The gospel is the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of God’s people. In Scripture, the word gospel is sometimes used to refer to the historical fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and sometimes to the proclamation of that message in the New Testament. The gospel is the central message of the covenant of grace, and the gospel was first pronounced to Adam and Eve in the garden after they fell when God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). The gospel is built on the free and unmerited promises of God. It stands in contrast to every legalistic attempt to gain God’s favor by human effort. It is received by faith in Christ alone. In this way, it stands in distinction to law, which is built on legal demands and works. In the gospel, God provides the solution to the problem of the unrighteousness of man. By sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to fulfill the just demands of the law through Jesus’ sinless life—and by removing the curse of the law in the death of Jesus—God provides what He requires. The gospel secures for believers every saving benefit in Jesus Christ by grace alone (Eph. 1:3). These benefits are applied to believers through their union with Christ. They are received only by faith, which is worked in the people of God by His Holy Spirit. Those who receive the benefits of the gospel by faith alone will certainly lead lives of repentance. Accordingly, the warnings of Scripture accompany the promises of the gospel in leading the wayward and hypocritical back to Christ for grace, mercy, and pardon.
The word gospel (Greek euangelion) means “good news” or “good tidings.” It is the good news that is the solution to the bad news that all people are unrighteous and are under the wrath and curse of God. The biblical authors sometimes use the word gospel to speak of fulfillment of what the Old Testament prophets foretold—the objective and historical fulfillment of the promises of God in Christ (Gal. 1:3–7). At other times, it is used to refer to the preaching of the message—namely, Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins and the coming of God’s blessed kingdom (1 Cor. 15:1–3; Rev. 12:10). In both uses, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the central elements of the salvation of God’s people. John Stott explained how the gospel is uniquely about the saving work of Christ, when he wrote, “The gospel is not good advice to men, but good news about Christ; not an invitation to us to do anything, but a declaration of what God has done; not a demand, but an offer.” Similarly, Burk Parsons has rightly noted: “The gospel isn’t advice, instructions, threats, or warnings. It’s the good news of victory of all God has done through Christ by the Spirit.”
When the Apostles speak of one aspect of the gospel, they do by way of synecdoche (speaking of a part as a way of referring to the whole). The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Surely, he understood that the resurrection of Jesus was the other side of the gospel message, as seen in his fuller description of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1–11. This is also true of the sinless life and law-keeping of Jesus as the Redeemer. Considered from this perspective, the gospel is the message of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God (see Rom. 3:21–4:26).
God first announced the gospel to Adam and Eve in the garden after their disobedience. Theologians have rightly referred to Genesis 3:15 as the protoevangelium (the first preaching of the gospel), the beginning of the covenant of grace in time. After Adam broke the covenant of works, God promised to send a Redeemer who would conquer the one who conquered man, the devil himself. The proclamation of redemption was based on the eternal decree of God wherein from all eternity He purposed to send Christ to save His people. The seed promise of Genesis 3:15 runs throughout the entire Old Testament. It is the same as that which God promised Abraham and David (Gen. 12:7; 2 Sam. 7:12). The promised son (i.e., the seed) of Abraham is Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches that “the Scripture preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” (Gal. 3:8, emphasis added). The New Testament message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the same message proclaimed to Abraham under types and shadows in the Old Testament. The promise of a son in whom the nations would be blessed is the message of the blessing of Christ for the nations. Though there is a difference in the way that the covenant of grace was administered under the old covenant and under the new covenant, it is the same promise of the gospel in substance in both the Old and New Testaments.
The gospel stands in contrast to every attempt of men to establish their righteousness before God on the basis of their effort or law-keeping. Jesus continually confronted the self-righteous and legalistic religious leaders in Israel, those who perverted the truth of the gospel with man-made rules and regulations. The Apostle Paul refuted the pernicious legalism of false teachers who were threatening the truth of the gospel among the believers in Rome, Galatia, and Colossae. The distinction between the law and the gospel is an essential distinction in redemptive history. No attempt to keep the law can ever be added to the gospel for someone’s standing before God. Instead, the obedience of Christians is the fruit of having been redeemed by the grace of God in Christ. We do not keep the law so that the gospel will save us; rather, having been saved by the gospel, we are freed to keep the law in grateful obedience for our salvation.
The Mosaic law played a unique role in redemptive history. During the Mosaic economy, God added the law to the promise in order to show people their sinfulness and drive them to Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Rom. 3:19, 7:13; Gal. 3:19, 24). Paul contrasted the law and the gospel, opposing works and faith as the means of justification (Rom. 4:5; Gal. 3:12), in Romans and Galatians. The law requires works. The gospel requires faith. In the gospel, God provides what He demands. All mankind is required to perfectly obey the righteous requirements of the law. Jesus was born under the law to fulfill its righteous requirements on behalf of the elect. Jesus kept the Mosaic law perfectly—together with the mediatorial commands of God such as that He would die for His people (John 10:17)—in order to be the last Adam and true Israel. He represented those who would believe by His perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. By meriting a status of perfect righteousness through His flawless law-keeping, Jesus is able to impute that righteousness to those He represents as the Mediator. In other words, when we believe, His perfect law-keeping is placed on our records before God, and we are declared righteous in His sight (2 Cor. 5:21).
In His death on the cross, Jesus took the guilt of the sins of His people on Himself. All the sins of believers were imputed to Him. He became the sin-bearer as their substitute. He took the curse of the law upon Himself in their place, becoming a curse for them (Gal. 3:13). Jesus died under the wrath of God (Matt. 27:46). Since He is the eternal Son of God, the sacrifice that He offered in His flesh was of infinite and eternal value. This is how Jesus could satisfy the wrath of God and be raised from the dead.
In union with Christ, believers have spiritually died, been buried, and raised to newness of life. According to Scripture, Jesus was vindicated by God in His resurrection. The resurrection is the proof that His sacrifice was accepted by God. The efficacy of His blood and His perfect righteousness were the grounds on which He was raised (Heb. 13:20–21). Jesus’ vindication is the grounds of the believer’s justification. The resurrection of Jesus is the source of the regeneration of the elect. His resurrection is also the source of their sanctification. The resurrection of Jesus is also the basis of the glorification of believers. Just as God raised Him in glory, so believers will be raised incorruptible and given eternal glory on the last day (1 Cor. 15:43).
The gospel is called the 'good news' because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I'm not. And at the end of my life, I'm going to stand before a just and holy God, and I'll be judged. And I'll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness–or lack of it–or the righteousness of another. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn't possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.
Early in my Christian life, I thought the gospel was the message to win people to Christ, then, in disciple-making, one moved on to ‘deeper things.’ What a fallacy! You never move beyond the gospel. You go deeper and higher with the gospel, but never beyond the gospel. The gospel is what defines how to be a Christian man, woman, spouse, parent, and citizen. The gospel brings the reign of Christ’s kingdom to our hearts and throughout the world. The gospel blessings give joy to the Christian life and the ability to rejoice even in suffering. The gospel imperatives direct our new desire to lovingly obey our Lord. The gospel provides the foundation, the formation, and the motivation as it ignites our loving obedience to Christ as we discover the transforming truth that ‘He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19).