When one first encounters the Bible and begins to explore the core of Christian faith and practice, the notion of “the gospel” often takes central focus. We use this word frequently and in a few different contexts. “Gospel” is a designation or descriptor of the first four books of the New Testament (The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); it is a message or truth to be internalized and shared. But what precisely is that message? What is the Gospel, and how does it relate to the wisdom and teachings of Scripture as a whole?
We’ll explore these questions, paying special attention to key passages from the Bible that illuminate the beauty, peace, and hope that the Gospel embodies and declares.
What Does “Gospel” Mean?
Before considering how the Bible articulates the message of the Gospel, let us first turn our attention to an essential preliminary question. What does the term “gospel” mean? The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word “εὐαγγέλιον” or “euangelion” and means “good news”. Used over ninety times throughout the New Testament, “euangelion” carries with it the connotation of a powerful, life-altering message that brings joy. This is the message that Jesus Christ proclaims throughout his ministry and the message that his followers, such as Peter, Paul, and James write about and share.
By designating the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as “the Gospels”, we are referring to the way each of these early followers expressed this good news. Each Gospel writer emphasizes or highlights a different element or aspect of the mission and life of Jesus in order to better help readers to understand the story and its significance. Together all four accounts offer us a picture of Jesus Christ—a King defined by his love, compassion, and righteousness.
The Good News in Summary
Terms defined, let us know contemplate what precisely the message of the Gospel is. To do so, we’ll consider three major passages from the New Testament that each reveal a central element of the Good News, namely, what it tells us about God, how it came to be, and how it affects us.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Perhaps one of the most well-known and oft-quoted passages in the Bible, John 3:16-17 proclaims a vital truth about God: that God loves the world, deeply and passionately. The overwhelming and beautiful love of God is displayed in the person of Jesus Christ, who enters into our human frailty and brokenness to restore and redeem us. Implicit in the assertion that Jesus comes to save humanity is the notion that we need to be saved. Here the good news of the Gospel connects to the broader Biblical narrative; a story of constant perseverance in which the fallibility of humanity continues to keep us from our Ultimate Good. The hope of the Gospel comes from the knowledge that in spite of our imperfection, our Creator loves us and purposes for our renewal.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This passage from Philippians articles the how of the Gospel message. How was God’s mission of restoration and salvation for humanity accomplished? Through Jesus, who took on humanity, ministered to the people. And because Jesus died—not due to any mistakes or crimes he committed, but in place of any punishment we have incurred. Crucially, the Gospel message also declares that death did not have the final say. The resurrection of Jesus resoundingly declares that we too might be renewed. Darkness and unsurity do not reign supreme; because of Jesus, Light and love are everlasting.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! ”
Finally, with the knowledge of how much we are loved and the lengths to which Jesus has gone to protect and restore us, this passage from Romans 5 illuminates how this joyous Good News affects us personally. The love of God and the gift of Jesus’ salvific work, are miraculous on their own. But here in the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul assures us that we do not need to earn these gifts. God’s love is freely given while we were still broken and imperfect. We do not work to achieve our redemption; we are restored by God's grace. In the face of a world constantly pushing us toward productivity, where comparison feels inescapable, the notion that the greatest gift of all is not something we must prove ourselves worthy of is incredible. We can be at peace, rejoicing in the Good News that Jesus’ love is unconditional.
A Call to Action
"[Jesus] said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
A message this wonderful necessarily prompts a response. The selfless love and mercy modeled for us by Jesus encourage us to reflect this light to all we encounter. It moves us to celebrate the dignity and diversity of humanity, to care for our communities and our planet. It moves us to embrace forgiveness and hope rather than retribution and nihilism.
The call to share the Gospel can take a number of forms. This Good News of Jesus impacts and reshapes every area of our lives. We live it out in the biggest and littlest circumstances we face. The free gift of the Good News, the Holy Spirit at work in our lives reshapes our outlook. One thing is certain—this is not a message to keep hidden. It is good news for all people. God created us all and desires to be in relationship with us. Through the eternal life—the new life—offered to us through Christ Jesus, we are enabled to drawn close to our Creator and experience perfect and everlasting love. We can rejoice in God’s rescue and restoration of the whole of creation.
How might we answer the question, "What is the Gospel?" The four Gospel accounts tell the story of God's total love for the world as lived out through the person of Jesus. Through Jesus' teachings and lived example, we are offered a new way of living, one centered around love—of God, of our neighbors, and of all of creation. This is a message of hope and restoration. God loves us and desires for us to be united in God’s Shalom peace.
If you want to learn more about the Gospels and the rest of scripture, take a look at Alabaster's beautifully designed collection of Bibles and other supplemental material to help you along your journey.