What is the Gospel?

by Steven Lawson

Passage: Rom. 1:1-7

Message Summary:

Dr. Sproul would always begin the semester in his Doctor of Ministry program by asking the simple question, what is the gospel? This was addressed to the best and brightest of men—men who had given their lives to preaching the gospel. Each semester, Dr. Sproul was stunned at how few students could accurately or biblically answer thais fundamental question.

Let me ask you, brother, what is the gospel?

To be wrong about the gospel is to be wrong where it matters most. It is to be wrong about your relationship with God. To be wrong about the gospel is to be wrong about a hundred other things theologically. To be wrong about the gospel means you are unconverted; it means you are perishing. You cannot be wrong about the gospel and be right with God.

The gospel is good news. It is the good news of salvation that has come from God in the person of his son Jesus Christ to people who are under the wrath of God and who need deliverance. This is the greatest news that anyone has ever heard.

After Martin Luther translated the Bible in hiding, Luther wrote that the gospel means

a good message, good tidings, good news, a good report, which one sings and tells with gladness. For example, when David overcame the great Goliath, there came among the Jewish people the good report and encouraging news that their terrible enemy had been struck down and that they had been rescued and given joy and peace; and they sang and danced and were glad for it [I Sam. 18:6]. Thus this gospel of God or New Testament is a good story and report, sounded forth into all the world by the apostles, telling of a true David who strove with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil. Without any merit of their own He made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God.

The gospel is the greatest news this world has ever heard. And Romans is Paul’s magnum opus. In it he presents the very gospel of God. Luther called Romans the gateway to heaven, the open door to paradise, the very purist gospel. It can never be read nor pondered too much.

1. The Servant of the Gospel

Paul is the most unlikely messenger of the gospel that has ever walked the earth. He is a self-proclaimed blasphemer, persecutor, aggressor, and chief of sinners. Yet this is the man whom God chose.

Paul refers to himself as a bondservant—a slave who belongs entirely to his master. But Paul was also an apostle—one who is set apart for the very gospel of God. This is the highest calling that can come upon any man’s life. There is no higher calling under heaven than to be a gospel minister.

This should be encouraging to us. God delights in reaching all the way to the bottom of the barrel to find his choice servants. The greatness of the gospel is not found in the messenger, but the message.

2. The Source of the Gospel

The gospel is from God. It is true that the gospel is about God, but Paul stresses in Romans 1 that the gospel has come from the heights of heaven—from outside of this world. The gospel has come down from God to man. God is the very source, author, and architect of this gospel. This gospel has not been designed by a denomination, a seminary, or a church. This gospel has come from the infinite genius of God. There is not a man here today who could have thought up the plan of salvation as found in the gospel. This is God’s solution to man’s dilemma. This is God speaking his gospel.

Who but God could have thought up in eternity past that God the Father would send his Son into the world to save the world through a virgin birth, that he would be born under the law, that he would fulfill all righteousness on our behind, that by his active obedience to the moral law of God he would secure perfect righteousness for us – who but God could have thought of this? Who but God would have designed that Jesus would go to Calvary’s cross and would be lifted to die, and that all the sins of the elect would be placed upon him – that he would become sin in their place? Who but God? That he would be taken down and buried in a borrowed tomb and then raised on the third day – who but God could have designed this? And that he has now ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father? Only God could have designed this gospel.

Every time the Bible references the gospel there is an article in front of it. This is the exclusivity of salvation that is in this gospel. It is not a gospel. There are many roads that lead to hell, there is only one road that leads to heaven, and it is through the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a zero-tolerance policy for tampering with this gospel. You may not add anything to it. You may not take anything from it. On the last day, every one of us will give an account as to how we have preached this gospel. It is not our gospel, it is God’s gospel.

3. The Stability of the Gospel

This is not a new message. The gospel is an old story. From times of old, God promised the gospel through a parade of prophets who heralded this message. This gospel would be found in the holy writings—in the very words of the Old Testament, words that can be studied, parsed, analyzed, and interpreted.  

Any time anyone has ever been made right with God has been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other gospel. People in the Old Testament were saved by looking forward to the coming Messiah, just as we are saved. And we all come together at the cross.

The entire gospel rests upon the sturdy foundation of the Old Testament. It was prophesied and written in the Scriptures. It is recorded throughout the whole of the 39 books of the Old Testament. The people of God knew that there was one who would come and redeem them.

4. The Subject of the Gospel 

The gospel is about a person. The gospel concerns the Son of God. It does not concern any other matter; it concerns the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Son of God was born. He came into human skin. He was born a descendant of David. He came according to the Messianic line. He was the Son of God from all eternity, and he was the Son of David as he enters the human race.

Jesus had to become a man in the gospel of God. Why? Because we could not raise ourselves up to the heights of heaven to climb into the courts above. All of our righteousness is as filthy rags. God had to leave heaven and come to us—to enter into this world of sin and strife in order to raise us up and take us to heaven. The wages of sin is death, and God cannot die. God is immortal. In order for Jesus to die as our savior, he had to take upon himself sinless humanity in order to suffer the curse of the law. The Son of God had to become the Son of David so that he might die and atone for our sins. In order to be a perfect mediator between God and man—one who stands between two unreconcilable parties to represent both sides –Jesus had to be truly God in order to represent God, and truly man to represent man. No angel or prophet or righteous man could have mediated. No one except the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And what did he do as our mediator as he stood between the two sides? He accomplished propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, expiation, and justification. This is the good news from heaven.

5. The Proof of Christ 

Thousands of men died upon crosses at the time of Jesus. There were so many crucifixions, they virtually ran out of trees. But only one was raised from the dead, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. And his resurrection validated and vindicated that the death of Christ was a perfect, once and for all death, for those would trust in his name. Salvation is from God, to God, by God. Only God could save man from his own wrath. His grace has triumphed over his wrath.

All saving faith flows through Jesus Christ to those who would put their trust in him. The word grace represents the entirety of the gospel message. All of grace is flowing through Christ. And there is not one drop of saving grace outside of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ is the very epicenter of the gospel. A sermon without Christ has no saving power, for he is the savior of sinners. Do you preach Christ and him crucified? Brothers, let us preach Christ.

6. The Strength of the Gospel

The gospel has the power to change and transform lives. It more than pardons—it gives power to live transformed lives. It brings about the obedience of faith. The only way that the work of Christ is applied to the guilty sinner is through the act of faith in Christ. This saving faith is not a mere intellectual assent, it is not an emotional response, it is an activation of the will. It is more than just the mind or emotions. There is volition that is activated in saving faith which begins with conversion. The first step through the narrow gate is the step of faith.

The obedience of faith means the faith that produces obedience. It is the obedience that faith produces. All true saving faith produces obedience to the will and work of God. It is obedience that is the mark of true saving faith.

Obedience is an essential component in true saving faith. This is the strength of the gospel. It provides all that we need, and the faith that God grants is a faith that is active, dynamic, submissive, and obedient to the will and work of God.

7. The Scope of the Gospel

There is amazing grace for every race. It is for the rich and the poor, the young and the old, men and women—all that there would be more voices in the hallelujah chorus. All so that more would be conformed into the very image of Jesus Christ.

8. The Success of the Gospel

God guarantees the success of his gospel. Christ will not die in vain. There will be a chosen bride who will come to know Jesus Christ. The gospel will not return void. God will send out a call to the elect, and when the gospel is preached, God will call to Jesus Christ those whom he called before the foundation of the world. God’s call overcomes man’s resistance. He makes us willing in the day of his power. We answer God because he gave us ears to hear and a heart to believe. And in that moment, we call upon the name of the Lord, because he has called upon us. There will be none who will fall away, for one day he will glorify all those whom he has called.

If you don’t preach the gospel brother, God will have someone else do it. God has the power in his voice to call the dead to life.

Preach the gospel, the gates of hell shake. Preach the gospel, prodigals return. Preach the gospel to every creature, it is the Master’s mandate and the Master’s power to everyone who believes. ~ Charles Spurgeon

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