What is the Gospel?

Without a right view of the gospel, the church has no mission and no good news to proclaim. And tragically, there are a lot of false gospels spreading today. 

The gospel is the good news that the only true God, the just and gracious Creator of the universe, has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women and has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin through his substitutionary death on the cross and to show his power over sin and death in the resurrection from the grave, so that everyone who turns from their sin and themselves and trusts in Jesus alone as Savior and Lord will be reconciled to God forever. And it’s our privilege – and responsibility – to share this good news (i.e., the greatest news in the world) with others.

Let’s consider this definition through the lens of Ephesians 2:1–10, where the apostle Paul gives us a picture of the gospel in one of the most glorious passages in all the Bible.

The Gospel Begins with God

The gospel is God-centered. After describing man’s sinful condition and the judgment that all people deserve, the apostle Paul says the following in Ephesians 2:4:  “But God, being rich in mercy ….” Paul then goes on to talk about all the things God has done for us. He saved us because of his great love; he made us alive together with Christ; he raised us up with Christ; he seated us with Christ in the heavenly places; and he decided to show the immeasurable riches of his grace to us in the coming ages (vv. 4–7).

God is clearly the One acting. We, on the other hand, are primarily passive. We didn’t save ourselves, but rather we “have been saved” (v. 5). This happened to us, from the outside. Yes, this salvation comes “through faith,” but Paul puts the emphasis on God’s role: “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (v. 8). 

If we have a glorious view of God, then we will have a glorious view of the gospel. But if we have a small view of God, then we will have a small view of the gospel.

God saves us, and he does it based on his own character. He is gracious and merciful, but that doesn’t mean he takes sin lightly. God is also holy and just, which means he always does what is right and is opposed to all that is sinful. This view of God helps us see our need for the gospel.

If we have a glorious view of God, then we will have a glorious view of the gospel. But if we have a small view of God, then we will have a small view of the gospel. 

We Need the Gospel Because of Our Sin

Because God is holy, just, loving, and gracious, you might expect man to be filled with humility, gratitude, and love. But our response to God is just the opposite: rebellion. Look at the ways Ephesians 2:1–3 describes our condition apart from God’s grace in Christ:

  • We were dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1). 
  • We were following the course of this world (v. 2). 
  • We were following the prince of the power of the air (i.e., the devil) (v. 2). 
  • We lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind (v. 3). 
  • We were by nature children of wrath (v. 3). 

Needless to say, our sinful condition is dire. We are born with a sinful nature, and this propensity to sin manifests itself in our countless sins and trespasses against God. (A sin is any offense against God, while a trespass refers to a violation of a specific commandment in the law.) 

All of us apart from Christ are “dead” in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). And if nothing changes, we will be dead in our sin forever (Romans 6:23). Man’s problem is not that life is not going right, that he has messed up, that he has done some wrong things, or that he has made some bad decisions. Man’s problem is that, at the core of his being, he rebels against God, and he is dead without God. 

The severity of sin is determined by the One who is sinned against.

The severity of sin is determined by the One who is sinned against. One sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely serious, causing infinite separation from God. It was one sin that brought condemnation for all men (Romans 5:12)—yet we’ve committed thousands of them! This is an infinitely serious problem for everyone in the world. 

Jesus is Sufficient for Us

Since we cannot save ourselves, we need God to give us life. This leads to the ultimate question of the Bible: how can a just God save rebellious sinners when they rightfully deserve his wrath? The answer is found in Jesus Christ—who he is and what he has done.

Who Jesus Is

Scripture presents Jesus as fully divine (John 1:1–3) and, at the same time, fully human (1 Timothy 2:5). Both are necessary for our salvation. 

Jesus is God in the flesh (John 1:1-3, 14). He receives worship (Matthew 14:33); he heals diseases (Matthew 4:23–24); he forgives sin (Mark 2:5); he has authority to judge (John 5:22–24); he gives life to the dead (John 11:43–44).  

We must proclaim Jesus for who he is. But we must also proclaim what he has done.

What Jesus Has Done

Consider three aspects of what Jesus has done to make us right before a holy God.

First, the requirements of God’s law have been fulfilled for us by Jesus. Jesus lived the life we could not live, a life of perfect, sinless obedience to the Father. He was fully tempted by sin, and yet he fully triumphed over sin (Hebrews 4:15). 

Second, though he had no sin, Jesus died the death we deserve to die. He, the very Son of God, took on human flesh and died for our sin. This is the beauty of the cross: God poured out the fullness of his judgment against sin and, at the same time, endured the fullness of his judgment against sin. In the process, God accomplished everything necessary for the salvation of sinners.

Third, not only has Jesus lived the life we could not live and died the death we deserve to die, but he has also conquered the enemy we could not conquer. Jesus was raised on the third day. Sin and the grave have been defeated. 

Now, based on what Jesus has done in his life, death, and resurrection, salvation is found in him alone. 

So is God just toward sin? Absolutely, look at the cross. Is God loving toward sinners? Absolutely, look at the cross.

Our Personal Response to the Gospel is Necessary

The gospel requires a personal response on our part, summed up in Ephesians 2:8: “By grace you have been saved through faith.” God’s grace is the underlying reason for our salvation, and faith is the means by which we receive it. But have you ever wondered why God chose faith as the proper response to his saving grace? Because faith is the anti-work. 

Faith is the realization that there is nothing you can do to earn God’s salvation. You can only trust in what has been done for you. Faith is the attitude of the heart that is the exact opposite of depending on yourself. That’s why Paul follows up by saying, “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (v. 9). Faith is simply the hand that receives God’s free gift of salvation. 

It would be a misunderstanding, however, to think of ourselves as entirely passive in this process of receiving God’s grace. Through the gospel, God calls us to turn from our sin (repentance) and put our trust in Christ (faith). This is an especially important point as we think about the urgency of the church’s mission to our neighbors and the nations.

The Urgency of the Gospel Demands a Response

When we proclaim the message of the gospel, eternity is at stake. On the one hand, heaven is a glorious reality for all who trust in Jesus. On the other hand, hell is a dreadful reality for all who do not trust in Jesus. Unless people repent and trust in Jesus, they will face God’s eternal judgment.

Few people (and even Christians) today speak of hell as the destination toward which men and women are headed in their sin. This is strange, particularly given how much Jesus spoke of hell. For example, our Savior spoke of conscious “torment” (Luke 16:22–24), “outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13), and an “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:44). Paul likewise spoke of “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). These are sobering truths and shocking images. May God help us to believe and proclaim the gospel, even when it’s not popular. 

The Gospel Leads to Life Transformation

So what does this gospel produce in those who receive it by faith? Nothing short of life transformation, beginning now: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The gospel leads to a radically new life. 

Scripture describes salvation as crucifixion with Christ (Galatians 2:20) in such a way that one becomes an entirely new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is neither a casual determination nor a superficial declaration. You cannot merely say some words, profess to be a Christian, and then move on with life as it was before. As a result, we must faithfully, passionately, and urgently communicate a gospel—here and around the world—that calls people to die to their sin and themselves and to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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