I recently asked, What’s your definition of “the Gospel”?
I didn’t quite know what to expect, whether any one would care to respond, or what form the response(s) would take. But I was curious, so I asked.
The first response, Patrick’s, delighted me by its honest simplicity:
Good News. That pretty much says it all! 😀
Good News! Yes!
Another way to say it might be the Good Announcement, or Good Pronouncement, or even Good Declaration. The English word we use – “news” – conveys a sense of “announcing or making known” facts. As in true facts; information that is trustworthy.
In other words, this is not “fake news”…there is evidence for the claims it makes, if one wishes to examine it. There are facts to back it up.
The Gospel is first and foremost a declaration of truth, and in a way, the very fact that it is truth is what makes it Good!
But it’s not any old “good news”; it is in fact a very specific good news.
It is a Good News that is good for all.
It is a Good News that always remains true.
It is Good News because it is an everlasting word of promise, for me and for you.
Is there any other good news that can boast that?
If my husband came home and said, Baby, I’ve got good news! We’re going out for lobster dinner tonight! this would be good news for me – a night off from cooking AND I get lobster?? Yes, please!!!
But it would not be such good news for my daughter-in-law, who is allergic to shellfish. A world without shrimp would be good news to her!
But the Gospel isn’t like that – it is good news for everyone, no exclusions.
So the Gospel then, at its core, is a declaration of promise for all.
But again, not just any promise, but a very specific promise, as Wally points out, that is centered upon Christ:
The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the message around which the Gospel is built. The whys of those fill the message out.
So as the old hymn testifies, Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
The Gospel, then, has three sure components:
1. It is declaration.
2. It is for all.
3. It is centered OUTSIDE of us, upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, taking all that into consideration, here’s my kick at the can at “defining” the Gospel:
The Gospel is the announcement to all that we have been made right with God and have ever-lasting life with Him, because Jesus died on the Cross in our place.
I may decide to tweak that definition as I work through it, but that would be my “30-second elevator pitch” if someone were to ask me.
Defining the Gospel accurately may seem like a purely academic exercise, but I would insist that how one defines and understands the Gospel will have profound spiritual implications for the Christian life. The Gospel is what we centre our Christian life upon, so getting it right has implications for not just for the life to come, but for this life as well. In Christ, there isn’t a single moment of our life in which the Gospel is not brought to bear. Moment by moment, we live by faith, that the promise of the Gospel is true; that even as our natural eyes insist, “Things ain’t right here…I ain’t right here”, the Gospel remains true. That’s what faith does; it clings to the sure promises made in the Gospel – the only sure promise ever – sealed by the blood of Christ.
Perhaps the simplest articulation of the Gospel is this one drawn from the Psalms:
Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
Our – that is, all of our, belonging to all of us
Help – that is, the fulfilment of our one great need, restoration to God
The Name of the Lord – that is, Christ, his very Person, all that He Is
That’s a whole lot of Good News packed into one short sentence!
Then Salvageable came along and added this:
The good news of redemption and reconciliation with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; including the spoken message about Jesus, the written Word of God, and the other means of grace that depend upon God’s Word.
His definition pretty much “checks all the boxes” (I guess we could quibble that the “for-all-ness” of the message is not explicitly stated) but I don’t think it’s absence destroys the central message; in fact, I’m not so dogmatic about it that I would say that every proclamation of the Gospel must include x, y and a or its not the Gospel. These Gospel “components” are simply marks of the true Gospel; that when the Gospel is spoken in this way, all truth is being declared. It is the Truth that we trust, not our own formulaic expression of it.
But then he goes and adds this part –including the spoken message about Jesus, the written Word of God, and the other means of grace that depend upon God’s Word.
What’s up with that??
Well, he’s brought up a concept that is quite familiar to a Lutheran like me, the biblical concept of the means of grace. Outside of Lutheran circles, I don’t hear it discussed much, and I’m not entirely sure if it is unique to Lutheranism…but I think it might be.
When Lutherans speak of the “means of grace” what we are getting at is our belief that the bible teaches the efficacy of the Word, by which we mean that God’s word has power, and is able to bring about that which it declares.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He declared, “Let there be light” and there was light. It’s not like He simply flipped the light switch…light did not exist until God spoke it into being. That which He declared came into being by the power of God’s declarative word. When God speaks, things happen. He promises that His Word does not return void and he wants us to believe that.
When He took his last dying breath upon the cross and sighed, It is finished, His word did not return void – His word accomplished it. Forgiveness for all was won at the cross, declared into being by Christ’s word.
Yet the forgiveness that was won once for all upon the Cross – bought for all, paid for all, declared finished for all – is not delivered to all at the Cross. It is delivered, brought to us, by means; specifically the means of God’s word, through which the Spirit calls forth faith.
It wasn’t my intention when I originally started this post to get into the means of grace and the efficacy of the Word – these truths aren’t a part of the Gospel Declaration per se, but they are certainly teachings that are connected to it, teachings of comfort and assurance for troubled hearts.
They teach that we can trust that God’s word is able to do what it says it does…including saving you and me. So in that sense, they are Good News as well.
Who would believe such a foolish thing? We would, apparently. Thanks be to God!
That’s probably as good a place as any to end this part.
There is one more part to come; one last aspect of “defining the Gospel” that needs to be touched on, and that is defining what the Gospel is not.
To help us get there, I have another question for you to ponder…so here goes:
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved…
Law or Gospel?
Let me know what you think!