Over the next few weeks, I will be going through the basic elements of the gospel. This is the first post in a four-post series on the message of God’s salvation of sinners. Today’s post will look at the need for such a discussion with subsequent posts over the next few Fridays.
Suppose you were in a conversation with someone and they told you they had been studying world religions. This guy is not a scholar, but he is genuinely curious about religion, God, the afterlife, and things of a spiritual/religious nature. He never has been a religious kind of guy, but all of a sudden he has been intrigued by the thought of the possibility of a God. So, knowing you are the “religious type” since you go to church, this guy begins to just chat about different religions he has been looking at. He begins to share some of the core beliefs of a few of the world’s major religions (i.e. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.). His knowledge is very basic, so you add your comment when you feel you know a little about this and that.
“Yeah, I’ve heard of Muhammad,” you may say.
“Yeah, I think Hindus believe in multiple gods,” you interject.
You are not embarrassed that you have little to no knowledge about the five pillars of Islam though. And there is some river in India that is supposed to make you righteous? Oh, cool, but whatever. It is no skin off your nose that you did not know that about that foreign religion. Casual conversation. Nothing personal.
However, suppose this person then says,
“I cannot remember much about Christianity, but I do remember a word that was different from the other religions—gospel. You are a Christian, right? Have you ever heard of this word, gospel? And do you know what it is?”
“Of course I have and I absolutely know what it means,” you loudly and defensively respond hoping and praying that he doesn’t ask you just one more question…”Well then, what is the gospel?”
This situation is far too common among Christians today and if it isn’t, then that is because many fear of such a situation occurring. But why is that? As Christians, we hear this word all the time. Gospel. Gospel music. Gospel worship. Gospel preaching. Gospel reading. “The Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” “The gospel of Jesus Christ.” “Gospel-centered church.” People say, “I want to live a “gospel-centered life with a gospel-centered marriage with gospel-centered children in a gospel-centered home serving in a gospel-centered church.” Gospel. Gospel. Gospel. We hear the word so much in evangelicalism that we are almost numb to it. I mean, is gospel an adjective or noun? Is it an event, person, or message? Where is it found in the Bible? We ought to know what it is. Surely we do. But how often do we fear (dreadfully fear sometimes) someone asking us a very simple question,
“Hey [insert name], what is the gospel?”
This is a question that is so simple it is dumbfounding to the Christian. If there ever existed a ground level, drawing board, first step, initial, basic, fundamental question for the entire concept of Christianity, it is this. What is the gospel? I mean it is the gospel that separates Christianity from every other world religion. No other religion has anything remotely like it. The gospel is Christianity’s beauty mark. Christianity’s distinct flavor has the gospel as its central ingredient. Therefore, if there is any question that all Christians should be able to quickly, confidently, and clearly answer, it is this basic, simple question: What is the gospel?
However, there are countless answers that are typically given when this question is asked. In fact, if you surveyed ten Christians, you may end up with ten different answers. Some will answer, “The gospel is Jesus.” Others will reply, “The gospel is believing in Jesus to be saved from your sin.” Still yet, there are those who will say, “The gospel is God’s love for us.” How about, “The gospel is Jesus’ death for us all?” There are even those who say, “The gospel is the example all people now have to live by.” Multiple answers. Multiple viewpoints. All coming from one central message in a divine-inspired book called the Bible.
This is a problem.
At the heart of Christianity is the gospel. The gospel is the most essential reality in life. The gospel is the central theme of the entire Bible. Therefore, Christians who all claim to have been converted to the faith by the gospel, must have a clear understanding of what the gospel is. To the question, “What is the Gospel?” Christians need to have an answer; but not just any answer. Christians need to give a true, biblical, and clear answer. I think the essence of the problem is that once we have the gospel preached to us and we believe in Christ and repent of our sin; we feel that we no longer need the gospel and so we are rarely reminded of it. As a result, many God-loving Christians honestly do not know how to articulate the message that reconciled them to God in the first place. I believe this problem can be easily solved by returning to the fundamentals.
In a sport like basketball, when a team is going through a terrible slump and it seems that the team has totally forgotten their identity, something must be done. A coach cannot simply sit back and allow his team to shoot 25% from the field and turn the ball over 20 times per game. This team needs to (along with running their guts out for about an hour or two!) get back to the basics. This team needs to return to some basic passing drills. Some basic drills to refine some stagnant skills would be a great refresher to jolt this team back to playing well.
Likewise, Christians who cannot answer a fundamental question to the faith with clarity and confidence need to return to the basics. We need to run gospel drills. We need to review basic concepts, terminology, and truths that may have been forgotten in the hustle and bustle of life. These truths, terminology, and concepts will refresh the soul and usher believers into a realization of the faith we hold and the God we love. It is my prayer that through these basic theological “layups,” “free throws,” and “passing drills” over the next few weeks, we will all marvel at the grace of our holy God in the beautifully bloody work of Christ on the cross.
The focus prayer throughout the course of this series is that of David, the redeemed adulterer:
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12).
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.