If you are here today, asking yourself, “what is the gospel?” then you are to be commended. There is nothing more important, nothing more powerful, nothing more freeing than the gospel. So, it is imperative to know what it is.
Many in the world and church seem a bit confused as to the definition of the gospel. Here are some examples of wrong descriptions of the gospel that I’ve either heard preached in sermons or read in books, blogs, etc.
And this is just a small sample of the definitions that have wrongly been offered as the gospel. With these vastly different definitions of the gospel, it is easy to see why there is confusion on this issue.
Is the gospel that we are saved, born again, redeemed, elected, loved, accepted? Or is that we are to forgive everyone, do good to our enemies, or what?
Good news! There is no need to be so confused about the definition of the gospel, for God has made it abundantly clear to us, stating precisely what the gospel is. Let’s make a thorough examination of it in this article, starting with a study of 1 Corinthians 15:1-6:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 (ESV)
We can see from 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, that we are “being saved” when we believe the gospel, and from verse 3 that the gospel is “of first importance.” There is nothing more important than the gospel, for it saves all who believe it; therefore, it is of utmost importance that we get it right.
From 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, we can understand that the gospel has two parts, and each has evidence or a proof that it is true.
First part of the gospel: Christ died for our sins.
First proof: He was buried.
Second part of the gospel: He was raised on the third day.
Second proof: He appeared to many people.
This definition is easy to understand and remember. It is not convoluted in any way, and it isn't difficult to communicate. What is the gospel? It is that Christ died for your sins and was raised from the dead on the third day.
We are all sinners, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); therefore, we are all deserving of death. When Jesus came to this earth, He lived perfectly but was falsely accused and condemned to death. Jesus willingly died on the cross because He loves you and wanted to pay off your sin debt. Jesus was innocent, but He died in your place so that you could be forgiven and enjoy eternal life with Him. This was Jesus' plan before the foundation of the world.
The proof that Jesus died is that He was buried. He was placed into a tomb, which was sealed and guarded, and He remained in that tomb, dead, for three days and nights.
Then, having paid the penalty of your sin in full, Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day and is now alive forever. Unlike all the other religious leaders who have ever lived, and died, Jesus is alive, having risen from the dead on the third day after He died.
Jesus appeared to many people after He was raised from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-6, Paul names many who saw Jesus after He was raised from the dead, and he is careful to say that many of those who saw him were still alive. In other words, if what Paul was saying, that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, was untrue, those who he mentioned and were still alive could refute him. But they didn’t, because Jesus did rise from the dead, those witnesses did see Him, and He is alive.
And now you have the biblical answer to the question, “What is the gospel?”.
And this gospel definition has some serious support. Notice 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 again:
“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,”
Twice this passage says, “in accordance with the Scriptures,” showing that the gospel is not merely a New Testament concept. No, the gospel originates in the Old Testament, right at the very beginning of the Bible.
To understand better, let's look at a few places in the Old Testament that reveal the gospel. Remember the gospel is that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and was seen by many people." Two points and two proofs. The gospel.
A cursory read of the first three chapters of the Bible shows that the gospel is in every chapter. It is either stated clearly or given in a story form. Seeing the gospel, in the beginning, confirms that the gospel is indeed the central and main message of the Bible and "of first importance."
Genesis chapter 1 tells us how God created the earth. It shows the earth, in its initial creation, was empty, in darkness, and submerged in the water. But then, on the third day, the waters were separated and up came the earth, in resurrection form, and began producing fruit. From emptiness, darkness, and burial in the water, to resurrection and life on the third day, as the earth then began producing fruit and life of all kinds.
Likewise, Jesus emptied Himself on the cross, taking your sins on Himself and making them His own, then pouring out His life unto death for you. While He hung on the cross, darkness covered the entire earth for three hours, so Jesus was empty and in darkness as God poured out His wrath on Him. Finally, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “It is finished!” and He hung His head and died. He was then taken down from the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb—emptiness, darkness, and burial.
But on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead to justify you before God. “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). As the living Lord, He sent the Holy Spirit to this world to produce the fruit of righteousness in all who believe. Resurrection on the third day, just like in Genesis chapter 1. The gospel is “according to the Scriptures.”
In Genesis chapter 2, we see Adam being placed into a deep sleep and having his side opened, that he might have a bride. This points forward to Jesus, the “Last Adam,” who was placed into the deep sleep of death for sinners, then a Roman soldier drove a spear into His side and out flowed blood and water; blood forgives our sin and water cleanses us, and those who are forgiven and cleansed make up the bride of Jesus Christ. The gospel is “according to the Scriptures.” “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” Ephesians 5:31-32 (NLT)
In Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve had sinned against God’s clear word and were facing dire consequences, for God had promised death for disobedience. Adam and Eve made fig leaves to try to cover themselves, and they ran and hid. And God came to them, found them out in their hiding from Him, and no doubt they were terrified.
But God did not come to kill them, but rather to clothe them! He sacrificed something else, probably a lamb, and then clothed them with the sacrifice so that they were no longer naked in their sin but rather covered with the skins.
This first experience of a sacrificial death taught that the “fig leaves” of our own works are insufficient to make us right with God and that God Himself must provide a sacrifice that can clothe us and fit us for His presence.
And so thousands of years later, God once again came for sinful humanity. He came in the body of His Son, Jesus Christ, and He came not to destroy us but to clothe us. Jesus Christ died for our sins and, at the same time, clothes us in His righteousness. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10 (NLT)
Those first three chapters of Genesis show us the message of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day.
Next, notice a few more places that the gospel is “according to the Scriptures.” See if you can spot the two points of the gospel in these passages:
“My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead. 16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet. 17 I can count all my bones.
My enemies stare at me and gloat. 18 They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. 19 O Lord, do not stay far away!
You are my strength; come quickly to my aid! 20 Save me from the sword;
spare my precious life from these dogs. 21 Snatch me from the lion’s jaws
and from the horns of these wild oxen. 22 I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.” Psalms 22:15-22 (NLT)
“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care. 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. 7 He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.
8 Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. 9 He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave. 10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” Isaiah 53:3-10 (NLT)
What is the gospel?
The gospel is not law, requirements, or instructions on how to live. The gospel is not that God loves and accepts us as we are; it is not Solas or the TULIP. No, the gospel is a clear announcement of the excellent news: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.
This message is all through the Bible, it is the main message of Scripture, in every passage in the Old Testament and New. It is designed by God to open our eyes to our need, and then to show us His provision. It is designed to cut our hearts, hurting us deeply over what our sin did to God’s Son, and it is designed to heal our hearts thoroughly as we see Jesus’ love for us displayed before our very eyes.
What is the Gospel? Now that you know it; it is time to share it!