We hear that phrase tossed around a lot today. We call a certain style of music “gospel music” because it has a particular sound. When we really want someone to believe what we’re saying, we might add, “Listen — this is the ‘Gospel truth’!”
Sadly, however, the word Gospel has largely lost its meaning in today’s culture. It is my personal opinion that most Americans — much less the rest of the world — haven’t really heard a true Gospel presentation.
We hear some people say that they are “preaching the Gospel,” when in reality they don’t even seem to know what that term really means.
We all need to know what the gospel is for two very important reasons: 1. We want to make sure that we have heard the true Gospel and have responded to it, lest we have a false hope concerning a salvation we think we have; and 2. Jesus told us to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15, NIV).
Those words aren’t just addressed to pastors, teachers, evangelists, and missionaries; they are addressed to every follower of Jesus Christ! We simply can’t afford to be disengaged or disinterested in this subject. People’s eternal destinies literally hang in the balance.
What would you think of a surgeon who just started cutting away at a patient without really knowing what he was doing? One mistake, and that person could be disabled for life — or could even die on the operating table. Yet this message we bring has even more far-reaching consequences than that, for there are ramifications that last forever.
Good news, bad news
What elements must be present for the Gospel to be the Gospel? A technical definition of the word Gospel is “good news.”
We’ve all heard the expression “I have some good news and some bad news... ” Upon hearing a statement like that, we usually want to know the worst first.
You may have heard about the doctor who said to his patient, “I have some good news and some bad news.”
The patient replied, “What’s the good news?”
The doctor said, “You only have three weeks to live.”
Exasperated, the patient replied, “If that’s the good news, what’s the bad news?”
The doctor answered, “I should have told you two weeks ago.”
When it comes to the Gospel, the bad news is the fact that we all stand as sinners before a holy God. No matter who we are, we have all sinned — sometimes in ignorance but more often on purpose. Yet even as a jeweler will display a beautiful ring or necklace against a dark velvet background to accentuate its beauty, God has chosen to show us just how good the Good News is by first telling us the bad news.
Once we see our complete weakness, our inability to do anything whatsoever to alleviate our wretched condition, we can better appreciate the ultimate gift God has given us:
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8, NLT)
Ponder that a moment.
Consider the beauty of salvation against the dark background of our sin. God didn’t give us this gift because we in any way deserved it; He gave it to us because we were so undeserving. There was no other way to satisfy the righteous demands of God; we were utterly incapable of improving ourselves (much less save ourselves), and we faced a future in Hell because of our sins.
Yet God, in His great love, sent his own Son to come down from Heaven and die on the cross in our place. I love the way Paul personalized it when he said, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, NIV).
A gap only God could bridge
There was no other way to resolve this serious sin issue we all face. We know that God is perfect. And we know that man is imperfect and sinful. So, Jesus, the God-man, was uniquely qualified to bridge the gap between sinful humanity and a holy God. He was the only one who could ever do that: “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NLT).
It’s not about what I did to please or reach God. I did everything to displease and fail to reach Him. This is why Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father! In fact, he said so Himself in John 14:6 (NIV): “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In these politically correct times in which we are living, it is tempting to soft-pedal this issue and say something along the lines of “we all worship the same God. You can choose your path. I’ve chosen mine. Mine is Christ. But if you want to worship some other way, that’s fine.”
But it’s not fine. Not at all. The book of Proverbs clearly tells us that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12, NKJV).
The apostle Peter underscores this important fact, echoing Christ’s words: “There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of Heaven for people to call on to save them” (Acts 4:12, NLT).
Jesus, being God, was the only one who could bridge the gap and shed His blood in our place. For we as Christians to say anything else is not only wrong — it is a misrepresentation of the Gospel! And God takes that very seriously.
There, on that cross, all the sin of the world was poured upon Jesus Christ as he became the sin sacrifice for us: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The fact is, if humankind could have reached God any other way, Jesus would not have had to die. His voluntary death on the cross clearly illustrates the fact that there is no other way. Those who reject His loving offer of forgiveness — which is extended to all — do so at their own peril.
It’s a done deal
That is why Jesus cried out these three words on the cross of Calvary: “It is finished” (John 19:30). That phrase can be translated many ways: “It is made an end of; it is paid; it is performed; it is accomplished!”
What was made an end of? Our sins — and the guilt that accompanied them. What was paid? The price of redemption! What was performed? The righteous requirements of the law! What was accomplished? The work the Father had given Jesus to do. What was finished? Satan’s stronghold on humanity.
“He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15, NLT).
Simple, but powerful
In the book of Romans, Paul refers to the explosive power of the Gospel: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes — the Jew first and also the Gentile” (Romans 1:16, NLT).
That is a profound statement coming from such an intelligent, gifted communicator as Paul. If anyone could have talked people into becoming Christians by mere mental skills, it would have been Paul. Yet it is amazing to read the accounts in the book of Acts as he stood before government leaders, the rich, and the powerful and shared the simple message of Jesus’ dying on the cross.
Paul is reminding us that there is power in the simple message of the life, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We often underestimate the raw power the Gospel has in reaching even the most hardened heart.
Don’t underestimate its appeal.
Don’t be ashamed of its simplicity.
Don’t add to it or take away from it.
Just proclaim it — then stand back and watch what God will do.
Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. “Jesus Revolution,” a feature film about Laurie’s life from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, releases in theaters February 24, 2023.