What the Gospel Is and What the Gospel Does

by Mike Ratliff

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV)

I had a retort this morning concerning my last post., Emergent Fallacies and the Dummying Down of the Church, which sent me back to my own time of God drawing me out of the darkness into the truth. The person attempted to derail the content or focus of that article by implying that God could save people any way He wanted so why should we be so narrow and judgmental. The one complaining insisted that he knew of many people that were “emergent,” but who loved the Lord and were excited about serving him, et cetera. However, they would not fit the mold of what I would define as Christian. The reason that sent me back to my own time of renewal in 2004 was that I remember that very statement coming across my lips in my excitement of what God was doing in me. I remember it like it was just the other day proclaiming to my wife that God could save any one any way He chose and we were wrong in placing limits in our theology on this. However, I did not hold to that fallacy very long. In fact, it was less than six months later that I went through an intensive study of theology and from that I gained a more precise understanding of the Gospel, what it is and what it does, and why this is the one and only way God has designed to save His people. 

1γνωριζω δε υμιν αδελφοι το ευαγγελιον ο ευηγγελισαμην υμιν ο και παρελαβετε εν ω και εστηκατε (1 Corinthians 15:1WHNU)

The Apostle Paul defined the gospel for us throughout his writings in the New Testament. I would like to start in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. I placed vv1-2 at the top of this post. In v1 he tells us that he is going to define the Gospel (ευαγγελιον) as a process. In this process, the Gospel must be proclaimed (ευηγγελισαμην) and through this some who hear it will receive it and it is their very foundation. I pray that you noticed the similarities between the two Greek words above. The word ευαγγελιον is Greek for “a good message” or “the good news.” The word ευηγγελισαμην literally means “announce good news.” It is the word from which we get our English word “evangelize.” Notice also that those who hear the good news and are saved by it also stand (εστηκατε) within it because it is their foundation. This Greek word means “you stand” They abide in the covenant of the Gospel because it is now their foundation.

2δι ου και σωζεσθε τινι λογω ευηγγελισαμην υμιν ει κατεχετε εκτος ει μη εικη επιστευσατε (1 Corinthians 15:2 WHNU)

The Gospel is that which has the power to save us (σωζεσθε). It needs to be held fast (κατεχετε) not changed. The picture here is that those who believe the Gospel are not only changed by it, it becomes their foundation, and they assume control of it by holding it fast and never allowing it to be changed by false teachers because this is what Paul preached to them (ευηγγελισαμην) and it was through this process that these results came to bear among the Corinthians. The last part of v2 is the contrast. He tells us that if we allow the Gospel to be altered to the point that we abandon the truth (unless we have believed in vain ει μη εικη επιστευσατε). If the Gospel is abandoned like this then all future work will be in vain. These two verses define the process of the Gospel. Now let’s look at the content.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-10 ESV)

In v3 Paul reiterates that the Gospel needed to be proclaimed, and he did it. The Gospel is the most important thing and what he proclaimed was not changed from what he had received. In other words, the Gospel Paul preached was the same Gospel that had saved him. Now he tells us what the Gospel is.

  • Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3)
  • he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4)
  • and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:5) Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:7) Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:8)
  • For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9)
  • But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10 )

In these five main points of Paul’s Gospel definition we see that Christ’s death was a propitionary sacrifice (the doctrine of Penal Substitution) to pay sin’s penalty, which is exactly what the Bible says is needed. Our Lord really did bodily die. It was not figurative. However, He did not stay dead, but was resurrected and is alive now. He did not swoon on the Cross and revive in the tomb. He died and was raised from the dead, which is exactly what the Bible prophesied. His appearing to the apostles and others was convincing proof of that reality. Notice that he appeared to others outside of the inner circle including more than 500 brothers at one time. The way Paul wrote this, he is suggesting to the Corinthians that if they have doubts about the veracity of the Gospel, they could go check with those who are still alive who witnessed it.

Paul then comes to his own conversion. Even though the Lord was raised and ascended before Paul’s conversion, Paul proclaims that he too saw Jesus appear to him. Notice that Paul also proclaimed that he was totally unworthy of this. He had no merit for the gift of salvation. In fact, like all of us who are in Christ, we deserve the opposite, but instead, we are given grace. However, by God’s grace we are all changed and Paul uses himself as an example. True salvation is eternally, irrevocably, life-changing. It changes our desires, making us different. This is not according to self will or self-strength, but by God’s power.

That is the content of Paul’s description of what the Gospel is. Then in v11 He returns back to the process.

Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:11 ESV)

The Gospel is as Paul defined it, but it is also a process that works a specific way. It is preached and those who hear and believe are saved. In Romans 1:1-5 we have a more encapsulated explanation of the Gospel.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (Romans 1:1-5 ESV)

This is a summary of the two-stage life of our Lord Jesus Christ. The first stage leads up to His death on the Cross then the second stage is a second life when He was raised up in glory by God’s Spirit. Our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s promised Messiah who was risen from the dead. Just as Romans 1:1-5 summarizes the content of the Gospel we find the effect of believing the Gospel summarized in Romans 1:16-17.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

The Emergents and all those who preach a diluted or changed gospel have violated Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 in that they have edited or changed it beyond all recognition. When they do that they remove it from the power that is inherent in the Gospel preached by one who has believed and been changed by it. He will not be about finding peace between Christians and those of other religions. He will not be about remaking the earth or trying to make the world a better place temporally. No, He or she will be all about not being ashamed of the real and unchanged Gospel for it and it alone is God’s plan for saving His people. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. For in it alone is the righteousness of God revealed from faith for faith. Those who believe and are changed by the Gospel according to the will of God will be declared righteous as they are justified by faith. They will then live by this faith just as the Corinthians did in embracing and abiding in it as their foundation.

The Gospel is defined very well for us in God’s Word. It is the one and only way God has set up to save His people. If it is messed with or edited in any way then it is no longer the Gospel. However, the false versions of the gospel can be used by those pushing them to fool untold numbers of people to believe their lies and follow another Jesus proclaiming another gospel. This was going on in the 1st Century and is most certainly going on in our time. Just because people make professions of faith that they are Christians does not mean they are. Only those who have heard and believed the real Gospel which is all about the real Jesus Christ are truly saved.

Soli Deo Gloria!

9 thoughts on “What the Gospel Is and What the Gospel Does

  1. Wow, Brother Mike. Reading your article “is like deja vu all over again” to quote that armchair theologian, Yogi Berra. Though my text for this morning’s message is Romans 3:26-31 (“The Law of Faith”), my sermon notes mention the means in which God imparts, gifts, grows, & works faith in those He is calling by His grace… sending saved sinners to preach the good news according to God’s Word. And tonight’s Bible study is in the last portion of John 6, where I will be teaching, among other things, who are the true disciples of Christ. Thanks for your faithfulness to the gospel, my dear friend.

  2. Hi Mike,
    This was very good! Your sentence in the last paragraph, “It is the one and only way God has set up to save His people,” reminded me of something I read a while ago about John 3:16 and the word- so, in the phrase “For God so loved the world.” You can let me know if it is correct or not. I always thought that phrase described the great quantity or magnitude of His love for us. That God loves so much that all will be saved or that God is love and loves us unconditionally. I read somewhere recently that the word “so” in the greek can mean or does mean: this is how, or, in this way. Is that correct? Would the phrase then read something like this: In this manner or in this way God loved the world that He sent His son, etc. The way He loved the world was through Christ and the cross and those are the terms in which you receive His love. It is His determined way to save us and His way He loves us–the cross. We don’t get to come to our God of love any way we wish.
    That helps me understand how to God wants me to love others. Am I meeting the real needs of those I love? Am I purposefully intending to be of help? Am I loving sinners? That really convicted me this morning. Maybe we have some Christians in our lives we don’t feel are really worthy of that kind of love from us.
    Also, I was reading Matthew Henry’s comment on John 3:16 and thought this sentence was good: “If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own head.”
    God bless you!

  3. Good Afternoon Mike-

    I thought this was very good. I alway find it interesting when people say that we are narrow and judgemental when we quote from the Bible.

    ” The person attempted to derail the content or focus of that article by implying that God could save people any way He wanted so why should we be so narrow and judgmental.”

    God, said that this is the only way to save us from sin and death. He chose Jesus to die for our sins, not His own, because He is sinless. I’m sure if there was a better way, He would have done it.

    As you so clearly said, “The Gospel is defined very well for us in God’s Word. It is the one and only way God has set up to save His people. If it is messed with or edited in any way then it is no longer the Gospel.”

    You can’t say it any better than that!

    Thanks for your commitment to the truth,
    Dennis

  4. Pingback: The Two-Stage Christian Life « Possessing the Treasure

  5. Hi dear brother :-)
    Thank you once again for a great teaching.

    As you well know,in Romans 1:16 Paul states: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. I was so moved by the story I want to relay to you below, where the power of God unto Salvation is so evident. I have already shared it on the forum, that I belong to. It is just so wonderful to see the miracle of the Gospel at work in this story.

    My husband, Manny has been in Cape Town (I am from South Africa) since Tuesday on business, he came home yesterday morning full of the Lord’s life in his life – it is a joy to behold.

    Whenever he is in Cape Town, he always gets in touch with a dear brother, Paul, who is a coloured gentleman that the Lord joined us to two years ago and who lives in a very poor part of the area. He and his church are involved in the Lord’s work in his impoverished community. He is a delight and a joy to be with as he loves the Lord and we have both been so blessed by this. Manny will often visit him and his family in their home and has been to his church with him too. It is a very sweet fellowship for Paul and him.

    Paul is now involved in a soup kitchen and related this story to Manny..
    One evening after the food was finished he saw a Moslem gentleman hanging about and he initially felt a little uncomfortable as there are really so many bad things that go on in this community as well as good. There is a large Moslem community in Cape Town and many are involved in a group called PAGAD who are very militant and get out of hand at times as do so many similar groups across the world. Paul watched this guy nervously, who eventually he came over to speak to him and said, “Can I speak with you?” Paul said, “Sure” he then said to Paul, “Not here, somewhere private.” Paul said, “Sure.” When they went into a side room, this man said to Paul, “I want this Jesus, like you have him.” Paul was of course amazed and full of praise for the Lord and together with a few of the other believers, took him through the Gospel and said to him, “Is this Who you want?” He said, “Yes.” Paul then said “You know you have chosen a hard way, if you are looking for an easy walk, you are mistaken.” This man said, “I know, my father will throw me out of my home…” Paul said, “Yes, I know.”

    My heart is so full of love for this Lord of ours, He knows who are His sheep, and they hear his voice and they follow Him. I know the walk in front of this brother is a treacherous one, as is any Moslem who converts to Christianity. Honour killings go on here too. I ask that as the Lord leads, that you pray for this brother for the Lord to establish Himself deeply and solidly in his heart and life and quickly, and for the Lord to sustain him and protect him, and lastly that he will come back to see Paul again, who has not heard from him since.

    Gloria Soli Deo!!!

    Bless you :-D

  6. Thanks for sharing this Steph. Yes, I pray for the Lord to be with this new brother in the Lord. I rejoice in the ministry of Paul. The true way of the Lord is costly in the world’s eyes. There is no other way. – Soli Deo Gloria!

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