The word gospel has become so common in some circles that it has been stripped of much of its power and meaning. But the word was so central to Jesus’ ministry that I simply can’t get away from it. So what exactly do we mean when we say “gospel”?
The key word in all the gospel is substitution. At the church I pastor we say that the gospel in four words is “Jesus in my place.” Jesus went to the cross, not merely to die for us but to die instead of us. He took our burden of sin so that we could put on the mantle of His righteousness. That’s the good news of the gospel: Jesus lived the life we were supposed to live and died the death we were condemned to die. The apostle Paul summarized it this way:
“I passed on to you as most important what I also received: 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 15:3-4).
Jesus died “for our sins” (v. 3). We’re sinful; Jesus is sinless. On the cross, Jesus died in our place for our sins. He died as our substitute. The principle of substitution separates Jesus’ gospel from every other religion. The great religions of the world all teach that we must do something to please God. Go here. Say this. Do this. Don’t do that. Pray this. Chant that. If we do these things often enough and well enough, God will accept us—or so we hope.
The gospel, on the other hand, is about what Jesus has done for us. In every other religion, the prophet is a teacher who gives us a plan to earn God’s favor. In Christianity, we have the story of a Savior who has earned God’s favor on our behalf and gives it to us as a gift. Other religious systems are about what you do; Christianity is about what has been done for you.
The Gospel Is for Christians Too
Although believers might not deny the gospel, we tend to forget it. But the gospel is for Christians too. For many of us, the gospel functions solely as the entry rite into Christianity. It’s the prayer we pray to begin our relationship with Jesus, the diving board off which we jump into the pool of the real Christian life.
The gospel, however, isn’t just the diving board off which we jump into the pool of Christianity; it’s the pool itself. It’s not only the way we begin in Christ; it’s also the way we grow in Christ. All of the Christian life flows from the good news of what Jesus has done.
Paul recognized this tendency when he said the gospel was “most important” (v. 3). He didn’t see the gospel as a mere entry rite into faith. The gospel is the main priority in the Christian life. It can never be less than primary. Growth in the Christian life isn’t about going beyond the gospel but going deeper into the gospel. The purest waters from the spring of life are found by digging deeper, not wider, into the gospel well.
Our hearts are hardwired to run back to works-based righteousness. Grace doesn’t come naturally to us. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves of the gospel message often because it remains good news even for those of us who’ve followed Christ for years.
Our world is sick and needs the healing balm of the gospel. We must avoid the temptation to let any other issues replace the centrality of the gospel in our lives. The need is too great, the hour is too near, and the beauty of the gospel is too precious for us to define ourselves by anything else. The gospel must be above all.
Jesus promised to build His Church and said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Along with this promise, Jesus gave clear instructions for how the Church would prevail. He promised to build it on the Rock of the gospel.
This eight-session Bible study will give you a fresh perspective on the supremacy of the gospel over the trappings and temptations of modern society.
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In the video sessions, J.D. Greear is joined by David Platt, Jen Wilkin, Vance Pitman, Walter Strickland, Rosaria Butterfield, Greg Laurie, Albert Mohler, and Kevin Smith to examine what it means for believers to elevate the gospel above all other priorities in our lives and in our churches.