What is the gospel? I’ve been pondering this question for a while now. Is it the fact that God loves everybody? Is it loving our neighbor—being the good Samaritan? Is it the message of salvation that Jesus died on the cross for our sins? And where does repentance fit in?
While Merriam-Webster defines “gospel” as “the message concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation,” there is no single Biblical passage that clearly defines the word. However, bits and pieces appear throughout Scripture. One verse I find helpful is Romans 1:16—
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
Paul explains further in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4—
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that 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.
The problem is that many churches and Christians stop here. Is this the entire gospel? No. Just having this information does nothing for us, unless we act on it. Too many times I’ve heard that “if you just believe you’ll be saved!” In our culture, believing is a brain exercise. We can believe without acting on that belief. For the authors of the Bible, however, belief implied action—we prove our faith by bearing fruit.
Matthew 3:8 and Luke 3:8 both tell us to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love” (italics mine). Faith must express itself through loving action, or it is of no benefit. Another passage that says the same thing is James 2:14-17 (also check out Matthew 7:21-23 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)—
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The good works we do don’t save us—only Jesus saves us—but they are evidence of that salvation. God longs to do good works through us. If we don’t produce fruit, we must question whether or not we’ve truly submitted ourselves to Jesus.
It’s clear that the gospel is about the whole Kingdom of God. The Bible repeatedly pairs “gospel” with “kingdom.” Matthew 4:23 reads, “Jesus went throughout all of Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom….” and Matthew 24:14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
I get frustrated when I see churches that only embrace a social gospel, citing Jesus’ example of healing the sick and caring for the poor but excluding the rest of the message—that Jesus died and was resurrected, and that we need to confess and turn away from our rebellion against God’s authority in our lives. At the same time, churches that focus on salvation but never mention our need to love one another are just as lacking. Along with loving God, loving our neighbor is one of the two “greatest commandments” (see Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12, and Luke 10).
The very last thing Jesus told us to do was make disciples by “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Everything.