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The Heart of the Gospel


In May, 1990, I stood in front of room of English-speaking Urkainians. Through a series of very fortunate events, my first day in this nation culminated in being able to address the English department of the University of Ivano Franko in L'viv, Ukraine, still part of what was known at the time as the Soviet Union.

Especially in a context where atheism was the dominant world view, I wanted to give those students the very best that I had - and so I gave them the gospel. I may not have done it well, but I used whatever preparation and power I had to deliver the gospel as well as I could.

The word gospel derives from a Greek word meaning good news. Imagine a Greek city state at war with another; upon winning, they send a messenger to the city to proclaim the gospel - the announcement that the victory has been won and there is now peace.

Isaiah picks up this theme when he writes 

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Isaiah 52:7

So what is the gospel? Before answering that, let me identify some characteristics of the gospel:

First, the gospel is POWERFUL. Paul wrote the Romans, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvaiton to everyone who believes' (Romans 1:16).

Second, the gospel is UNIQUE; there is only one, and to distort it or twist it makes it into another gospel that is really not a gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-8).

Third, the gospel is EFFECTIVE; it accomplishes the work it is designed to do. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel he preached to them, which they receive in which they are standing, and by which they are being saved. The gospel actually works to save us.

Now that raises the question about what it is that we need to be saved from, and the short answer is sin and its consequences. This becomes evident in the next section, where Paul gives the gospel in a nutshell

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. I Corinthians 15:3-5.

 Let's break this down:

  • This is of first importance - though there are many dimensions to the gospel, what he's about to give us is primary.
  • This is what I also received - according to his letter to the Galatians, he received his gospel as a revelation directly fro God. But he went to Jerusalem to John and Peter to let his gospel be evaluated and make sure that this gospel was the same one they had gotten from Jesus in person. And it was.
  • Christ – this is the who of the gospel, the eternal Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-2, 14)
  • Died – this is the what of the gospel, what Jesus did for us, the painful, tortorous death on the dross
  • For our sins – this is the why of the gospel; Jesus died to deal with the problem of sin.
  • In accordance with the scriptures – the promise of the gospel; the entire Old Testament points forward to the death of Christ.
  • He was buried – the historicity of the gospel; Jesus actually died and was really buried.
  • He was raised – this is the proof of the gospel; when Paul wrote this, many of the over 500 witnesses to the resurrection were still living and were available for interview.

One thing to notice about this gospel is that it is fact based; it's the news of who Jesus is, what he did, and what this means for us. And at the heart of this gospel is the good news that CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS:

That we are sinners is uncontested; all have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). Christ's death is linked to our sins in many different scriptures; here are a couple of them: 

  • For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18).
  • He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).

In short, For our sake he (The Father) made him (Jesus the Son) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the great exchange - Jesus took our sin and gives us his righteousness so that we might participate in eternal fellowship with the Triune God.

Our trouble is that we have a tendency to construct false narratives and view God through the lens of that narrative, thus producing a false god. Rather, the gospel is God’s narrative by which we understand – not only who He is, but who we are, and how we can know, enjoy, and participate in him.

So, if we pull all this together, here's the gospel in a nutshell, the very heart of the gospel.

The gospel is the good news that God became man in Jesus Christ. He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died – in our place. Three days later he rose from the dead, proving that he is the Son of God and offering salvation and forgiveness of sins for everyone who repents and believes in Him.

That's really good news.