What Really Is the Gospel?
DURING the Christmas season, people in many lands hear about, and even personally speak about, the Gospel. The term is very common, but does it have more meaning than most imagine? Could the Gospel mean something outstandingly good for you and your loved ones?
“Gospel” means “good news,” and surely, good news is welcome not just at Christmastime but anytime. However, the Gospel is not just any good news. It is a specific good news from a definite source about a particular subject. It is, in fact, a message that God has appointed to be announced to all mankind.
Eugênio Salles, archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, spoke about that good news when he urged: “We should act in harmony with the Gospel and not in the light of ideologies.” The archbishop was correct. To act in harmony with the Gospel, however, requires that we know what the Gospel is. How can we learn that? And how will acting in harmony with the Gospel help us?
What Is the Gospel?
The nature of the Gospel is often misunderstood. In 1918 the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America hailed the now defunct League of Nations as the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth and declared that it was “rooted in the Gospel.” That body failed dismally in its goal to preserve peace. Clearly, the council was wrong. The League of Nations had nothing to do with the Gospel.
In recent years promoters of liberation theology have freely brought up the Gospel when talking about their ideas for political or social reformation. In doing so they have disregarded the real Gospel. The Brazilian magazine Veja commented: “The Catholic Church began to favor the social kingdom, ignoring the spiritual needs of its faithful. Those who sought the word God in a sermon often found only rhetorical arguments against social injustices.”
An improvement in living conditions or a change in political systems may be good news to some. Yet, such is not the good news, the Gospel. Admitting his church’s failure to preach the real Gospel, one bishop said: “We neglected the spiritual teaching of our faithful since the 60’s because of a materialistic interference in our doctrine.”
A report in the U.S. news magazine Time suggests that Protestants too have lost sight of the Gospel. The magazine observes: “Not only are the traditional denominations failing to get their message across; they are increasingly unsure just what that message is.” What should their message be? What is the Gospel?
Identifying the Gospel
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines “Gospel” as “the message concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation.” The word “gospel” is also defined as “an interpretation of the Christian message (the social gospel)”; “the message or teachings of a religious teacher.” Do all these definitions apply? No, not if we are speaking of the Gospel. The real Gospel is based on the Bible; hence, only the first of those three definitions is accurate. The last two merely reflect the way that the word “gospel” has come to be used today.
In harmony with this thought, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says that in the Christian Greek Scriptures (the “New Testament”), the Gospel “denotes the good tidings of the Kingdom of God and of salvation through Christ, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death.” It is important to understand this because a correct understanding of the true good news has much to do with our present well-being and future happiness.
A Distinct Message
As the foregoing reference work shows, the Gospel is closely linked with Jesus Christ—so much so that the four Bible accounts of his life on earth are called the four Gospels. Right from the beginning of his human life, news about Jesus was good news. When announcing his birth, an angel said: “Look! I am declaring to you good news [or, gospel] of a great joy that all the people will have, because there was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”—Luke 2:10, 11.
The newborn Jesus would grow up to be the Christ, the promised Messiah. He would reveal God’s purpose for salvation, give up his perfect human life in behalf of mankind, be resurrected, and then become the chosen King of God’s Kingdom. Good news indeed! That is why the message about him is called the Gospel.
During his short earthly ministry, Jesus was very zealous in preaching the good news. We read in the Gospel of Matthew: “Jesus set out on a tour of all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 9:35) His preaching was not just to make people feel better. Mark records Jesus as saying: “The appointed time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Be repentant, you people, and have faith in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) Yes, those who responded and obeyed the good news found that it changed their lives.
After Jesus’ death, his followers continued to preach the Gospel. Not only did they speak about the Kingdom but they added the happy news that Jesus had been resurrected to God’s right hand in the heavens and had offered the value of his perfect human life in behalf of mankind. As the one chosen by God to rule over all the earth as King of God’s Kingdom, he would be God’s Agent in destroying God’s enemies and in restoring the earth to a paradise.—Acts 2:32-36; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Hebrews 9:24-28; Revelation 22:1-5.
Today, the good news includes a further element. According to all the evidence of the fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus has now been enthroned, and we are living in the last days of this system of things. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Revelation 12:7-12) The time when the Kingdom will act against God’s enemies is rapidly approaching. What better news could there be?
We will see in the following article how powerful the Gospel is. It helped one woman who was ensnared by black magic to find freedom. It helped a man in prison for robbery to find happiness. And it will greatly benefit you also—if you listen to and obey the good news.