The word gospel occurs over a hundred times in the New Testament.
Mark writes of “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Luke tells us that Jesus and his disciples “went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (Luke 9:6). Paul’s sole ambition was to “testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
But what is the gospel? If you have trouble defining it you’re not alone. Some years ago at the National Christian Booksellers Convention a poll was taken asking, “What is the gospel?” Surely Christian booksellers, people in the business of providing Christian education materials for the church, could accurately define the gospel. So you would think. But in fact only one person out of a hundred gave what could be considered an adequate explanation. Most of the respondents defined the gospel with vague clichés like “having a personal relationship with Jesus” or “asking Jesus into your heart.” These things are not the gospel.
The word gospel means “good news” or “glad tidings.” It is good news about something that God has done. That’s why in Romans 1:1 it’s called “the gospel of God.” The gospel is the news that God saves sinners, and the way he saves us is by imputing or crediting to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Receiving the benefits of the gospel involves a double exchange: You give to Jesus all your sin and Jesus gives you all his righteousness. This transfer of our sin to Christ and Christ’s holiness to us is spoken of in II Corinthians 5:21: God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” A Christian is not someone who is trying to become a better person by being religious. A Christian is a sinner who has received the “free gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17).
If you want to receive this free salvation, you must, as Jesus taught, “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
To repent is to call sin for what it is, an offense against God, and then to turn away from it.
To believe is to rest on Jesus alone as your substitutionary sin-bearer.
What a relief! You don’t have to jump through religious hoops or reform yourself to be saved. All you have to do is to rest on Christ: “For by grace [God’s unmerited favor] you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
The biblical gospel is a revolutionary message. Iain Duguid, Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary writes, “The gospel changes everything. It takes lost men and women, and brings them into a new relationship with the Creator of the universe. It takes ungodly people, just as they are, and makes them right with God through the gift of God’s righteousness. It also brings joy and peace to Christians, who daily fail and fall short of God’s perfection, by pointing them afresh to Christ’s righteousness as their sure and certain hope of God’s continuing love and favor towards them.”
That’s the good news.
Peter Kemeny is the pastor of Good News Presbyterian Church of Frederick, a congregation of the Bible-based denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (goodnewspres.org).