Book excerpt from Chapter 4 of David Limbaugh's The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
The Gospels tell the story of the Son of God Who became a human being, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, was resurrected from the dead, and ascended back to the Father, offering salvation for all who believe (trust) in Him. The "good news" of the Gospel is the availability of God's salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Not everyone is open to the message, of course, and to some it sounds absurd. As Paul observes, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). He summarizes the Gospel message in his first letter to the Corinthians: "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 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" (1 Cor. 15:1–4).
Pastor Cliff McManis posits that the Gospel comprises five main themes:
- Who Jesus is.
- The meaning of His death.
- The reality of His resurrection.
- A call to repent.
- A call to believe.34
Let's briefly explore each of these in turn.
a) Who is Jesus? This is the most important question a person could ever ask. We must know Who He is, and the Gospels provide the answer.
Herod, the tyrannical tetrarch who had John the Baptist beheaded, is perplexed by Jesus and by reports of His works because some said He was John the Baptist raised from the dead, others that He was Elijah, and others that He was some other Old Testament prophet who had risen. Herod declares, "John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?" (Luke 9:7–9). Even Jesus' mortal enemies ask the question, "Who is Jesus?" After reporting Herod's perplexity, Luke—as if to answer the question by showing Jesus' supernatural power—tells the story of Jesus miraculously feeding five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, with an abundance of food left over (Luke 9:10–17).
Luke immediately returns to the question, but this time Christ Himself is the questioner. Christ asks His disciples, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They respond with the same options that puzzled Herod: John the Baptist, Elijah, and other risen Old Testament prophets. Jesus asks Peter pointedly "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answers, "The Christ of God" (Luke 9:18–20).
The disciples have been slow to grasp fully Who Jesus is, and His earthly ministry is coming to a close. He is about to head to Jerusalem where He will suffer and die.35 Jesus must drill into them Who He is because, as His allies, they'll need strength to face the coming challenges and attacks. Peter's confession seems sincere, but he obviously isn't yet wholly committed to Christ, as he would soon betray Jesus three times. But Peter would later remember this conversation, among many others, and it would strengthen him. Note that Jesus isn't addressing this question only to Peter. He died for all of us, and we have to treat the question as if directed to each of us individually—because it is. Who do I say Jesus is? Who do you say He is?
b) What is the meaning of His death? Jesus' death served many purposes, some of which are interrelated. It was substitutionary — He died for our sins so that we will be freed from death, which is the penalty of sin. It is an atonement for our sins — though we were separated from God through sin, we are now reconciled to Him (Romans 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20, 21), thereby reuniting God and man in a personal relationship; thus the term "at-one-ment."36 It is a propitiation — it appeases God's wrath37 (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) and expiates our guilt.38 It redeems us. We are ransomed "with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without a blemish or spot" (1 Peter 1:18–19; Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28), and are forgiven (Col. 1:14) and redeemed or delivered from the curse of sin (Eph. 1:7). Through His death we are adopted as children of God, having been born again through faith in Christ (John 1:12), and we are justified, as we are declared righteous legally (Romans 3:21–26).39 Charles Spurgeon argues that when God sees saved sinners, He no longer sees sin in them but instead sees His dear Son Jesus Christ covering us as a veil. "God will never strike a soul through the veil of His Son's sacrifice," says Spurgeon. "He accepts us because He cannot but accept His Son, who has become our covering."40
c) The reality of His resurrection. Paul writes, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). The Christian message that Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death is not allegorical. As previously mentioned, Jesus allowed Satan to "strike His heel" by voluntarily dying on the cross, but in the very process of dying (and being resurrected), Jesus "crushed [Satan's] head" (Gen. 3:15 NIV), thereby defeating Satan, sin, and death. "Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ," notes William Romaine.41 William Plummer adds, "The death of Christ was the most dreadful blow ever given to the empire of darkness."42 Christ's resurrection consummates God's salvation plan for mankind. The historical fact of Jesus' resurrection is pivotal to Christianity. Paul writes, "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:14, 17–19).
d) A call to repent. Repentance is not a separate requirement for salvation. We are saved through faith alone, but repentance goes hand in hand with believing. "Repentance and faith are Siamese twins,"43 writes Walter J. Chantry. Sinclair Ferguson comments, "Faith and repentance must be seen as marriage partners and never separated."44 Repentance is a change of attitude and action from sin toward obedience to God. The Greek word for repentance is derived from a word meaning "to radically change one's thinking." It signifies a person attaining a divinely provided new understanding of his behavior and feeling compelled to change and begin a new relationship with God (Heb. 6:1; Acts 20:21).45 Walter Elwell declares that it is "literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God."46
e) A call to believe. To believe in Jesus Christ requires more than mere intellectual assent that He is the Son of God. Saving faith is not merely accepting certain propositions as true ("even the demons believe— and shudder!" James 2:19), but trusting a person—the Person of Jesus Christ47—for the remission of your sins. It involves an act of the will. We can think of it as a faith-union with Christ, in which the believer cleaves to his Savior. We need only to believe in Christ for our eternal salvation. Nothing else is required. The Bible is clear on this. When the Philippian jailor asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they respond, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:30–31). We cannot earn our way to salvation. It is solely a gift from God. "For by grace you have been saved through faith," Paul proclaims in Ephesians. "And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (2:8–9).
Now, let's take a brief look at each of the Gospels individually.