The gospel. We hear this term thrown about often, but what does it really mean? The gospel is a term that has become unnecessarily confusing to some by excessive additions, subtractions, and qualifications. Simply put, the gospel is the declaration of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and how we receive the benefits of His person and work by grace alone through faith alone. Paradoxically, stating what the gospel is, is simple. Stating how the gospel is, however, is both beautiful and profound.
The Good News
The declaration of the gospel comes as good news to humanity, in fact, the best news anyone could ever receive. However, if the gospel comes as good news to all who receive it, then by virtue of it being universally good, the condition of all who receive it must be universally bad. The bad news is that as result of the fall of the first human, Adam, all of humanity inherited a sinful nature – a natural inclination to rebel or sin against our creator. It is this universal sin that separates us from a holy, pure, and just God. Because God is holy, He must punish and separate Himself from sin.
The just punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God. The bad news is that our condition is utterly helpless, for we all have sinned. God is holy and we are not, and only someone with perfect righteousness can stand before a perfectly righteous God. And since we all have missed the mark of perfection required by God, there must be some kind of atonement made to restore our fellowship with Him. And that the is good news…
Who He Is
Because of His love for us, God did not leave us alone in our helpless state. God, through the second person of the trinity, Jesus the living word of God, left the perfect, eternal fellowship enjoyed with God the Father and embarked on a rescue mission to redeem His prized creation. The divine, eternal truth that shaped and created all of reality, in a supreme act of humility entered the created order incarnated as a man.
Jesus was born of a virgin but conceived by the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, which prevented Him from inheriting the sinful nature possessed by the human race. So in Jesus, the “whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” which is to say Jesus exists as fully God and fully man. His divine and human natures retained their attributes in harmony, united together without confusion, division, or separation. Despite being tempted in every humanly way, Jesus lived a sinless life of perfect obedience and perfect righteousness. Thus, being perfectly human, being perfectly obedient, and being perfectly infinite as the God-man, Jesus was the only one capable of serving as the perfect sacrifice, or atonement to satisfy the justice and righteousness of God.
What He Did
The work of Jesus is very simply that he died for sinners, as prophesied by prophets of old that the vicarious death of the savior would bear the wrath of God against the sins of His people. And that is just what Jesus did. Jesus lived the perfect life we could not live, satisfied God’s perfect law we could not satisfy, and yet suffered the sacrificial death that we should have received. In what can be considered the divine exchange, Jesus stood in our place and took our punishment upon Himself, giving us His perfect righteousness, which is imputed to us so that we can stand before God without fear of our just condemnation. Rather, we can now stand before God with the righteousness of Jesus.
Fortunately, the work of Jesus did not end with His sacrificial death on a cross. Death could not defeat Him, so as the Bible tells us, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Finally, after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven, seated next to the Father’s right hand, ruling and making intercession for His people. Jesus did for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves. Such is the beauty of the gospel: When humanity’s most natural inclination is to say “Give me the rules so I can follow them—I can work to be good enough to save myself,” the gospel says, “No you can’t… But, God rich in mercy, has done it for you.” The gospel is the ultimate metanarrative of humanity, bookended with contrasts: By one man universal sin and universal guilt entered the world. But by another came infinite righteousness so that sin may reign no more.
How We Realize His Benefits
The benefits of Christ’s atoning work are called salvation. Salvation is deliverance from: the wrath of God, separation from Him, the dominion of sin, and the power of death. The Bible is clear that we do not receive the benefits of Christ by our works or deeds. There is nothing about our salvation in which we have any ability to boast because it is solely by God’s grace that He made a way, the only way, for us to be reconciled with Him. And that way is by faith in Christ alone. Faith is putting our full trust in Jesus as the son of God, who lived the perfect life of righteousness, died a sacrificial death as the perfect sacrifice, and was resurrected as the risen savior whereby His righteousness is imputed to us.
Faith is the instrument that joins us into eternal spiritual union with Christ so that we are then “in Christ” and receive His righteousness. Thus, not only is Jesus the means to salvation, but more accurately, He IS our salvation. But the benefits of Christ are not just something to be enjoyed in the future, but rather a present and future benefit. At the moment we place our faith in Him alone and repent (the turning away from the lifestyle that characterized us before Christ) we are justified, or declared righteous in Christ as one-time eternally-binding decree. But the benefits don’t end there. At the time we are justified, we are adopted into the Kingdom of God as one of His people. We are also given the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and guides us in our sanctification—the process of growing more like Christ in this earthly life until the day we are glorified and go into the eternal blissful presence of God.
This is the gospel, the good news that God saves sinners, doing for us what we could never do for ourselves, in spite of ourselves. It is a gospel of contrasts. Where simple meets profound. Where good news meets bad news. Where wrath meets love. Where grace meets justice. Where self-sufficiency meets self-surrender. Where death meets life. And where God meets us, yet without compromising His holy character. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the best news you could ever hear. Have you received it?