The gospel is a mystery. Or, at least, it was a mystery. Now much of it is still rather mysterious, and some of it is not.
So, since the gospel was and can be so mysterious, it seems wise, in trying to explore and explain the gospel, to weed out some of the things that the gospel is not, but is often mistaken to be.
THE GOSPEL IS NOT:
1) That Jesus died for your sins. It is true that Jesus died for your sins. It is also true that this is part of the gospel. But, this commonly repeated canned definition of the gospel seriously limits the gospel message, and misses the most important part of the gospel: the resurrection. In fact, a survey of the gospel sermons in Acts (there are about eleven of them) reveals that the primary message of those early gospel preachers was that Jesus rose for your sins. Death is certainly necessary for a resurrection to take place, and we cannot downplay the importance of the blood of Christ in God’s scheme of redemption, but it was the resurrection that all those sermons appealed to as the basis of salvation. The good news of the gospel is that Death will not win (more on that in future posts).
2) Belief in Jesus. Though John 3:16 and other clear passages tell us that those who believe in Jesus will be saved, what the New Testament writers intend to mean by using the word “believe” is actually “faith.” There is a big gap between believing in Jesus and being faithful to Jesus, at least the way we use the words in contemporary language (there was no difference in the common language of Jesus’ day). We believe in ghosts, UFOs, Big Foot, and even God. What we mean, though, is that we believe they exist. That’s not what the Bible means when it speaks of belief. To believe or have faith in Jesus means to trust that He is powerful enough to save (evidenced by His resurrection), and to commit to living life the way He directs (and the way He lived). John 3:16 might be better understood if it read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever is faithful to him should not perish but have eternal life.”
3) Everything in the New Testament. This should be very clear, but it is so often overlooked. Jesus began preaching the gospel during His lifetime, before a word of the New Testament was ever written (the word is used by Jesus and as a description of His activity/preaching fourteen times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke…and, interestingly, not at all in John). Though they did not have Paul’s letters giving instructions about how the church is governed, nor Acts giving examples of how the early church operated, nor Hebrews explaining the intricacies of the relationship between the old and new covenants, the crowds who received Jesus’ teaching still heard the gospel. Indeed, even the early church began and functioned quite some time without the benefit of the New Testament documents and their detailed instructions and explanations. But, they were obviously not without the gospel.
The problem, here, comes when we take instructions in the New Testament that are good and godly but that are not gospel and we make them conditions of fellowship (“I will not treat him like a brother unless he agrees with ______.”), or, worse, conditions of salvation (“I will not consider him a brother unless he agrees with ______.”) And, certainly, the gospel message is contained within the pages of the New Testament (and not just in the “Gospels”). But, the problem is that the gospel is the power of salvation, not the rest of the instructions and examples of the New Testament.
So, now that we have what the gospel isn’t cleared away, perhaps we can explore what the gospel is with fewer obstacle in our way.