The implications of the gospel message are eternal, for Scripture teaches us that Heaven and Hell are real. If we were to subtract the gospel from Christianity, then we would have removed the point of Christianity. However, people are often unclear as to what the gospel is. In light of the eternal implications of the gospel, we must not be satisfied with confusion over what the gospel is. The gospel is not just a feel good message with a sprinkling of Christian vocabulary. Scripture is clear that the gospel is a particular message with a particular content. Therefore, we ask the question, “What is the gospel?”
In 1 Corinthians, Paul seeks to make clear to his readers what the gospel is. He writes, “Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15.1-4, ESV). The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ by which people are saved from sin and death. The gospel is the message that God sent His Son, Jesus, to Earth as of a man to atone for the sins of His people by dying for their sins. After he died, Jesus victoriously rose again from the dead and ascended to heaven from where He reigns as King and from where he will come again as judge. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, ESV).
What are the implications of such a message? Paul states that the gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1.16, ESV). First, Paul says the gospel is effective. By defining the gospel in terms of “the power of God,” Paul is saying that the gospel is as powerful in its purpose as God is in his. Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet writes, “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32.17, ESV). Just as God will bring about his eternal purpose, so the Word of God will have its intended effect. The prophet Isaiah writes, “[the word of the Lord] shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55.11, ESV). The gospel is effective on its own; we need not seek to improve on it with our witty words or crafty techniques. The gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…”
Second, the gospel has a specific purpose, to bring about salvation. It is the by gospel that we are being saved. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18, ESV). No other message under heaven is capable of bringing about salvation, for by no other name than Jesus will man be saved. If we do not get the gospel right, we have a false hope ourselves and offer a false hope to others. The gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…”
Third, the gospel is broadly offered and narrowly effective. That is to say, not everyone who hears the gospel will be saved, but al types of people will be saved who hear the gospel and believe. John writes of Jesus, “…you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5.9, ESV). God has a global vision for redeeming a people for himself. We are in sin when we undermine the grace of God by putting any stipulation beyond faith on salvation. Likewise, we are in sin when we undermine the grace of God by denying the necessity of faith for salvation. Yes, God has his gospel known in all the world, but only those who respond in faith, those who believe, will be saved. The gospel “…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…”
Just as the implications of the gospel are eternal, so the implications of a false gospel are equally eternal. We must get the gospel correct. Paul writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1.6-8, ESV). Not one person will be saved by a false gospel. Do you believe the gospel, as Scripture presents it, or are you resting on some clever bit of “Christian” philosophy and law?