What is the gospel?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: What is the gospel? Paul said in Romans 1:16 that he will not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. We are told to preach the gospel. We are told that only the gospel can save our souls. And we are warned of someone coming into our assembly and preaching another gospel, which is really not a gospel. The meaning of the word ''gospel'' is ''good news'' or ''good message'' What is this message? Is it the only thing that can save our souls? What all is meant by the word gospel? Is the gospel the only thing that can make us Christians? Where is the gospel defined in the bible? (From an adult believer in Kenya)

Answer: This is an astute observation because we know that the gospel is very important. It is indeed the only thing that can save our souls. Therefore, it is the only thing that can make us Christians. As such, we should make sure that we know what the Bible means by “gospel” because the word is also used in everyday conversation by biblically illiterate people.

For instance, if the mother of a household here in the USA is known to repeat the same five or six household rules, her son might say of those that “That’s the gospel according to mom.” This usage picks up on the authoritative aspect of the word gospel. Such usage speaks to the authority of its author or speaker. But that use is more like the Old Testament law than the gospel. The gospel is good news, not more rules!… although certain rules apply.

But even when we look into the Bible, the word gospel refers to multiple things… and none of those things is simple… like a rock or a fish or the sea. They are more a collection of ideas — which makes pinning down a definition difficult. But every word and concept in the Bible appears in context, and as usual, context will tell the tale.

The gospel that we should preach… the one that can save our souls — and the one of which Paul said that he was not afraid… is the gospel of salvation. You must keep this conceptually separate from any references to “another gospel” or “the gospel of the kingdom.”

Although God implemented the gospel of salvation before he created the universe (1 Peter 1:20), it was not codified or emphasized until after the death of Christ and after the establishment of the Church. This pops out of the Gospel accounts (… and this use of the word “Gospel” here refers to the four books that open the New Testament, which is yet another usage). They show that while Jesus was walking around in the world as the living “gospel of salvation” the world was clueless — and the Jews officially dismissed him. Only a few had the conviction to follow him.

[Speaking of Jesus] “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9–11, NIV, emphasis mine)

Although many people “missed” Jesus because they were more invested in their embedded religion than in God’s truth, there is a logistical reason — one that God built into his revelation. God reveals his truths over time ... but Jesus only spent three-plus years in public ministry. That’s a mere eye blink… and he changed the world… but it takes society time to process change. Look at the result:

“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” (1 Corinthians 1:22–23, NIV)

The three types of persons who were on the scene during the early church period and all responded to the gospel of salvation differently. The Jews stumbled over it. The Gentiles thought that it was foolishness. But the Christians identified with the crucified Christ. As such, they developed a saying that contains the gospel’s core.

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, NIV)

Although the gospel of salvation is not as simple as a single passage, it does rest on those four historical elements: Christ died; he was buried; he was raised from the dead on the third day… and all these happened according to the Scriptures. So, not only did Christ perform these three feats, he did them as the fulfillment of prophecy… and if our enemies can disprove that history, then we should all abandon the faith. You see, this history is critical as the “handshake” of redemption.

Jesus, the Spirit and the Father planned the redemptive particulars before the foundations of the world, and Jesus came at exactly the right time. The gospel did not just “happen” somewhere in life’s flow to address sin.

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
(1 Peter 1:20, NIV)

It is important to know that a person is saved when he responds to the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus Christ. What this means is that a person can be saved without detailed knowledge of the doctrine… although these should be reinforced soon after salvation. Bible.org has provided us with a nice checklist so we can do just that.

The gospel message is simple in that it’s easy to remember, but it is complex in that it has more than one part. And since a believer should strive to understand his faith, the lists that follow will be very helpful.

The Gospel is made up of certain truths that must be heard, understood, believed and acted upon in order for someone to come to saving faith. Understanding each aspect of the Gospel is imperative if one is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The following are the six main points of the Gospel.

1. The fact of sin. Romans 3:10,23; James 4:17; Galatians 3:10; James 2:10.

2. The penalty of sin. Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:20.

3. The penalty must be paid. Hebrews 9:27; Hebrews 2:2,3, 9:22; Romans 2:12.

4. The penalty was paid by Christ. Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 53:5-6.

5. Salvation is a free gift. Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:24; Titus 3:5; John 3:16.

6. You must accept. Revelation 3:20; John 1:12; John 6:37; 1 John 5:11- 12.

Men may try other means such as good works, ritualism, church attendance, the "sacraments,” sacrifice, and morality to earn their salvation, but Isaiah 64:6 says all these are worthless—they are "human goodnesses" and are as unclean things.

There are three things necessary for saving faith:

1. Knowledge—awareness of the plan of salvation: the Gospel.

2. Belief—giving mental assent—accepting it as true.

3. Volition—acting upon what you believe.


I need to bring up an issue about the word gospel which you did not specify in your question because there was more than one legitimate “gospel” going on in the Bible. Both Jesus and John the Baptist were declaring the gospel of the kingdom — not the gospel of salvation.

“And [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4:23, ESV, emphasis mine)

We must be a little careful here. The gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of salvation must overlap… because Jesus is the focus of both! The kingdom of God being at hand (Mark 1:15) was a necessary precursor to the gospel of salvation being… well… handy — which it is! But the gospel of the kingdom had more to do with Jesus talking to his Jewish kindred about his role as their King — not as their dying Savior. And although he was all that, that was not the conversation. But the gospel of the kingdom was also “good news” and therefore it was also a “gospel.” It’s just that it was different from while being related to the gospel of salvation.

That being said, part of Jesus’ fulfilling the gospel of the kingdom involved his death, resurrection and the subsequent gospel of salvation; they cannot be separated, but we must match the appropriate utterance to the appropriate audience.

Let us close with a quick discussion of “another gospel.”

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”
(Galatians 1:6–7, AV, emphasis mine)

The above passage self-explains the problem of “another gospel”… you just have to read beyond the colon for the qualifying phrase “Which is not another;”… and further in the passage refers to these particular gospel preachers as those who “would pervert the gospel of Christ.” When we combine this with the context of Galatians which was to address the problem of these Judaizers, we see that this use of the word gospel is unique here — it’s like sarcasm. Paul calls it a “gospel”… only to immediately define it as anything but the truth.

Furthermore, he ends the section with a warning that even if apostles or angels came down with any kind of gospel other than the one they knew so well, that those messengers should be cursed of God. Those are strong words — and the context is clear. This is not “another gospel” which may or may not be true. This is a false gospel (therefore “another”) which Paul was presenting for the purposes of instruction, not for vindication.

I’ll let CARM Ministries close with a pretty concise definition of the Gospel.

The Gospel is the good news that we have forgiveness of sins through Jesus. Specifically, the gospel is defined by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."

The gospel comes from God (Gal. 1:10-12), is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), is a mystery (Eph. 6:19), and is a source of hope (Col. 1:23), faith (Acts 15:9), life (2 Cor. 4:14), and peace (Eph. 6:15).

So, salvation is found in the gospel. In other words, when a person trusts in what Christ did on earth (lived a perfect life), bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and died with them, paying the price for our redemption (Acts 20:28Col. 2:14) according to the Law, then that person is saved from God's righteous judgment. We are declared right in God's eyes through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.


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