The greatest message of all is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, in our day the gospel that is preached is often oversimplified or distorted. Today we frequently hear the gospel presented with the words, “There is a purpose to your life,” “God loves you,” or even “You can have a personal relationship with Jesus.” While these things may be true and carry some importance, in and of themselves they are not the gospel message.
The word gospel means “good news,” and it is so-called because it addresses the serious problem of the bad news. In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, the Apostle Paul describes the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. However, in order to understand the good news, we first need to know what the bad news is. The bad news is that since we are “in Adam” (verse 22), who brought sin and death into the world, all of humanity now stands as condemned, guilty sinners before a Holy God (Romans 5:12, 18–19).
The fact of the matter is that every person has some kind of relationship to God. People are either related to God in Christ by grace or related to God in Adam according to wrath (Romans 5:12–19; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
The good news that comes to us in the gospel is that, just as God provided an atonement (a covering) for Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:21), Jesus has provided atonement for our sins by voluntarily offering Himself (John 10:17–18) as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the righteous requirements of God (Romans 3:25). In effect, He received the punishment that we deserve (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus did this so that His righteousness could be transferred to those who put their faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).
The fact that Jesus atoned for sin on the Cross is important to keep in mind especially when we come to presenting the gospel. There’s a tendency to think that because God is love He will overlook the sin in our lives. However, it would be wrong to think that God is not overly concerned with the problem of sin. God’s forgiveness came at a price. It cost Him His own Son (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). God’s love first and foremost deals with sin (1 John 4:10).
With this in mind, there are two important elements to think about when presenting the gospel.
Firstly, there is the content of the gospel message: who Jesus is and what He has done. In the book of Acts the apostles preach a gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 4:8–10, 10:40–42, 17:31), His suffering according to Scripture (3:18, 26:22–23), and the need for our sins to be forgiven through repentance (3:19, 8:22, 20:21, 26:20). These are all part of the content of our faith. Why is this important? Well, before we can ask Christ to be our Saviour, we first need to know that we need a Saviour. If we do not know that we have sinned and broken God’s law and that sin separates us from God leaving us exposed to His judgement, how will we ever reach out for a Saviour?
Second, there is a personal element: how can we receive forgiveness and stand before a Holy God? One thing that the Bible makes clear is that we are not justified before God because of anything we have done or will do but only through our faith in Christ alone (Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8). This a living faith, a faith that brings forth works as the fruit of faith (verse 10). These works don’t count towards our justification, only the work of Christ counts towards that, but without the fruit of faith, there is no evidence of faith in the first place (Acts 26:20; James 2:26).
How does this happen? Well the gospel message calls us to repent of our sin and believe in Jesus (Acts 2:38, 16:31, 17:30, 19:4). Believing, however, is not simply giving a mental assent to Jesus; it is a belief in what Jesus has done for us. It is no good simply to believe that we have a personal relationship with Jesus without believing anything about Him (John 20:31). For example, it is necessary to know and believe Jesus rose from the dead, or else what we are really saying is that we have a relationship with a corpse.
Saving faith involves a personal trust and reliance upon Jesus as well as a genuine affection towards Him (1 Corinthians 16:22); this comes from a change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). Believing in Jesus is more than accepting facts about who He is and what He has done; it also means to accept Him as your Saviour and obey Him as your Lord (John 13:13, 14:15; Romans 10:9).
For Christians, the gospel is the most important message we can ever deliver; therefore it is necessary that we understand it correctly and do not settle for something that has been distorted. We can see from Jesus’ own words—“I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13)—that the heart of His ministry was to preach the gospel.