What is the Gospel and Why is it Important?

I was recently asked, “What is the Gospel and why is it important?” That is a great question and obviously one that is of the utmost importance.

What the Gospel is not

For many today the Gospel has come to be associated with “four spiritual laws” (Note, Laws!) or advice for your best life now. In some cases the gospel has been reduced to a set of marketing slogans on bumper stickers. We have all seen them, for example, “Want Heaven, Get Jesus,” “Jesus Rules, Do you live by them?,” “Need some good advice? It’s in the Bible!”

The Gospel has become the quintessential, narcissistic tool, the “cure-all pill” for things like stress, personal fulfillment and happiness, child-rearing, diet-eating plans, social action, etc… The Gospel is not a set of rules to live by. The Gospel is not a series of steps that a man follows in order to get God to do something for him in return.

The Gospel is not advice for better living. The Gospel is not a therapeutic psychological massage for troubled emotions. The Gospel is not the cure-all for one’s personal woes in life. The Gospel is not important because it can help “me” become a better “me!” None of these popular views represent what the Gospel is.

What then is the Gospel and why is it important?

Following are a few thoughts that I offered in response to the question (for a more fuller discussion see What is the Gospel? and The Great End and Design of the Gospel).

What is the Gospel?

In brief, the gospel is a joyful announcement (Lk. 2:10) about Christ, that He is the Son of God (Jn. 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Col. 1:15-19; 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:3, 8; 1 Jn. 5:20; 2 Pet. 1:1) and became man for us (Matt. 1:23; Lk 2:10-11; Jn. 1:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; Philip. 2:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 1:1-2), that he died for us (1 Cor. 15:3b; Rom. 3:25-26; 1 Peter 2:24), was buried (1 Cor. 15:4a) and was raised for us (Matt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-12; Jn. 20:1-10; Acts 2:24-32; 1 Cor. 15:3-4), that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve and then to more than five hundred brothers at one time (1 Cor. 15:3-8), that He has ascended to Heaven (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; 2:34; Philip. 2:9-11) where He is now seated at the right hand of God and been established as Lord over all things (Eph. 1:20-21; Heb. 1:3; 10:12). He presently is reigning as King and Head of His church (Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18; Matt. 28:18; John 5:22-23) and will one day come again to judge the living and the dead (John 5:22, 27; Acts 1:11; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5).

Why is the Gospel important?

First, the Gospel produces faith. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” The Gospel is the ministry of the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit works through the proclamation of the Gospel for salvation. The Gospel is “The power of God unto salvation.” Men receive the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14) by the hearing of faith (Gal. 3:2). (see: Rom. 1:15-17; 10:17; 2 Cor. 3:8 )

Second, the Gospel strengthens faith. The Gospel produces faith and through faith, as Ursinus says, our entire conversion to God, justification, sanctification and salvation; for through faith we receive Christ, with all His benefits for both justification and sanctification (see 2 Cor. 3:18). The Gospel is to be proclaimed not only to unbelievers but to believers as well (cf., Rom. 1:15).

Third, the gospel humbles and abases man and most fully exhibits God’s highest glory. God chiefly designed the Gospel to display before sinful men that glory of God which shines in the face of Christ (see 2 Cor. 4:6). The the Gospel is the way in which the Holy Spirit Himself is glorified; and it is the Gospel that will be honoured with the accompanying influence of the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing more notable or glorious in the church than the ministry of the gospel because no other ministry exalts the glory of God as the gospel (cf., Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 2 Cor. 3-4:6; Gal. 1:3-5; Eph. 1:3-14).

If the Gospel is one’s central focus, the glory of God will be one’s chief end. The Gospel takes dead aim at the glory of God. One cannot just be told to live for the glory of God. The gospel must be proclaimed so that a man is driven outside of himself and drawn unto Christ.

There is nothing more notable or glorious in the church than the ministry of the gospel.

In the gospel, Christ is offered and His glory is displayed:

    “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Cor. 3:18).

    Again, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The Scriptures demonstrate that our Lord’s great deliverance was for the glory of God.

    “3…the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen,” (Gal. 1:3-4; cf., Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).

The Gospel is consistent with God’s character. God’s justice and mercy are revealed in the Gospel when He saves sinners through Christ by His grace (Ps. 85:10; Isa. 45:25; Rom. 3:26; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). Thus, the Cross manifests the glory of God by upholding and vindicating both God’s justice and love.

The preaching of the gospel guards and exalts the glory of God. The Gospel yields all glory to God alone and condemns the glory, wisdom and righteousness of all men. No man, Martin Luther reminds us, can attribute too much glory, goodness, grace, mercy and kindness unto God in Christ.

Thanks be to God!

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10 Responses to What is the Gospel and Why is it Important?

  1. [...] it Important? Posted on December 4, 2007 by Peter Cockrell This is an excellent piece from John Fonville.  I especially appreciate the way the gospel is relevant to  sanctification. Thanks [...]

  2. cath says:

    Dear sir,

    I’ve been reading your blog behind the scenes for a while and enjoying it (I’m not sure how I came across it in the first place, but anyway I’m glad that I did!) :)

    In your definition of the gospel in this post, I’m heartened to see how much the focus is placed on the work of Christ. I do have a question though about the balance of the emphasis. I could be wrong here or missing the point of what you were saying, but I think that what’s provided here under the title ‘what is the gospel’ might be more of an answer to ‘who is the Saviour’ (or what has he done for his people) – if i’m not mistaken, mightn’t it be more accurate to define the gospel in terms of how this Saviour is made available to sinners? ie the fact that salvation is possible for sinners to obtain on the basis of his work? In the paragraph the crucial phrase “for us” does appear of course, but i wonder if a full description of what the gospel is, might put more emphasis on that aspect of it?

    That’s just my tuppenceworth and i hope it comes across in the spirit it’s intended, ie not hostile or nitpicky!! :)

    Cath

  3. Hi Cath. I am glad that you have found my site to be a source of encouragement to you. As far as my definition for the gospel goes, let me say first that it was not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of the gospel (thus my reason for directing readers to my article solely devoted to setting forth the gospel in more detail). I was simply reflecting how I answered a question in brief. To be sure, each point of the Gospel deserves careful and clear explanation.

    But, what I did was to include what Paul deems in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 as the aspects of the gospel which are “of first importance,” (1 Cor. 15:3). These four truths/facts of the gospel exemplify the foundational, irreducible truths of the gospel, namely:

    1. The Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures
    2. that He was buried
    3. That he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures
    4. That He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve…

    Paul tells the Corinthians that it is his custom to begin with the fundamental, foundational facts of the Gospel just as it is the custom of a builder to begin laying a foundation in the building of a house (e.g., See Paul preaching in the synagogue in Antioch, Acts 13:26-31; he follows the exact outline given here in 1 Cor. 15:3-8).

    The fundamental truths of the Gospel that Paul states in 1 Cor. 15 are the things that are to be stated first. These facts are the foundation, the prima fidei capita (chief head of faith), of the Gospel. Thus, these Gospel truths are of first importance and summarize the truth of Christ’s gospel.

    The Gospel is an announcement of Good News concerning Christ’s person and work it is not defined in terms of how sinners can obtain it. To be sure, the free offer of the Gospel is to be proclaimed to sinners (see my fuller article, What is the Gospel?).

    Thanks again for taking the time to write. Gospel blessings!

  4. cath says:

    Hello,

    thanks for the reply :)

    I agree these are the foundational truths of the gospel

    I also agree that the link to the article ‘What is the gospel’ presents a much fuller picture :) I especially homed in on the part that starts: “The good news of the Gospel is that God promises and proclaims, out of His sheer free grace and mercy on account of and for the sake of Christ alone to: Forgive the believer’s sin …” etc.

    I suppose what was at the back of my mind was something that i’ve been thinking about recently (ie not necessarily related to anything i read here! oops!) – that a sermon can be superficially all about Christ, but not explain how this Saviour can be mine, or how I can get the benefit of the salvation he has worked out. So people go away thinking it was a “Christ-centred sermon” (because it was all about his work, say) yet not being particularly stirred up to greater confidence in/love for him because the sermon didn’t really present him as doing all this /for sinners/ and in a way that we both can and must have/take/rely on him to be our own Saviour. So i’m sorry if i’ve made a mountain out of a molehill (esp on my first comment – i should really be saying sorry to lumber you with a problem that might only exist in my own head!)

    thanks again for the reply

    cath

  5. Hi Cath. You are welcome. Thanks for the good points. It is good to think through these “of first importance” issues. The Gospel is definitely “pro nobis” (for us!). You make a good point. When the Gospel is proclaimed, we most definitely should hold forth the free offer of the Gospel and invite all men to receive and rest in Christ. Gospel blessings!

  6. cath says:

    Yes absolutely :)

    Cath

  7. Steve says:

    Good post, John. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog off and on over the past few months. It seems that the gospel, as it was once known, has been forgotten by so many today. We ought to be a most spiritually intelligent generation when it comes to the gospel message (since we stand on the shoulders of many great and godly men). Yet instead, we have forgotten many of these great truths once commonly known and taught in the church.

    In most fields today, it is the most recent books that provide the greatest insight and source of knowledge, with the older texts being obsolete (eg – who wants to buy a 15-yr. old computer textbook?). But it has seemed to me that it is the opposite when it comes to learning the Scriptures. There, it seems to me that it is rather many of the older books that contain the deepest revelations of these magnificent truths. Many truths once known by many a coal-miner or farmer with little or no education (but a love for God’s Word), are now things that are virtually unknown to us despite all of our education and worldly wisdom.

    What you have written here highlights how small our appreciation is of this great truth. As another wrote, “How vastly different is the God of Scripture from the god of the average pulpit!” I suggest that the same might be said about the gospel.

    I find it striking to read the book of Acts and notice how different the gospel sermons recorded there are from what would be typically considered a gospel message today. Perhaps that is because we we have forgotten what the (complete) gospel truly is.

  8. Hi Steve. I am encouraged that you have found encouragement for your faith from this site. Great comments. I have read very few books past the 18th century this past year. The Lord is good and gracious to open our eyes to see a glimpse of His glory in the Gospel. Gospel blessings!

  9. Yuri says:

    Dios le bendiga Hermano,le escribo para saber si usted es de jaksonville en florida,alli vive alguien que es mi amigo y tiene su mismo nombre.

    soy pastor pentecostal y musico,ahora estamos en bogota colombia

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