoy doing. Because as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

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