At the office this week, one of my co-workers (who came from a Catholic background) was asking me about my church. He had heard the term evangelical before, but was not clear on what the word implied. I told him that when a church calls itself evangelical, it tends to emphasize the gospel, rather than some church tradition or heritage. The term comes from the Greek word euangelion , meaning “good news.” My co-worker’s question brought back to my mind something that I had learned some time ago: most evangelicals do not really know what the gospel is.
Oh, they know that if they believe in Jesus they can receive eternal life (and that is certainly true). But most would be surprised to discover that this conditional statement is not the biblical good news. The Good news that the Bible teaches is something different. Consider, for example, the following texts which contain the word euangelion:
“Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.”1
A kingdom one can join
This first occurrence of the term in the New Testament is remarkable for what it does not say. It does not say that the gospel is a theological concept that someone must believe. No, the good news is not about a theological decision one makes (or prayer that one prays) as much as it is about a kingdom that one can join. Jesus himself is the king of that kingdom. He teaches about himself, and then proceeds to back up that teaching about himself with miracles that prove he is who he says he is. The gospel here is not as much about what you and I believe as it is about who Jesus is.
“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”2
When Jesus commanded us to proclaim the gospel to the world,3 he was not referring to another gospel: a gospel other than the one he was preaching. Yet he had not been proclaiming his death and substitutionary atonement. As important as that truth is, it is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the gospel is something else.
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”4
Paul called his message “the gospel of the grace of God.” He was set apart to teach and proclaim this gospel.5 It was the good news – not that we can do something for God (like believe in his Son) – but that God has graciously done something for us. The good news is Jesus himself – a gift of God’s grace.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.””6
acceptance of all that Christ is, all that he has done for us, and all that he will do
Knowing this gives the reader a fresh perspective on how Paul describes the gospel in Romans. If the gospel that is the power of God for salvation is the person of Christ himself, then the faith that leads to the righteousness of God is not just acceptance of his forgiveness. It is acceptance of all that he is, all that he has done for us, and all that he will do. The gospel does not simply draw our attention back to the cross. It also draws our attention to the eternal ramifications of the cross. It is good news, not just because of something done in the past, but also because of the future.
The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not simply the fact that God regards us as righteous because of what Jesus did for us. It is a righteousness that is imputed by justification, and imparted by sanctification, and realized by faith in future glorification. So, the good news that is the gospel touches us in all three tenses.
Jesus died for me. I have been saved from my sin by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. My sins are atoned for by his death. They are forgiven. I am no longer on the list of those whose destiny is eternal death.
Jesus teaches me. I stand forgiven, and have access to the Holy Spirit to affect true change in my behavior. I can now live in victory over sin, and grow in the likeness of Christ. The key to living this life is the gospel message that Jesus proclaimed when he was on this earth. He gave commands which can drastically alter my life. But I have to learn and obey those commands. I am a disciple of Christ. I must choose to live like one. The gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. If I choose to live outside of the principles taught in the gospel, I have not responded to the gospel, regardless of what I believe about the atonement.
Jesus will make me immortal. I have an eternal destiny that will begin the day Jesus breaks the clouds and returns from heaven. On that day, if I am still alive, I will be transformed, and never taste death. If I die before that happens, I will be raised to life at Christ’s command when he returns, never to die again. The gospel is good news because it shows us the destiny that is our beyond the grave. It does not deny that death is real. It shows hope beyond death.
“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”7
This explains why Paul’s most extensive presentation of the gospel is found in a chapter entirely dedicated to the resurrection. There is no gospel without the resurrection. Because Christ was raised, we now can have victory over the penalty of sin in the past, and the power of sin in the present. Because Christ will raise us from the dead, we now have an eternal destiny – a future besides destruction in hell.
You cannot really understand the gospel without this perspective on the future, and that is exactly what the problem was in Corinth. The believers in Corinth had lost the good news of the resurrection. They had lost the gospel.
“how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”8
Throughout the world today, this problem continues to exist. People live with no eternal hope. They live for today because they think today is all that we have. Author Paul David Tripp calls it “eternity amnesia.” He outlines the following symptoms of this malady:
- Living with unrealistic expectations.
- Focusing too much on self.
- Asking too much of people.
- Being controlling or fearful.
- Questioning the goodness of God.
- Living more disappointed than thankful.
- Lacking motivation and hope.
- Living as if life doesn’t have consequences.9
We can understand it when people who do not know Christ live this way. But all too often, those of us who claim to know Jesus find the same symptoms. Tripp explains that “because we fall into thinking of this life as our final destination, we place more hope in our situations, relationships, and locations than they are able to deliver.”10
We are victims when we should be living in victory. The victory was already obtained by Christ. Because of what he did for us, we need never live as if these temporary lives are all that we have. We can see everything that happens now in the light of the glory that awaits us in eternity. We can tolerate pain and failure because we understand them to be temporary setbacks. We can better grasp the significance of success when we see it from the standard of eternity as well. We can look on every soul we encounter as another being who is potentially immortal and glorified, which might help us tolerate their present imperfections. We can have a better attitude about our own present failures to hit the mark.
“And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”11
If you take away the resurrection, Christianity is an empty religion with no real hope, and believers are of all people most to be pitied. The reason is that all human beings are born mortal. We have a death sentence hanging over us because of Adam’s rebellion. We imitate Adam by being creatures who return to the dust. But the hope of the resurrection gives us an opportunity to imitate Christ, the man from heaven.
“As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.”12
People who live without the forever perspective can only hope to accomplish “of the dust” things. No matter how happy or successful or significant their lives, that happiness, success and significance will be buried in the ground when they die. But people who have a forever perspective – a gospel perspective, can accomplish “of heaven” things. We can make an eternal difference in other people’s lives by pointing them to the Saviour. We can get our minds off of the things which enslave others, because our focus is on serving the “man of heaven.” Knowing our future can free us to truly live in the present.
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.””13
The resurrection is God’s victory, and ours. The gospel is the good news about that victory. It is the story of God entering this world of sin and pain through his Son, and taking on that sin and pain through the atonement on the cross. It is the story of the crucial battle won on the cross, and demonstrated by Christ’s resurrection. It is the story of the final victory over sin and pain through the resurrection at Christ’s return. Coming to faith in Christ is entering into that story. We know how the story ends. That is why we can have an eternal perspective.
As we celebrate the resurrection this year, may the knowledge that Christ’s tomb is empty help us to avoid eternity amnesia. May we not live recklessly – like there is no tomorrow. But may we live fearlessly, because there will be a tomorrow. The gospel assures it.
- Matthew 4:23 NLT, see also Mark 9:35
- Matthew 26:13 ESV.
- Mark 13:10
- Acts 20:24 KJV.
- Romans 1:1
- Romans 1:16 ESV
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV.
- 1 Corinthians 15:12b ESV.
- Paul David Tripp, Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Kindle edition, location 254-287
- Forever, location 416.
- 1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT.
- 1 Corinthians 15:48 ESV.
- 1 Corinthians 15:52-54 KJV.