Much confusion exists today over the answer to this question, “What is the Gospel?” We who believe the Bible can give a straightforward answer to that question. The Bible teaches that the Gospel is the message of Christ’s death and resurrection for the sinful human race. People who place their faith in Christ are justified before God, receive forgiveness of sin, experience a radical change in their lives, and have the promise of Heaven forever. The confusion exists because of several factors. Some religious leaders affirm that the Gospel is the message of liberation from various political, social, and environmental ills. They make it a “social gospel” and not a personal gospel. Some try to combine both of these elements. Still others teach that certain religious works or rites must be done in order to be saved.
Fundamental to this confusion is the biblical message of the Gospel, which Scripture clearly teaches. First Corinthians 15:1-4 is a key passage. Here the Apostle Paul clearly presents the essential facts of the Gospel as God’s provision of salvation for all people. He says: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Paul Preached the Gospel. Paul begins by reminding the Corinthian believers that they heard the Gospel when he preached it to them. In Romans 10:14 Paul asked, “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” His question reminds us of two applications we must consider. First, we who know Christ are responsible, as was Paul, to make the good news known to people who are not saved. God’s plan is to use those who have found salvation in Christ to tell the message to those who are yet unsaved. Christians cannot escape their responsibility to take the message to lost people at home and around the world. We who know Christ must faithfully and consistently present the Gospel to sinners. Second, if we are to accurately communicate the gospel message, we must clearly understand it. That seems to be at least part of the reason why Paul rehearsed the gospel message with the Corinthian church.
The Corinthians Received the Gospel. When Paul preached to the Corinthians, many of them trusted Christ and were saved. Paul uses the term “received” to describe their salvation. The term, meaning “to receive from another” or “to take to oneself,” describes more than an intellectual understanding and acknowledgment of the Gospel. It is appropriating Christ and the message about Him for oneself. The Corinthians heard the Gospel, and they embraced it for themselves. They received it by turning to Christ. John uses the same word in John 1:11 to describe the rejection Christ experienced at His first coming, “His own received him not.” As many as received Him by faith became the sons of God (John 1:12). Many of those to whom Christ ministered in His earthly ministry did not receive Him, but when Paul preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, they received it. This clearly teaches us that in addition to the human messenger who proclaims the Gospel, people are responsible before God to receive it and be saved. This truth is fundamental to the work of evangelism. God’s promise is: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13). God will save all who call on Christ, but men are responsible to call on Him.
Christ Provided the Gospel. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). From this profound statement we learn several crucial facts about salvation. First, salvation is provided by God’s initiative, not man’s. Scripture repeatedly stresses this truth. In eternity past, before the creation, God purposed to save men by Christ. Paul declares this by saying: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:9-10).
We stand in awe to think that before God created the world, knowing that men would sin against Him, God purposed to save people through Christ. He could have simply aborted creation. He could have righteously consigned all men to hell with no hope of salvation. Instead, revealing His infinite, eternal grace, God purposed to send Christ to earth to die for sinners. In human history, when Adam and Eve sinned against God, God Himself came into the Garden of Eden seeking them. He initiated communication with them after the Fall, promised them a redeemer, and provided a covering for their sin (Gen. 3:15, 21). God, not man, instigated salvation. If we were left to ourselves, we would be lost without any hope of salvation.
Second, from the statement that “Christ died for our sins,” we also learn that God provides salvation in a specific way, that is, by Christ’s death for our sins. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah whom God promised and foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. He is the only way to God. He declared: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). There are not ways to God, there is a way. Jesus is that way. Salvation is specifically not by any work a person does. Paul says that God saves us “not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace” (2 Tim 1:9).
As sinners we cannot do anything to please God, but the work of Christ is full satisfaction for our sin debt. Men do not find God in religion, but in Christ. No ecclesiastical body can impart salvation to sinners. Modern Christendom, devoid of the biblical gospel it once preached, leaves men empty and hopeless. Salvation is not to be found in any of the world’s so-called “great religions.” But the glorious good news that “Christ died for our sins” rings clear across 21 centuries. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ provides a way by which sinners can be justified with God.
Paul again stresses this fact when he tells us: “Now it was not written for his [Abraham’s] sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:23-25). Scripture also tells us why God moved in such grace to provide salvation for us, saying so simply: “But God commendeth [demonstrated] His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Such grace and love is beyond our ability to fully understand.
Third, God has revealed this plan of salvation to men in the Scriptures. Paul twice emphasizes that the message of salvation by Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is “according to the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). God not only initiated the glorious work of salvation, He also revealed it in His Word, the Bible. He prophesied His plan of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ in the Old Testament. Then He worked it out in the New Testament exactly as He said. The authority of God’s revelation, the Bible, stands behind our salvation. We are not dependent upon men’s ideas, philosopher’s ruminations, or religious leader’s proclamations when we search for peace with God. The God who created us, sought us in our sinful condition, and sent Christ to die for us, has also revealed Himself and His Gospel to us in His Word.
Fourth, God provided this salvation through Christ for all people. Although it is beyond our ability to fully comprehend, Scripture (speaking of Christ) clearly tells us: “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb 2:9). No person is beyond the reaches of God’s grace. Only those who trust in Christ are saved, but all may be saved. Paul declares that “we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Tim 4:10).
Men Need the Gospel. Scripture affirms “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). There would be no need for salvation if we were not sinners. A succinct biblical definition of sin appears in 1 John 3:4, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” We can say that “Sin is lack of conformity to the moral law of God, either in act, disposition, or state.” This self-willed condition is universal in the human race. Isaiah tells us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Paul elaborates on this point, affirming: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). He goes on to say: “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom 3:19). He concludes: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). All people need to hear the Gospel because they are all sinners before God. Christ died for their sins.
We understand this sinful condition to be complete. This means that sinful human beings lack the righteousness of God; that their moral nature is corrupted; and they are inclined to do evil. As a sinner, every person on earth shows his rebellion toward God when God’s revealed will comes into conflict with his own.
In addition to this condition of depravity, people are helpless within themselves to turn to God. Paul teaches this with great emphasis when he states: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). This does not mean we have necessarily done despicable things or sunk as low as humans can go in sin. But we cannot bring ourselves into conformity to God’s law by the force of our wills. We cannot change our fundamental inclination to sin. We are inherently self-willed. We cannot fully meet the demands of God’s righteousness. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” In Ephesians 2:3 the Bible describes our natural sinful condition saying: “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
Will You Receive the Gospel? The wonderful message of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins. He took our sins upon Himself and paid the penalty for them, thus satisfying the righteous demands of God. Jesus came to earth and many did not receive Him. But all who receive Him by faith become the children of God. Paul preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, and many in that city received it and were saved. The Gospel is the message that God promised and revealed in the Scriptures. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead.
My question for you is this: have you received the Gospel by trusting Christ to save you? If you have not done that, will you pray right now and ask the Lord to save you? The promise is: “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:12-13).
Fred Moritz serves as a Professor at Maranatha Baptist Seminary and is the Executive Director Emeritus, Baptist World Mission