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Date Posted:16/04/2008 9:38 AMCopy HTML

The Gospel

Defining the "Good News"
By Ian Thomason
1.         Introduction
1.1       In my personal experience I have noticed there are few subjects pertaining to the Christian faith that are so poorly understood as is the nature, extent and content of the Christian gospel - the 'good-news'.  Given the diversity in published statements released by a variety of Christian organisations, one might be forgiven for assuming that 'gospel' has become little more than a tag to describe Christian 'stuff' in general. That this is so is rather odd, given the importance placed on the content of the message in the record of Scripture:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile[1].

1.2       The apostle Paul clearly affirmed that it is belief in the gospel, not simply belief in a gospel, that is the power from God which leads people to personal salvation, and results in the assurance of one's right relationship with the Father. The obverse is that the wilful promotion of any other message in its stead, places one squarely outside the boundary of the eternal security offered freely by God, through Christ:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

1.3       The aim of this essay is to provide a concise and biblical definition for the Christian 'good-news'. The simplicity of this message will then be contrasted against the complex model currently offered by the Revival Centres International (RCI), as evidenced at their official website[3]. This is done to demonstrate the confusion that inevitably results should the gospel be jumbled with its 'fruits' or its human-divine out workings. The contrast provides a succinct demonstration of the difficulties that result when Scripture is interpreted incorrectly.


2.         The gospel is objective

2.1       It should be made clear at the outset that the gospel is not dependent in any way, shape or form on the activity, acceptance or labours of Man. The 'good-news' was conceived of, ordered, instituted and completed as a sovereign act of the Godhead alone. It is evidence of divine love and grace, freely extended to fallen humanity to effect reconciliation and redemption. The Christian gospel is what stands at the heart of the Atonement.

2.2       Quite simply, then, the Christian 'good-news' is an event. It is the message of the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. This understanding led to the early Church terming the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John 'gospels' during the latter years of the second century. The four documents proclaim the identity and ministry of Jesus as Christ.

2.3       Given this, it becomes a simple matter to define what the 'good-news' is not. The gospel is not about what God is doing in our lives as Christians, such would be better viewed as 'fruits' or 'results' of the gospel. The 'good-news' is, however, about what God did for us on a brutal Roman cross at Calvary. 

2.4       The Greek word translated 'gospel' is euangélion, which means in its Christian context: "the glad tidings of the kingdom of God, soon to be set up, and subsequently also of Jesus the Messiah. After the death of Christ, the term comprises also the preaching concerning Jesus Christ as having suffered death on the cross to procure eternal salvation for the people of the kingdom of God, but as restored to life and exalted to the right hand of God in heaven, thence to return in majesty to consummate the kingdom of God[4]."


3.         The gospel in action

3.1       When the apostle Peter preached to the Jewish men gathered at the Temple on the Day of Pentecost [see Acts 2], his message did not focus on what God had done to and through the Apostles by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Such was incidental. Peter's sermon was concentrated squarely on the fundamentals, on explaining (1) who Jesus was and (2) on what He had achieved for humanity by His death and resurrection[5]. Similarly, when Peter was provided with the opportunity to share the 'good-news' to Cornelius and his household ten years later [see Acts 10], his message had not changed[6].

3.2       This communication concerning Christ was the same that the apostle Paul delivered to the Romans (Romans 1:2-4). It was the same to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:17-18), to the Galatians (Galatians 1: 7, 11-16), to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3: 6-11), to the Philippians (Philippians 1:12-18), and to the Colossians (Colossians 1:3-16).  In every case, the 'good-news' in the New Testament is about who Jesus Christ is, and what God has done for us through Him.

4.         The gospel results in action

4.1       Such is the power of the 'good-news' about Jesus that lives are transformed and destinies changed. When confronted by the claim of the cross, sinful Man stands exposed and is required to make one of two choices: to accept the message and embrace it, or reject the same and turn away.

4.2       Those who choose the former path invariably ask the same question that was uttered by a gaoler in Philippi so many years ago:

He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household[7]."

4.3       Believe in the Lord Jesus. Salvation is fully dependent upon only one thing: believing the gospel claim that Jesus Christ is Lord. Due to his fallen nature Man cannot save himself. This same nature prevents him from assisting in any way the redemptive act. Such remains the province of God, alone. Man's involvement, therefore, extends no further than believing that God will do what He has promised to do [see Belief].

But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming that if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.            As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved[8]."


5.         The fruits of the gospel

5.1       Just as the fruit of the Spirit is not the Spirit, simply evidence of His working; in the same way the 'fruits' of the gospel are not the gospel, rather they are the evidence of its effects in the life of a redeemed person. These results are many and can be quite varied. They can include a willingness to be baptised as a public admission of one's faith. They can include a desire to share one's faith with others. They might also include a zeal for seeking after and the receiving of a spiritual gift or gifts.

5.2       As a perspective leveller, it may help to think along the lines of 'cause-and-effect'. Cause: belief in the gospel, effect: submission to baptism. Cause: belief in the gospel, effect: sharing Christ with others. Cause: belief in the gospel, effect: desire for spiritual gifts.


6.         Revivalist error

6.1       It is my view that Revivalists have taken the central message - is about Jesus - and have turned it into a message about the Holy Spirit. In doing this they have corrupted the essence of the true gospel - a testimony about Jesus as Christ - by exalting the sanctifying work of the Spirit above the saving work achieved by Christ on the cross. As terrible as it sounds, metaphorically speaking Revivalists have placed the cart before the horse, the Sanctifier before the Saviour. The Revivalist position would seem to promote, therefore, the very error that the Galatians had fallen into, and which Paul saw fit to rebuke: a mandated 'gospel' of works (e.g. "you must do this, and this, and this..."). This stands over and against the gospel of grace (e.g. "God did this for you...").  Any message that shifts responsibility for salvation from God to Man is not the Christian gospel about which the New Testament testifies.

6.2       Let us now briefly review the published RCI understanding of what it is that comprises the gospel.

God is involved in us from the moment we receive the Holy Spirit and we become His people. We are guardians of, and ambassadors for the Gospel. Apart from the promised everlasting future with potential we can scarcely imagine, the Gospel works in us in a personal way on a day-to-day basis and in practical ways as we contribute to the Church from our increase as the Lord prospers us. We are told that the Lord knows us intimately and is aware of our needs and aspirations. The Gospel incorporates hope, peace, tranquillity, and order, and gives us the capacity to control our circumstances.

6.3       First, to state that God is involved in us (as believers) from the moment we receive the Holy Spirit is to constrain God to created time and to contradict His eternal message. Scripture affirms that God knew human beings individually before He formed them in their mother's wombs[9]. The force of the message of the Atonement is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of humanity corporately, and individually. As my sins were borne in His body and nailed to His cross some 2,000 years ago, God was involved with me long before I received the Holy Spirit, or even existed, for that matter.

6.4       Second, Christians are not the guardians of the gospel, although we are ambassadors whose role it is to proclaim it. The gospel is an event - we are simply to point people to that event, thereby allowing them to make a decision one way or the other.

6.5       Finally, the gospel is not about monetary offerings " we contribute to the Church from our increase..." This is quite offensive, given the gospel is about what God did for us, not about what we do for Him.

God has chosen us to help spread the Good News. The Word of God makes us aware of what we can expect God to do as we trust and obey Him, and we see the outworking of the miracle-working power of God in our personal experiences as well as the testimonies of our Spirit-filled brothers and sisters in the Church. Many of these testimonies are regularly recorded in this journal.

6.6       Again, the gospel is not about what God is doing in our lives or personal experiences. We can testify of the fruits of the gospel in our affairs, however, the gospel remains what God did for us once and for all time. The gospel is not a moving feast or 'bless-me' message.

We are to be enthusiastic about the Gospel, which includes all aspects of the Big Picture - past, present, and future. Jesus was the Word made flesh, we have this Word and when we are filled with the Holy Spirit we are these words. We are members of the Gospel! We are not promoting our own ideas. The Gospel does not have man-made constraints; it is the epitome of God-given freedom and liberty. The Gospel imparts God's authority to His people to speak and act in His name, which will always be according to His Word.

6.7       The gospel points to the past. The effects of the gospel can be seen in the present, and will continue on into the future. We are not, however, members of the gospel. We are recipients of the grace that results from it. In a like manner, the gospel is not a message of liberty, per se; it is a message about sacrifice. Our liberty as Christians has directly resulted from the gospel.

The life style that the world offers doesn't make provision for the future. The Gospel is global and is a concept that embraces the whole future when Jesus Christ will "reconcile all things unto himself" One day Jesus will return and we are being trained to be fully acquainted with His ways as practitioners of the Gospel both now and in the ages to come.

6.8       Christians are not 'practitioners' of the gospel, how can we be? We are 'proclaimers' of its message. Again, this is due to our being recipients of its grace. We proclaim only that we know: "...Jesus Christ and Him crucified...[10]"

The Gospel, as good news, indicates that the world is full of bad news. It is bad news to sprinkle a baby as a replacement for the baptism of repentance that is the answer of a good conscience toward God and results in being Spirit filled - speaking in tongues. It is bad news that people worship graven images, materially of wood and stone as obvious idols, or mentally as substitutes for the Gospel. It is bad news to tell people they have received the Holy Spirit when they do not have the promised biblical evidence. Good news is the fact that forgiveness, freedom from, sin and a better new life are possible through Jesus Christ and only through Him.

6.9       The gospel is not about anti-Catholic rhetoric, nor is it about speaking in tongues. The RCI has clearly sought in this paragraph of its apology, to make a defence for their unique message by equating it with the Christian 'good-news'. What they have offered in not the gospel, and it is doubtful that it could even be considered a 'fruit' that resulting from it.

Everyone needs the Gospel. In his letter to the Romans 3:10, 23 the apostle Paul writes: "There is none righteous, no, not one ... For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Sin is not a process, it is a state, and death is the result of sin. We are helpless against mortality without the Holy Spirit. The only way to be saved from sin is through sanctification by the Gospel of salvation at which time we are given a complete package to steer our life according to the Word of God. "Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." (Romans 6:18.) When God spoke the Word and created the heaven and the earth He saw that it was very good. When He recreates us by the power of the Gospel as we receive the Holy Spirit we receive power to become the sons of God, full of grace, truth, good news and God's ability. How good is that?

6.10     It is surprising that so much was stated about the gospel in the above paragraph, and the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, but so little about Jesus Christ. He is, after all, the very focus of and the central player in the gospel event. It seems clear that certain 'fruits' of the gospel have been confused with the 'good-news' itself, with the Holy Spirit inserted to replace Jesus Christ as the pivotal character in the drama of redemption.

It is outstanding to be who we are in this day and age. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul speaks of the mystery of the Gospel. (Ephesians 6:19.) Knowing what the Gospel means and not letting it get away from us solves the mystery. The Gospel is the answer to everything.

6.11     The gospel certainly is the answer, however, it is probably wise to ask the correct question first.

7.         Summary

7.1       The New Testament is replete with references to the Christian gospel. The New Testament is also replete with records of the 'fruits', or results of the gospel in the lives of the redeemed. Just as daylight is not the sun, simply the effect of the sun; so it is with the gospel and its out-workings. The reception of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer (whether accompanied by a visible/audible gift or not) is not the Christian 'good-news'. Such is simply an indication of the trustworthiness of the 'good-news'.

7.2       Perhaps the thrust of the gospel might best be summed up in the words of the Ancient Roman Creed (circa AD130):

"I believe in God the Father Almighty. And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary; was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and He sits at the right hand of the Father, from there He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; and the resurrection of the body."

7.3       Amen. The gospel is simple. It's all about Jesus...


[1] Romans 1:16, NIV.

[2] Galatians 1:6-8, NIV.


[4] Thayer's Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, "euangelion".

[5] Acts 2:22-36.

[6] Acts 10:36-44.

[7] Acts 16:31, NIV.

[8] Romans 10:9-13, NIV.

[9] Jeremiah 1:5

[10] 1 Corinthians 2:2

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