June/July 2013 - Vol. 68 

Before the Word by Kevin Carden

What Is the Gospel?

by Dr. John Yocum

In Jesus' time the emperor ruled over virtually all the known world. His decrees were known as euangelion which transliterated from the Greek means glad tidings, or in today's language gospel. Such an evangelion or gospel therefore came from him who “held the world together.”It was not a trivial, sentimental term. It was majestic and it inspired awe.

A message from the King
The gospel is a message from the King of the universe. It's an address. It's personal – from Someone to someone. It’s  not an abstract philosophical interpretation of the universe, but a promise, a call and a claim: The promise of freedom and life to captives. A call to follow the liberating Savior-King. And a claim on our gratitude and obedience. In the four gospels themselves, it is often referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom.”

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity.
Matthew 9:35

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God .
Acts 20:24

The gospel is grace (Acts 20:24). It is favor from Someone who is in a position to be gracious – not  a claim asserted.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
                                                                                                         2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Face to face with God
The gospel is the message “of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.” It's the message that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” the term that belongs in the Greek version of the Old Testament to God alone. (cf. Isaiah 45:18) The gospel tells us, that it is in Jesus Christ that we come face to face with God.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,  the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.
Romans 1:1-5

The gospel was promised beforehand through the prophets. The gospel comes first in the Old Testament. This passage tells us that the Son of God descended from David according to the flesh, that is, according to his humanity. He is the anointed King promised to the people of Israel, of whom any other king is at best a pale shadow.

Furthermore, this passage tells us that his glory as the Son of God is revealed by his resurrection from the dead. David conquered his earthly enemies in their ‘ten thousands.’ Jesus Christ, the divine-human King, has conquered the seemingly invincible and ubiquitous human foe – death  itself. When we recognize this it calls forth faith – belief, trust, confidence – that is manifest in obedience.

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water.”
Revelation 14:6-7

This is a simple and clear call to fear, glorify and worship God, who is the Judge of all. Here, in the Book of Revelation, the identity of Jesus Christ is probably presumed. On that basis, the 'gospel' here is a message to acknowledge, confess and obey him.

It is clear from this survey that the gospel is not simply a particular form of the message, like “The Four Spiritual Laws,” or “The Bridge Diagram.” Although these are sometimes helpful tools in evangelism, they are not equivalent to the gospel.

The Letter to the Ephesians provides a good New Testament summation of the gospel. It includes everything from the glorious decision of God before time to make us his sons and daughters in Jesus Christ, to the way we ought to speak to one another in the light of the way that God has set for us in Christ.

Proclaiming the gospel
You can preach the gospel in three minutes but you can't expect to exhaust it in three minutes. In the early Church the preaching of the truth leading to baptism for adults normally took three years, at least among Gentiles. This whole process of preparing and instructing newcomers was a preaching of the gospel.

What can the gospel be in a particular situation, such as a one-on-one conversation or a small group presentation? It might be a statement about the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It might be a declaration that God is alive and reveals himself in Jesus Christ. That there is a Someone who desires to have a relationship with you. It might be an assurance that someone has a destiny in the plan of God in Jesus Christ. That life is not hopeless, formless, pointless.

When presenting the gospel message in particular situations, it is important to first ask ourselves, “What is the way in which I ought to speak of Jesus Christ to this person now?”

John Yocum
Dr. John Yocum teaches theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. He is an elder of the Servants of the Word and leader of the international formation house in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA. He also serves as a a coordinator in the Word of Life community and the international teaching team for the Sword of the Spirit.
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