Recently I had the privilege of teaching on the topic of “Evangelism and the Believer”, a subject addressed in chapter 11 of John MacArthur’s discipleship curriculum Fundamentals of the Faith. Before beginning a discussion on the believer’s rights and responsibilities to share the Gospel, it’s critical to explicitly define the Gospel. As J. Mack Stiles asserts in his book Marks of the Messenger, we can never assume the Gospel.
I remember being asked “What is the Gospel?” recently in an interview and my first reply was “Based on what definition?” The reason I responded as such was because so often it seems we are confused with the term Gospel and I knew the question that was being asked was not really, “What is the Gospel?”, but instead “How would you share the ‘Plan of Salvation’ with an unbeliever?” So where did this confusion over the Gospel come from? Well, I have a hunch it’s rooted in “decisionism” or an attempt by man to seal a quick decision for Christ through a 5-miunute “Gospel” presentation. It’s seems we’ve adopted this approach and made it into “Tract-theology” such that no one really needs to think biblically anymore about what the Gospel really is. All we really need to know are 4-Spiritual Laws or how the bridge between God and man can be built. Don’t get me wrong, tracts have their place, but they cannot be a substitute for the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the Bible, we see a progression of the Gospel, from the Old Testament proclamation of the promise for Good News to the 4 Gospels which proclaim that the Good News has come, to the Epistles which proclaim that the Good News is Jesus Christ. But what is this Good News? More specifically, if there is Good News, certainly there must also be bad news; otherwise the Gospel would just be ‘news’. In other words, what makes it so good?
This is where I think the helpful little book by Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel, is so beneficial. Essentially, it summarizes the redemptive narrative found from Genesis to Revelation into 4 useful points, each of which the Bible speaks to exhaustively. Below, I want to briefly take a look at each point, just loosely using Gilbert’s book as a guide.
Any discussion on the Gospel must have its source in God. This is true whether in a witnessing situation or just unpacking the realities of the Gospel from Scripture. To this point Gilbert asks 2 questions” Who made you? and To Whom are you accountable? The answer to each is God. So who is God? Genesis 1 says God is the Creator of the world (1:1) and man (1:26). The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:19-20 that God has revealed Himself, “namely His eternal power and divine nature” through His creation, such that man is without excuse for not knowing Him. God is not only Creator, but Sustainer of His creation (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3). He is not hands-off, as deists would like to think, but He is a very personal, interacting, God. As such, this means His creation, namely man, is accountable to Him (Romans 9:21).
In addition to this “general revelation” of God through creation, God has also provided “special revelation” of Himself by way of Scripture. 1 John 1:5 tells us that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” God’s character begins with His holiness, as all other attributes by way of this are likewise holy. In Exodus 34:6-7 we read of God revealing additional attributes of His character to Moses, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.’” Summarizing the attributes God lists we see that He is:
- Slow to anger
- Abounding in steadfast love
But we’ve encountered a major problem here. In verse 7 we see the following statement, “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” Which is it? Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin? Or not clearing the guilty, i.e. punishing the guilty? It seems this is a paradoxical statement that contradicts itself. Hang on to that thought; we’ll come back to it in a minute.
Our next point, upon which Gilbert briefly summarizes the Gospel, is Man. Here, we may ask What is the problem? Or perhaps more directly stated, What’s wrong with the world? As we saw earlier, God created man in His image (Genesis 1:26) and called His creation good. However, in Genesis 3, we read of the Fall of Man, the familiar story of the serpent, Satan, deceiving Eve to eat of fruit, which God had forbidden. Eve, upon eating the fruit, subsequently shares it with her husband Adam. In Genesis 3:15, we see a summary of man’s fall and a brief preview into our next point, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Because of Adam’s sin, all of his posterity likewise fell with him. In Romans 5:12 we read, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” What is the problem or what’s wrong with the world? You are! And me too. All of us are what’s wrong with the world because all of us have sinned. Think what’s wrong with the world isn’t sin? Just watch the evening news and you’ll see man’s depraved sinful nature being put on display.
The second question is Am I in trouble? If you and I are what’s wrong with the world because of sin and as we learned earlier we are created by God and are accountable to Him, then the obvious answer to the question of ‘are we in trouble’ is a resounding yes! Sin is a violation of God’s law in act, attitude, or thought and all men have violated God’s law. His law is the righteous standard by which He judges us and hold’s us accountable. Romans 3:23 says that all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. What is the trouble that we’re in? Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death….” The wages of sin, i.e. what you and I have earned as a result of our sin, is death. Not merely a physical death, but a spiritual death. Cursed and cast into hell under the wrath of God. Are we in trouble? You better believe we are and it has eternal consequences.
Here we ask, Did God provide a solution to the problem? In other words, How can what is wrong with the world be made right? We read of how God did this in that familiar passage from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” In short, God provided the solution to the question, that only He could answer, in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. Could the solution have simply been to destroy everyone and everything and start over? Yes, but while this would have put the justice of God on display, it would not have put the full character of God on display. What of His mercy? His love? His grace? You may say, well what about the flood? God destroyed everything except Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. Yes and while this certainly put His mercy on display for them, justice was not fully satisfied because the sins of Noah and his family had not been punished, as well those sins “passed over” before and after (Romans 3:25). The only way to make what is wrong with the world right, the only way that God could declare that He is a God that forgives “iniquity and transgression and sin” while “ by no means clear[ing] the guilty” was through the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Apostle Paul wonderfully summarizes this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 “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. 3For 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.”
God’s standard of perfect obedience to His law could only be met in the person of Jesus. Through His perfectly obedient and sinless life Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. While God’s justice could only be satisfied through the death of Christ on the cross in the place of guilty sinners. This allowed God to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:26 Which brings us to our final point.
What makes this good news for you? As we’ve learned, the Gospel is good news. It’s good news because it saves from the bad news which says every single one of us are guilty sinners deserving of death, hell, and the wrath of God. This good news is that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to live among a sinful, rebellious people, to take the punishment of all who have faith in Him, and to reconcile the relationship between the sinner and God through the redemption that is in Christ’s shed blood. What can you do right now to share in this good news? Ask God for mercy. God has commanded that everyone repent, or turn from their sin, and place their faith in Jesus Christ. Unbeliever, your response is to obey that command, crying out in godly repentance for your sin and then trusting that Christ alone can save you because of who He is and what He has done. Repent and believe the Gospel.
Believers, the good news of the Gospel didn’t end for you upon your salvation, even though you’re justification was complete. The good news for you began there. Because of the Gospel, God calls you to obedience also through worship, holiness, and a life given to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Gospel isn’t a one shot deal, it’s a lifetime of understanding and a daily reflection on the facts that God made you and you are accountable to Him, that you are what’s wrong with the world, but in spite of that God sent His Son Jesus to live, die, and be raised again so that what is wrong could be made right for the one who repents and believes. Keep repenting and believing the Gospel.