The gospel, which is robust and theologically thick, is more than simply the forgiveness of sins. The Center for Gospel Culture wants to be able to provide an inter-canonical, biblical-theological picture of what the gospel is on the grand redemptive story plotline of creation, fall, redemption, and the new creation. The gospel is not only the way one enters into the kingdom of God, but also the powerful dynamic of how an individual lives out the Christian life.
In brief the gospel is simply the “good news that God has redeemed us through Jesus”. But the realities lying beneath the surface of this summary are as important as the summary itself. And if we remain content with “surface realities” only, the depth and richness of these realities will be lost on us. It is when we reduce the gospel to its bare simplicity, that redemption becomes so thin as to be irrelevant to most of life.
The “good news” stretches from before the beginning of time all the way beyond the end of time. It is not a truth which begins with my conversion nor does it reach its fulfillment in any particular experience of my life. The gospel has everything to do with the “before and after” context of my life. It is a greater reality into which my entire life is embedded. It is a truth which owns me as opposed to an object I possess. It is larger than my life and is that by which my life makes sense. The gospel is not about “me”, but rather I am defined by the gospel.
God narrates the gospel as the story which begins at Genesis 1 and runs all the way through to Revelation 22. Important dimensions of the gospel are lost when any part of the story from Genesis to Revelation is omitted. When Luke records “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” the claim is being made that the story of Jesus is the story of the whole Bible. And the whole Bible is the whole gospel. The gospel is the glue which holds the Bible together even as Jesus is the glue which holds the whole story together.
The word gospel, euangelion, is stating that a formal declaration of victory has been made, and that sin has been overcome through Jesus’ perfect obedience in life and death on the cross. It is something that has been done in history, and we can only receive it by faith. The gospel is good news, rather than mere instruction. It is like a messenger who brings good news of a major historical event that has already happened. Therefore, there are major implications of this event in the life of an individual. In this sense, the gospel is the primacy of God’s work in Christ that changes the fallen condition of his creation, namely, individual sinners who are redeemed and restored in this new creational story.
The content of the message of Jesus is the gospel. He’s not merely talking about the gospel or talking about ethical instruction, but he himself is at the heart of the gospel, reconciling broken, alienated, sinful people with their God. In other words, Jesus doesn’t just bring us good news, he is good news. God is the gospel in Jesus.
Jesus not only saves people in history, but also accomplishes redemption by providing grace for the weak. It is an upside-down, ironic, subversive paradigm of how grace comes to the powerless rather than the powerful, the strong, or the privileged. This is the reason why Luke emphasized that the gospel came to marginalized people; namely the weak, the poor, women, tax collectors, Gentiles, and the sick. It is a reversal of the values of what the world highly regards, namely, affluence, status, accumulation of wealth, and power. So it’s an alternative kingdom and a new humanity. The cross better than anything else shows us this great counter-cultural nature of the gospel which provides life through death, power through weakness, wisdom through foolishness, and leadership through service. Therefore, this authority of grace frees the individual from any enslavement to power, status or recognition.
The Gospel is a faith rather than one’s own merit. Paul teaches us that the gospel reveals a righteousness from God (Rom 1:17) and Paul in Gal 2 identifies the gospel with pardon and forgiveness and righteousness and perfection in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). And this can only be received by faith in the finished work of Christ, not by good works or one’s own performance, but by the performance of Christ. And because we are sinners, who have fallen short of the glory of God, and were dead in our trespasses and sin, we need a God who not only can initiate pardon and forgiveness, but also can transfer righteousness and perfection. Jesus came into the world through the Incarnation and saved sinners through redemption in order to renew all things through the new creation.
Furthermore, the Bible can use different word pictures to articulate the breadth and depth of the gospel. The language of the law court (justification, punishment, judgment) illuminates the fundamentally moral character of redemption. In Jesus, God substituted himself in the legal place of a sinner by taking the judgment he deserved so that he can receive the treatment Jesus deserved. The language of the temple (atonement, sacrifice, sanctification) highlights the mystery of the universal presence of God as creator interwoven into the local presence of God as redeemer. This image shows how Jesus was rejected, shamed, and excluded so that the sinner could be purified and cleansed from sin, therefore removing the barrier of shame. The language of the family (adoption, bride and bridegroom) explores the central relational quality of God’s dealing with His creatures. The cross removes the hostility barrier because Jesus removed God’s anger by standing in the sinner’s place as the great high priest and mediator, therefore providing reconciliation and adoption. The language of the marketplace (redemption and possession) captures the dynamic of God’s ownership of His people in all of life. These and many more word pictures help us to appreciate the all-encompassing character of the gospel. Reduce the gospel to any single word picture and something fundamental is lost. Omit any of the word pictures and the gospel loses its traction in our lives.
Here is the rub. The gospel sits light on our lives today by and large. There are too many distractions for many of us, and the gospel gets our attention only when the other distractions of life aren’t exploding on us. Even if we reach this conclusion, too often we then suppose that if we could get rid of the distractions, the gospel would become more important to us. It would have more bite in our lives. These are noble intentions indeed. However . . . the solution here is not a matter of exerting your will (or mine) over these distractions. Greater moral rigor or an increase in self-discipline ironically is one of the ways in which the gospel gets further sidelined. The gospel is about finding ourselves in an alternative universe, not simply rearranging the furniture in the old universe. No matter how much it may seem spiritually or aesthetically pleasing it will never satisfy our souls.