What is the gospel?
SPROUL: When I would teach in the doctor of ministry program and I’d have the clergy in there, I would ask them to define the gospel. And if I got ten percent of them to give an adequate answer to it, I would be happy. Because that word is thrown around so much it has died the death of a thousand qualifications.
In New Testament terms, the gospel is the proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ plus how the benefits of that work can be appropriated to us by faith and by faith alone.
So the gospel has a narrow definition: it’s the message about Jesus. Now, there are other good tidings: the kingdom of God, all of that. But, specifically, if you look at what we call in the New Testament the kerygma, the apostolic proclamation of the gospel, it focuses on Christ: who He is, what He did, and how we receive His benefits.
So if I tell you that if you come to Jesus you can get meaning for your life, or you can have peace in your soul, or God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, that may be true, but that’s not the gospel. Don’t confuse that with the gospel. The gospel is about Jesus.
FERGUSON: If a student asked me that question I would say, “Paul has told us in the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 15.” He says, “These are the things that are of first importance.” And he states facts with an interpretation: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; the third day He rose again” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). And that is, in the New Testament, or at least in Paul’s letters, the simplest foundation.
Paul says in Romans twice, “I want to explain my gospel to you.” And there he takes that statement, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; the third day He rose again,” and he says, “Let me now unpack more and more of the significance of that.”
So that, from one point of view, you can sit down with a child and say, “This is the gospel.” And from another point of view, since Christ Himself, person and work—as Calvin says, “Christ clothed in the gospel”—is the gospel, we are ransacking the Scriptures all the time to discover the fullness of that.
But as to the foundation of it, the answer is really pretty simple and clearly stated in Scripture. And as R.C. is saying, it is kind of different from what people often say.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of Sinclair Ferguson’s and R.C. Sproul’s answers given at our 2015 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.