Grace For The Journey
Many Christians, churches, and organizations regularly use the word “gospel” to describe their ministry. Theological controversies have occurred and do occur over the meaning of the gospel and who preaches it faithfully. What does that familiar word “gospel” mean? The best way to answer that question is to turn to the Bible.
In the Greek New Testament, the noun “euangelion” (“gospel”) appears just over seventy times. Since, in one sense, the whole New Testament is about the gospel, we might have expected the word to have been used more frequently. Even more surprisingly, its use varies greatly among the authors of the New Testament books. Paul uses the word more than three times as often as all the other authors combined. Most of the other uses are found in Matthew and Mark, with very few, if any, in Luke, John, Peter, and James.
The word “gospel” most simply means “good news.” The word is not unique to the Christian message; it was also used in the pagan world to refer to a good announcement. In the New Testament, it refers to the good news of Jesus the Savior. Often, it is used with the assumption that the reader knows what the word means.
As we look more closely at the ways in which “gospel” is used in the New Testament, several points come through strongly:
First, we often find the phrase “the gospel of God.” This phrase stresses the source of the gospel as a gift from God. The gospel is of divine, not human, origin.
Second, the character of the gospel is specified in several ways: the gospel is true (Galatians 2:5, 14; 2 Corinthians 1:5), gracious (Acts 20:24), and glorious (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Timothy 1;11).
Third, we see two responses to the gospel. The primary response is faith (Acts 15:7; Ephesians 1:13). But obedience is also a response (Romans 1:5; 10:16; 16:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:7).
Fourth, we see several results of the gospel. The gospel, of course, brings salvation (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 1:13). It also brings the kingdom (Matthew 4:23; 9:35;24:14). It evokes hope in the people of God (Colossians 1:23). The gospel is also a motivation to sanctification (Mark 8:35; 10:29; 2 Corinthians 9:13; Ephesians 6:15; Philippians 1:27).
All of these ways in which the word “gospel” is used point to its content, but there are also passages in the New Testament that are explicit as to its content. In examining these texts, we discover that sometimes the word “gospel” refers broadly to all aspects of the salvation and new life that Jesus gives His people, and sometimes it is used narrowly to refer to what Jesus does for us outside of ourselves. In other words . . .
Sometimes the term “gospel”
Refers broadly to Jesus’ work
Of justification and sanctification
For and in His people,
And sometimes it refers
Narrowly to Jesus’ work of justification.
Another way of putting this distinction
Is that sometimes the word “gospel”
Refers broadly to
All the New Testament fulfillment
Of what was promised in the Old Testament,
And sometimes the term gospel
Is used narrowly of Jesus’
Doing in contrast to
Our doing of the Law.
An example of the broader sense of the word “gospel” can be seen in Mark 1:1 where the Bible says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
This use of the word “gospel”
Refers to everything
That Mark tells us
About the teaching
And work of Jesus.
We see another broad use in Revelation 14:6-7 where the Bible says, “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Here the gospel is
The call to repent
And worship God.
More often, the term gospel is used narrowly and its content is specified. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, where Paul is led to write, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being 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.”
Here, the gospel is
The message of the saving
Death and resurrection of Jesus.
In 1 Timothy 1:11, 15-16, Paul writes of “the gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust,” and he specifies what that gospel is: “The saying is faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
Here, the gospel is
The saving work
Of Christ for sinners.
Paul writes similarly in 2 Timothy 1:8-10; 2:8, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according too our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” … “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead, according to my gospel.”
This narrow use of the word “Gospel” was very common in the writings of the sixteenth-century Reformers. We can see this in the thought of John Calvin: “The word of faith is put by metonymy [using the name of one concept for another concept to which it is related] for the word of promise, i.e. for the Gospel itself, since it is related to faith. The contrast between law and Gospel is to be understood, and from this distinction we deduce that, just as the law demands work, the Gospel requires only that men should bring faith in order to receive the grace of God.”
It is also clear in Zacharias Ursinus. Near the beginning of his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus divides all of doctrine into law and gospel: “The doctrine of the church consists of two parts: the Law, and the Gospel; in which we have comprehended the sum and substance of the sacred Scriptures. The law is called the Decalogue, and the gospel is the doctrine concerning Christ the mediator, and the free remission of sins, through faith.”
Such reflections on the gospel have remained common in Reformed theology, as we see from this long, fascinating quotation from the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck: “But the Word of God, both as law and gospel, is the revelation of the will of God, the promulgation of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace… . Although in a broad sense the terms “law” and “gospel” can indeed be used to denote the old and the new dispensation of the covenant of grace, in their actual significance they definitely describe two essentially different revelations of divine will [Bavinck here cites many New Testament proof texts]… . In these texts law and gospel are contrasted as demand and gift, as command and promise, as sin and grace, as sickness and healing, as death and life … . The law proceeds from God’s holiness, the gospel from God’s grace; the law is known from nature, the gospel only from special revelation; the law demands perfect righteousness, but the gospel grants it; the law leads people to eternal life by works, and the gospel produces good works from the riches of the eternal life granted in faith; the law presently condemns people, and the gospel acquits them; the law addresses itself to all people, and the gospel only to those who live within its hearing.”
How clear, distinct, biblical, and precious
Is this presentation of the gospel.
The church needs to preach the gospel in both its broad and narrow senses. The Greek word for “gospel” has given the English-speaking world the word “evangelism.” True evangelism, according to the Bible as given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 . . .
Is a matter of making disciples:
First, in the narrow sense
Of calling men and women
To believe in Jesus
Second, in the broad sense
Of teaching them
To observe all things
That Jesus has taught His people.
This is why it is so important that churches today center all that they teach and do on proclaiming and explaining the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only by it will people be really and eternally happy, fulfilled, complete, satisfied, forgiven, have abundant life now and be able to live eternally.
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”