What is the Gospel?
by Mark M. Mattison
The word "gospel" means "good news." Christians lay claim to "good news" for the world today - news of hope, comfort, and the ultimate answer to the problem of humankind's troubled existence.
This problem has been experienced by every living person. It has been aptly described by the atheistic versions of existentialist philosophy: There is no God, no meaning; humankind has been brought into the world alone, with a deep and abiding sense of the absurdity of life. This resigned plea is echoed in the Scriptures: "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless'" (Eccl. 1:2, NIV).
Why does evil have to exist? Why can life be so hard? Why is there so much unfairness in the world? Why do children die and suffer? Why is it sometimes so hard to do what is right, and how do we deal with our sense of personal guilt?
Each of us is born into a certain cycle of life and death, into a life defined by death. Our cells decay daily and we grow toward certain death. Death may be staved off for a short while, but its coming is inevitable. And the failing health, broken relationships, and physical hardships make our short time that much more troublesome.
Mortal death, and its accompanying ills, is a certainty. That is the bad news, and that is why we need good news. There is a solution.
The solution is found in an historical person: Jesus the Chosen One (the Christ) from Nazareth. The good news is that this special person, God's own Son, has conquered death. We read in the New Testament that he was put to death on a cross by an antagonistic world, but that God counted this tragic event as a perfect sacrifice offered to Him (Isa. 53). Those who identify themselves with this sacrificed Jesus now have hope: The hope of life.
The Apostle Paul wrote that "if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him" (Rom. 6:8). God's raising of Jesus from the dead means that He also will raise those who follow Jesus (cf. Rom. 8:11). "Brothers," he wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, "we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (i.e. die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him" (1 Thess. 4:13,14, NIV).
This is the beginning and the end of the good news. Jesus the Christ has died for us, and has risen for us. The death and resurrection of Christ is the gospel message. See 1 Corinthians 15:3,4. Because Jesus lives, we can live too if we follow him. Death will be defeated (1 Cor. 15:54,55). We will be raised to eternal life like Jesus.
Eternal life is God's precious gift through Jesus. But there's more. You see, this promise of life eternal profoundly changes the present. If we are convinced that suffering and death are not the final word, we can look at the world in an entirely different way. We can know that this is not the way things are supposed to be. Something has gone horribly wrong in the universe. Evil and sin (offence against God and others) have entered the picture, but they will be eradicated. Evil and death will be defeated.
This hope transforms our current sufferings into redemptive suffering. We now suffer the consequences of evil not as helpless victims, but as victors with a purpose. We share in Jesus' sufferings (Rom. 8:17) and participate in his self-sacrifice (Heb. 13:13-16). This means that our suffering can now absorb the violence and the evil and transform it (Rom. 12:21). When we suffer, it is for a higher cause: God's Truth. When we are wronged we can forgive, because God first forgave us in Jesus Christ: "Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13, NIV). This divine love and forgiveness transforms our lives and helps further to give us meaning. Jesus' example clearly shows that meaning is found in self-sacrifice and service to God and others (cf. Phil. 2:5-8).
So the follower of Christ is promised not only life after death, but a higher quality of life now. This higher quality involves a greater potential to cope with our problems and draw strength from the Healer of our souls. "I have come that they may have life," Jesus said, "and have it to the full" (John 10:10, NIV).
That is God's promise, and that is the good news. If you have not yet responded to that good news and sought God through Jesus Christ, please consider doing so today. Feel free to respond by E-mail with any questions. Jesus has promised to make a difference in your life, both now and in eternity. Turn to him and be saved from sin and death.