What Is the Gospel?

Michael A. Rydelnik
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In 1 Corinthians 15:1–8, Paul explains the meaning of the gospel and declares that this message is “of first importance.” Since the gospel is our most essential message, it is crucial that we understand what it is and be able to explain it.

But, unfortunately, while the message of the gospel is clearly a priority for the follower of Jesus, I’ve found that many committed, educated, biblically astute, mature Jesus followers are unable to present this most basic issue. What is the gospel? What is the good news that we proclaim? What must a person believe in order to experience God’s forgiveness and new life in Jesus?

The Meaning of the Gospel

In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul uses the word “gospel,” two Greek words put together into one, to mean “good news.” In verses 1–2 Paul says that he proclaimed this message of good news and the Corinthians have “received” it; they were able to “stand” in it, and most vitally, they were “saved” by it. This is the essential message of the faith, and he delivered it to them as of first importance. Just as Paul and his listeners understood this core message, we too must understand and believe the gospel message in order to experience God’s redemption and forgiveness in Jesus. So, what exactly is the gospel?

The Substitutionary Death of Jesus

The first part of this good news is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4: the Messiah Jesus died. Paul gives the reason for the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ—it was “for our sins.” Jesus died as a sin substitute, taking the punishment we deserved. Paul then gives evidence that Jesus really died as our sin substitute. The first part of the evidence is biblical—it was “according to the Scriptures,” meaning Old Testament passages like Isaiah 53 which foretold Messiah’s substitutionary death on our behalf. In His death, Jesus received the punishment we deserved. The second part of Paul’s gospel-proving evidence is historical: “He was buried.” Paul is asserting that Jesus really died; it wasn’t a sham. Our Savior didn’t merely swoon or appear to be dead. He really, truly, honestly died. If He had not died, He would not have been buried. So, the first part of the good news is that the Messiah Jesus died for us. What’s the second part?

The Resurrection of Jesus

The second aspect of the good news, found in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8, is that the Messiah Jesus was raised from the dead (“He was raised on the third day,” 1 Cor. 15:4). This crucial element is frequently overlooked when explaining the good news by preachers, theologians, even evangelists. Too often, they mistakenly assume that everyone knows that Jesus not only died, but was raised from the dead as well. I would remind us that, in our current culture, we can’t assume that all our listeners know or agree that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and is now alive.

“Messiah Jesus died for our sins and rose again, proving He is God.”

One reason the resurrection is so important is that it validated Jesus’ deity; it proved He is really God. You see, anyone can claim to be God but how do we know that Jesus, who claimed to be God in the flesh, really was God? The proof is found in the resurrection. God the Father validated Jesus’ claim by raising Him from the dead. That’s why Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The word “Lord” here is a reference to Jesus being Lord God, not the master of our lives. Additionally, this verse links His deity to His resurrection from the dead. The Lord Jesus claimed to be deity and the Father confirmed that He is, by raising Him from the dead.

A second reason the resurrection of Jesus is so crucial is that it gives us new life in Him. The Bible says, “. . . as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). It is because Jesus is alive that we have His resurrection power to live new lives in Him.

Just as he did for the death of the Messiah, Paul gives two lines of evidence for His resurrection. First, the biblical evidence is that it was “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). Likely Paul has in mind passages like Psalm 16:10 and Isaiah 53:10–11, which predicted the Messiah’s resurrection. Second, there’s historical evidence that He was seen alive after the crucifixion. “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time . . . then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:5–8). This evidence proves that Jesus really is alive.

So often, when I hear people presenting the good news, they say that “Jesus died for our sins.” That’s true but that’s not all of it. We must include that second part: Jesus is alive, that He was raised from the dead! The Romans crucified some 20,000 Jewish men in the first century. But only One, our Redeemer, was raised from the dead. So, when presenting the good news, we should never presume that those who hear the message will know that Jesus was raised.

Friends, let me give you a challenge—listen carefully to the various presentations you hear about the good news—it might be a commercial on Christian radio, or a pamphlet you might read, or a website, or a message at your congregation, or anywhere. Note how frequently people leave out the resurrection. It’s not that people don’t believe in the resurrection— they just don’t realize how essential it is to the gospel.

Final Thoughts

So, here’s the good news in a nutshell: Messiah Jesus died for our sins and rose again, proving He is God. That’s it! The gospel is not about going forward at an altar call, raising our hands, getting baptized, joining a church, or even feeling really, really bad for all the wrong we’ve done. The gospel doesn’t require that we know everything in the Bible, repeat the Westminster Catechism, or anything else people have proposed. It’s a simple, essential truth: Messiah Jesus died for our sins and rose again, proving He is God.

Now what would I say to the guy in the car accident, in 25 words or less? Here it is: The wrong things we do separate us from God. Messiah Jesus died, taking our punishment, and rose again proving He is God. Trust in Him. That’s exactly 25 words!

For Further Reading:

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