What is the Gospel?

The gospel is the good news that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us.

There are two elements of the gospel that are encapsulated in this definition; the gospel’s power and purpose. The power of the gospel shows us the good news of how Jesus has defeated, is defeating, and will finally defeat sin, death, and evil. The purpose of the gospel shows us that God’s ultimate goal is to make all things new, even us, for the sake of his glory.

Gospel Power

In Romans 1:16, Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Now, we must understand that this power by which we’re accepted, empowered, and changed has three dimensions: past, present, and future. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin because of God’s power and work, not our own. In this case, the Good News is that God, in and through the work of Jesus Christ and the power of his Spirit, accepts us, empowers us, and is changing us.

The Past Dimension: We Have Been Saved from the Penalty of Sin

We can talk about the past dimension of the gospel’s power as the doneness of the gospel. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf, we have already been totally and completely freed from the penalty of sin. When Paul uses words like “justification” in Romans 3:23-25, he referring to this past aspect of the gospel.

In our rebellion against our good Father, all of humanity deserved the penalty of death. However, because of what Jesus has done, the Father has pronounced the legal verdict of “not guilty” over us. The implications of this are staggering! God can never and will never punish us for our sin because he’s already punished our sin and rebellion in the person of his Son Jesus. This work of Jesus has removed the conflict that separated us from God since the Garden (Genesis 3). As Paul writes in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our newfound peace with God not only means the reversal of the curse of death but it means being ushered into abundant, full life. The life that God gives us is so rich and plentiful that Jesus actually describes it as overflowing in rivers of living water (John 7:38). This sparkling new life leads us into the second dimension of the gospel….

The Present Dimension: We Are Being Saved from the Power of Sin

The good news Jesus proclaimed wasn’t just the message that the penalty of sin was conquered. The gospel also tells us that right now, in real time, the power of sin’s strangle-hold on our lives is being broken. Paul describes this dimension of the gospel in Romans 6:6-7, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.

Have you ever felt helpless in those times when you cannot not sin? It’s like sin is irresistibly drawing you towards itself and you’re powerless to stop it. What are the dynamics going on in our heart when this is happening? Why does sin have such a powerful draw? Sin has power in our lives because it holds out some offer of happiness, meaning, significance or worth. We believe the lie that if we simply give into temptation then we’ll have what our hearts truly desire. Here’s an easy example we can all relate to: when I give in to the temptation to pursue wealth, I’m believing the lie that money will make me happy, provide security, give me significance, etc.

How then does the gospel free us from the mesmerizing draw of sin? It reveals to us that the deepest longings of our hearts for satisfaction, security and significance are all designed to be met in God. Not only that but God has already worked through Jesus to preemptively satisfy our needs and desires; so much so that Paul can say in Ephesians 1:3 that God has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Just as someone who has a never ending, always abundant flow of cash won’t be tempted to look anywhere else for his financial security; so someone who is “in Christ” will never need to look elsewhere for satisfaction, security or significance. It is this abundant spiritual blessing that severs sin’s hold over us since when we understand and truly believe that we have all we need in Jesus, the allure of sin will begin to radically fade away.

In Romans 6, we saw Paul describe being freed from the power of sin as dying and rising again with Jesus. Biblically speaking, the transformation that the gospel produces in us is so radical that we can literally describe it as dying with Christ and rising again to the abundant life of the resurrection; a life which anticipates the future dimension of the gospel.

The Future Dimension: We Will Be Saved From the Presence of Sin

Jesus saving us from the penalty of sin and the power of sin is very good news in its own right. However, that’s not where the story ends. The Bible shows us that God also promises to save us from the very presence of sin and death. It is because of this reality that Peter can tell the scattered Christians of the first century,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.1 Peter 1:3-5

As Peter sees it, the process of salvation is one that will be completed “in the last time”, the time when Jesus returns to complete the victory that was won in his life, death and resurrection. In the book of Revelation, this future without the presence of sin is described in this way:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”Revelation 21:3-5 

Imagine a world filled with God’s joy inducing presence rather than a world filled with the presence of misery inducing sin, a world with no mourning, crying or pain where God himself will directly comfort his people. This blissful future is possible because of what Jesus has done on the cross and will be carried out with his power when he returns to fully and finally make everything right and whole again.

The astounding truth though is that this future hope can radically change our lives and our cities now! Knowing how the story ends, that sin and death will not ultimately have victory over us, gives us the faith to persevere through the struggles of life in a fallen, broken world. What solider wouldn’t charge straight into the fray of battle if they had unshakeable confidence that they wouldn’t be killed and would end up winning the battle? Similarly, no matter how messy and hopeless our lives, our communities or our cities become, we know this is not the end of the story. We know that sin, death and brokenness won’t last and will eventually be completely eradicated because of Jesus’ work.