It’s difficult to imagine a more important word for missionary-minded Christians to understand than the word “gospel.” By definition, we are gospel people. We believe that the gospel is the message that saved us, and we have dedicated our lives to spreading that gospel to the ends of the earth. However, like many important words, it’s not always clear exactly what people mean by this word.
At its root, gospel means good news. However, that raises two immediate questions: what is the good news about, and why do we need it? Based on what we read in Scripture, the International Mission Board defines the gospel as follows:
The gospel is the good news that the only true God, the just and gracious creator of the universe, has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women and has sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin through his substitutionary death on the cross, and to show his power over sin and death in the resurrection from the grave, so that everyone who turns from their sin and themselves and trusts in Jesus alone as Savior and Lord will be reconciled to God forever.
The Gospel is about God
There are several things worth noting in this definition.
First, the gospel is about God more than anyone or anything else, and it must be explained in terms of his character. God is holy and just, and he hates everything that is evil. Therefore, God hates our sin, and his justice demands our just condemnation. We deserve his wrath because of who we are and what we have done.
Yet, God is a God of mercy, grace, and love. He would have been entirely justified in leaving us to the consequences of our rebellion against him, but he chose to redeem us entirely out of his free and undeserved grace. The character of God is both why we need to be saved and why we have been saved. The gospel is from him, about him, and for his glory. Our gospel presentations should be God-centered, not man-centered.
The gospel is about God more than anyone or anything else, and it must be explained in terms of His character.
The Gospel is the Answer to Sin
Second, the gospel is the answer to the problem of sin. It addresses the issues of shame and fear because it fundamentally addresses our deepest problem, which is guilt before a holy God.
The biblical picture of fallen men and women is not flattering. Scripture shows us the depth of our guilt and corruption, and the greatest need of every man, woman, and child on earth is the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. The gospel is not about earthly prosperity or health. It’s about how God himself dealt with the problem of our sin against him.
The Gospel is about Jesus
Third, the gospel is about Jesus. It can’t be presented faithfully without including who he is in his full divinity and humanity. It must include what he did: living a sinless life in our place, dying in our place as our substitute to pay the penalty for our sins, rising again from the dead, and ascending to heaven. It also includes what he is doing now as our intercessor and king and what he will do when he comes again in glory and makes all things new. It is the good news about Jesus, who is the only Savior for sinners.
The Gospel Calls for a Response
Fourth, the gospel calls for a response of repentance and faith. It is more than good news; it’s also a royal summons for rebels to repent of their sins and place their entire trust in Jesus alone to save them.
Therefore, our presentations of the gospel must call for this same response with urgency and clarity. It’s not enough to simply inform people of the message of the gospel. We must also urge them to respond with repentant faith.
The Gospel is a Promise
Fifth, we must be clear on what the gospel does and does not promise. It promises amazing eternal treasures. The gospel promises us rebirth by the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, adoption as God’s children, incorporation into the family of God, transformation into the image of Christ, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, and eternal life in infinite joy in the presence of God. However, it does not promise material prosperity or physical health and safety. Ultimately, the gospel gives us Christ, and he is the greatest treasure of all.
Zane Pratt is the vice president of training at IMB.