The Gospel Coalition Australia stands or falls on the ‘evangel’, the momentous gospel of Jesus. Our generation however, is in danger of assuming what this gospel is. If what is taught in one generation becomes assumed in the second generation, then it will be forgotten in the third generation before being denied in the fourth generation. In a strong Bible teaching movement like ours, we can assume what this gospel is to our peril. So we need to keep teaching the gospel to every generation for the glory of Jesus.

We assume what this gospel is to our peril … we need to keep teaching the gospel to every generation for the glory of Jesus.

1. The Gospel is Momentous News[1].

The word ‘gospel’ (euangelion[2] in NT Greek) is not a religious word but a media word for ‘news’. It is not just any news, however, because it is the kind of news that changes the world. It is momentous. It demands a response. The outcome of World War 2, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the death of a Monarch or President constitute such ‘gospels’.

In the ancient world, these gospels arrived through a messenger (angelos). Pheidippides was the famous ‘gospeller’ who ran forty-two kilometres from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to proclaim, ‘Rejoice, we have won!’[3]  When Isaiah proclaimed the gospel 300 years earlier, he said: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news (gospel)’ (Isaiah 52:7).

But the gospel—i.e. the Christian gospel—is only good and momentous when it is proclaimed in the context of judgment.[4] We can only appreciate how good the good news is when we understand how bad the bad news is.[5] Our sin is so offensive to God that we deserve his wrath. The momentous good news for all is the offer of rescue from that wrath. And yet, the focus of the gospel is not on our rescue, but on our rescuer.

2. The Gospel is Momentous News that Focuses on Jesus

The gospel declares, ‘Jesus is the Christ.’ ‘Christ’ is not his surname (like ‘Smith’)—the Greek word is synonymous with the Hebrew word for ‘Messiah,’ and the English expression ‘anointed one.’ They all refer to a king through whom God himself rules as King.

The gospel declares, ‘Jesus is the Christ.’

The Old Testament continually looked forward to a day when God would establish his Kingdom; when he would finally deal with the seriousness of our sin and save his people and judge his enemies. That day was anticipated in shadows and signs such as (to name just a few) the reign of King David,[6] the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar,[7] and the prophecies of Isaiah.[8]  

But when Jesus evangelised, he declared that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel’ (Mark 1:15). His message was that time of waiting was over. 

Jesus was thus the courier with beautiful feet prophesied by Isaiah. But more than that, he was—and is—the Christ. Through his death, resurrection, and ascension, he was enthroned to his Father’s side, from where he poured out his Spirit. 

This man is the focus of the gospelThat’s why the first four books of the New Testament are called ‘The Gospel According to …’ (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). They are four accounts of the ONE gospel that record Jesus’ kingly and loving authority over hunger, sickness, demons, storms, death, and ultimately sin. They climax in the events that establish Jesus’ kingly authority, death and resurrection.

For the same reason, when the apostles proclaim the gospel in the book of Acts they focus on Jesus’ loving rule as the resurrected Christ.[9] When the gospel is summarised in the epistles, the writers focus on those things that reveal his greateness: 

  • the message of his Cross;[10] 
  • his kingly Davidic origins; 
  • his resurrection[11] and ultimate glory as Lord.[12]

The earliest credal summary of the gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5: [13]

Now I would remind you brothers and sisters, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Peter and to the twelve.

Here, Paul tells us that Jesus is the ‘Christ’, and that he died and was buried. However, he also explains that Jesus died according to the Scriptures; that Jesus died for our sins. Elsewhere, he explains that this means Jesus died for us to save us from God’s wrath[14] and died as our substitute to save us from hell. 

And yet, in accordance with the Scriptures, Jesus also rose on the third day (v 4) to rule with all authority in heaven and on earth. One day, he will come to judge the living and the dead (vv 24, 53)! As such, Jesus’ death and resurrection have irreversibly changed the destiny of the universe. And those who especially testify to this interpretation of these concrete historical events are the twelve (eyewitness!) apostles. 

This gospel is the momentous news that Jesus is the Christ. This is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). It is this gospel that is worth living, suffering, and dying for (2 Tim 1:8; 2:8-10); that must be guarded (2 Tim 1:14), and taught to every generation (2 Tim 2:1) and proclaimed to the world (Rom 10:14-18). Thus, if we preach a different gospel, we deserve to be condemned! (Gal 1:9).

What the Gospel Isn’t.

With so much at stake, it is absolutely essential that we don’t confuse the gospel with things that accompany it or result from it. For example:

1. The gospel is not our response to the gospel.

Although the gospel calls on us to trust Jesus and turn back to him as King (Mk 1:15), our response is not the gospel. Rather, our response of faith and repentance constitute the necessary fruit of the gospel.

Even obeying the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbour as yourself (Mk 12:28-34) is the necessary fruit of the gospel, but not the gospel.

The gospel is momentous news about Jesus the Christ, not our response.

2. The gospel is not about social justice.

God commands us to right injustices (Is 2, Amos); care for the vulnerable (1 Tim 5), and love the needy (1 Jn 3). To neglect the poor and vulnerable is a grievous sin. Seeking social justice is as important as being faithful to your spouse. To neglect the poor and needy is as serious a sin as committing adultery!

Social justice is not the gospel … It is the necessary fruit of the gospel, but not the gospel.

But at the end of the day, social justice is not the gospel. It is not ‘the hole in our gospel.’[15] It is the necessary fruit of the gospel, but not the gospel.

As Don Carson rightly concludes:

Failure to distinguish between the gospel and all the effects of the gospel tends, on the long haul, to replace the good news as to what God has done with a moralism that is finally without the power and the glory of Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended, and reigning.[16]

The Gospel that Sustains

My first wife, Bronwyn died of pancreatic cancer on Easter Sunday, 2013. When we first heard the diagnosis three years earlier, it was news that radically changed our lives. We passed through the valley of the shadow of death. It was agony.

Yet the gospel—the gospel—sustained us through that pain. We were overwhelmingly blessed with its fruit. Church and school families sacrificially provided us with daily meals. Our AFES family looked after our work needs. Brothers and sisters from every corner of the world wrote regularly and constantly prayed for us. 

We literally could not have survived without their sacrificial Christ-like love. We cannot thank God enough for them.

However, only in the gospel did we know that the glorious rule of Jesus meant that nothing (like cancer) happens randomly. Only in the gospel could we bask in God’s love at the Cross. Only in the gospel could we look forward to Jesus’ return when his Kingdom intervenes to irreversibly destroy death. Only in the gospel could we see fellow sinners saved from hell, death abolished, and life and immortality brought to light. Only in the gospel can we know that Bronwyn is now more alive than ever in the presence of Jesus.

The Glorious Gospel

Through gospel eyes, sin gets uglier, grace gets bigger, Jesus gets greater, his death becomes more wonderful, and his resurrection gets more astounding. Although it does not remove our pain in this age, the gospel sustains us to seek and savour Jesus as the Christ in this age, and the age to come. 

That’s why the TGCA must stand or fall on the gospel. What better news is there to proclaim? What better news is there to live and die for? The gospel is the momentous good news that Jesus is the Christ. Small wonder that at his birth, the angel proclaimed:

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

[1] This article is greatly indebted to an unpublished paper by Tim Thorburn: ‘What is the gospel’ written for the AFES senior staff conference 2009.

[2] Literally (in Greek) ‘eu’ means ‘well’, and ‘angelo’ means ‘I announce’. So ‘euangelion’ more accurately means ‘news well told’.

[3] This gave rise to the Olympic marathon. According to tradition, Pheidippides immediately collapsed and died having run a further 280 km in the preceding 2 days to deliver other important ‘gospels’ in the battle.

[4] See also Luke 3:16-18, Rev 14:6-7

[5] To never speak of judgement is ultimately to preach a different gospel.

[6] See for example 2 Samuel 7, Psalms 2 & 10

[7] Daniel 2 where God reveals he will break into history to replace the kingdoms of men with his own.

[8] E.g. Isaiah 9:1-7

[9] E.g. Acts 2:36, 3:17-21, 10:34-43, 15:35, 17:1-4, 22-31

[10] E.g. 2 Cor 1:17-2:5 where Paul speaks of the ‘message of the Cross’, ‘Christ crucified’, and of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’.

[11] E.g. Rom1:1-5, & 2 Tim 2:8 : ‘descended from David’. This also alludes to Psalm 2, & 2 Samuel 7.

[12] 2 Cor 4:4

[13] Scholars regard these verses as the earliest ‘creed’ in Christianity that was passed on to Paul as early as AD 34, a few years after Jesus’ resurrection.

[14] Rom 5:8-9, Mark 14:32-42.

[15] Contra Richard Stearns.

[16] D.A. Carson –Themelios Editorial, Volume 34, Issue 1, April 2009. This can be viewed at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/34-1/editorial/