In Basic Christianity, John Stott helpfully summarizes the message of the Bible in three points:
- God has Created
- God has Spoken
- God has Acted
According to Stott, "Christianity is not just pious talk. It is neither a collection of religious ideas nor a catalogue of rules. It is a 'gospel' (i.e., good news)--in Paul's words 'the gospel of God . . . concerning his Son . . . Jesus Christ our Lord.' It is not primarily an invitation to man to do anything; it is supremely a declaration of what God has done in Christ for human beings like ourselves" (Basic Christianity, 12). The message of what God has done for us in Christ is good news (the gospel).
So, what is the gospel?
THE GOSPEL IS A DECLARATION ABOUT SIN
The Bible is clear about our problem: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Each of us has failed miserably when it comes to keeping God's moral commandments. We've dishonored our parents, we've tolerated untruthfulness, we've envied our neighbor, and while we may not have actually committed murder, we've all had murderous thoughts.
Our usual response is to ignore or deny that we are sinners. If we do acknowledge it, we tend to blame our circumstances or our genes. We take comfort when we think of others who are more sinful that we are.
It takes a work of God in our hearts to come to the place where we admit we are sinners? Only God can bring us to that point. Jesus said this was something the Holy Spirit would do: "when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8).
THE GOSPEL IS A DECLARATION ABOUT JUDGMENT
We all deserve God's judgment because of our sin. It's not popular in our day, to judge someone else. But God has the right to judge because He is the creator and sustainer of all. Paul made it clear that God "has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17.31). The judgment we all deserve for our sin is "the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess 1.9).
THE GOSPEL IS A DECLARATION ABOUT FORGIVENESS
The reason the gospel is good news is that, although we deserve God's judgment, Christ has entered into this world and bore the wrath of God that sinners deserve. "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3.18). God did this of His own initiative and not because of anything in us, nor because of anything He knew we would do. "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4.10).
THE GOSPEL IS A DECLARATION DEMANDING A RESPONSE
God calls sinners (all of us) to respond to the gospel. Jesus said the only appropriate response to the gospel is to repent and believe: "Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying . . . repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1.15).
To repent is to turn away from sin and turn to Christ. Repentance is a change of mind in which we turn from our sin because we know it is wrong and worthy of God's judgment. But we don't merely turn away from sin. Some people turn away from sin and get very religious. But religious effort and moral improvements are never enough. They too lead us to deserve God's judgment. Biblical repentance is turning from sin and turning to Jesus, because we know He lived the only righteous life and died as a substitute for sinners.
To believe is to trust (to rely, to have faith) that Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient to pay for your sins. When asked how to be saved, Paul told the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16.31).
WILL YOU RESPOND TO THE GOSPEL?
Many people understand the facts of the gospel. But simply knowing the facts without responding to these things will not save you, any more than memorizing a menu will allow you to enjoy a meal. True faith moves you from mental awareness of the facts to a personal relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ.
If God has shown you your need and given you this desire, then you must forsake everything and trust Christ today. "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6.2). There is a time coming when it will be too late.
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You may also find this explanation of the gospel helpful (Two Ways to Live)