What is the gospel?

If you know any Christians, hopefully you’ve at least heard the term “gospel”, but what is it? What does that word even mean?

The word “gospel” simply means “good news” and when Christians use it it refers to the good news about Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1). In order to understand this good news, there are at least four crucial truths to grasp:

God created a good world.

In the first chapter of the Bible, we learn about how the world came into being. It tells us that God created the world in six consecutive days and at the end of every day he called his work “good”. Humans were created on the sixth day and after God created them–Adam and Eve–the Bible tells us that his creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Because God made the world and everything in it, he is the rightful ruler over it all. The last book of the Bible says, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11). Since God is the Creator, we are all accountable to him as our King and we ought to give him the honor he deserves. In the beginning of the story of the Bible, God is in a perfect relationship with humans–they worshiped him perfectly and even walked with him in the midst of a paradise garden called Eden.

All people have rejected God.

“Chemotherapy will help you,” is only a hopeful statement if you know you have cancer. In the same way, we will only appreciate the good news of Jesus if we understand the bad news first. Very early in the story of the Bible, Adam and Eve disobeyed one of God’s simple commands: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[d] of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Immediately after eating from the tree, Adam and Eve broke their perfect relationship with God and were ashamed. God is holy–he cannot tolerate any evil–and he is just, meaning he must punish all evil. Therefore, Adam and Eve were no longer able to walk with God as they did before, and God even threw them out of the Garden of Eden. God also set a curse on them and the rest of mankind. From that point forward, women would experience deep pain in childbearing, work would be difficult, and there would be relational struggles between men and women. Worst of all, every human after Adam and Eve would be born with a spiritual condition called sin, which would cause them to desire things that are contrary to God’s original design. Rather than live under God’s rule, they would live under the rule of themselves, the world, and Satan. People would desire to worship other things besides God (like statues, money, or relationships) and they would bring all kinds of atrocities into the world (like murder, rape, genocide, etc.). Although our culture would have us believe that all people are naturally good, the Bible tells us that no one is good (Romans 3:10) and that we all deserve God’s judgment for rejecting God’s rule in our lives and not appropriately honoring him. God’s perfect judgment against sinners is eternal separation from his goodness and endless suffering in a place called hell. Since God is just and must punish all sin and preserve his honor, the only way to avoid hell is to live a life of perfect worship to God by obeying all that he commands. The problem is, no one is able to do that.

Jesus came to save.

If you read the last section and didn’t understand that you’re in a hopeless situation before God, don’t read this section. It won’t be good news to you, just as someone who doesn’t believe they have cancer won’t appreciate being told “Chemotherapy will save your life”. If you do understand that you are hopeless because you rejected God and deserve to be punished in hell, then this will be the greatest news ever. Here it is:

Even though we have rejected God and deserve his just punishment, he has looked on us with a great and merciful love. The New Testament reveals what kind of love God has for us in the person of Jesus (John 3:16). The Bible reveals Jesus as much more than a good teacher or even a prophet. He is God himself who created all things and has always existed (John 1:1-2). He is not only fully God, but he became fully man as well. He isn’t a demigod like Superman or Hercules. He is truly God, and truly man. The reason he did this is in order fulfill God’s demands for humans–to worship him perfectly and obey everything he commanded. To honor God (the Father) like we all failed to. Jesus, as the Son of God, did exactly that. He never stole, never lied, never lusted after a woman, and he appropriately worshiped God in his heart and actions his entire life on earth. But even though he lived perfectly and didn’t deserve any punishment like the rest of us, he made it clear that he came suffer and die and take on the full punishment for sin. Why? It was so that he could set sinful people like us free from our sin and the punishment we deserve. He would be the perfect substitute, dying and suffering on the behalf of sinners so they could live with God in perfect relationship. When Jesus hung on the cross, God the Father placed on him the wrath that we deserve and he died the most severe punishment of all time. He didn’t just suffer for one person, but for countless people. He was then buried in a tomb, just like everyone else who had died before him.

But after three days of being buried, Jesus rose from the grave and demonstrated that he had defeated sin and death. When he rose from the dead, he took received honor and glory and was seated at the right hand of his Father. God was showing the world that Jesus is King and that everyone needs to respond to him appropriately in order to be saved.

We must respond.

The offer of the gospel is this–if you repent and believe that Jesus died on the cross in your place, then his perfect life is credited to you, and your sinful life is taken by him and dealt with on the cross. That means that on judgment day when you see God face to face, he will not judge you based on how well you lived your life. Instead, he will judge you based on how well Jesus lived his life on earth. The punishment you deserve will be no more because Jesus already defeated it on the cross 2000 years ago. This will set you free to enjoy God forever in heaven–a place without pain and suffering where we will have a perfect relationship with God again.

However, if you reject that Jesus died for you, then you will face God’s judgment on your own. You will stand before him with all of your sin–every evil thought and action that violated his will–and you will be judged accordingly. Justice will be satisfied and God’s honor will be preserved.

It is crucial, then, to understand what is meant by “repent and believe”. To “believe” doesn’t mean to simply assent to something. Biblically, belief is tied to action. Therefore, believing that Jesus died for you means that you will do something–namely, repent.  To repent means to “turn around”. This means that you must turn away from your former way of living and your mindset about life. To repent means that you stop seeking things that are pleasing to you, and you begin seeking things that are pleasing to God. In order to do this, you’ll need to read God’s Word and meet with his people, the church.

The Bible tells us that “if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). You can do this right now, wherever you are. If you need help finding a church to connect with to grow in your understanding, click here.