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What Is the Gospel?

by J.D. Greear

“Gospel” is one of those words that Christians often use but rarely define. “Gospel” is basically shorthand for the essential Christian message.

In Greek (the language the New Testament is written in), it translates to “good news.” Today, that word has almost exclusively religious connotations, but when Jesus and the apostles first started using it, it wasn’t a religious word at all.

If an emperor won a great battle, for example, he would send heralds out with a “gospel” about his victory. “I have good news,” the herald proclaimed. “The emperor has won a great battle—you no longer need to live in fear; you can be at peace.” The early Christians commandeered that word to describe the core Christian message.

King Jesus has won a battle on our behalf, and now we are invited to join in its victory and rest in its peace. This gospel announcement is the heart of Christianity.

We can get a lot of other things wrong, but if we get the gospel right, we have Christianity. Without it, whatever we have (no matter how much it resonates), we don’t.

So what is this gospel announcement?

Paul starts off the books of Romans with this short explanation. The gospel is the good news about...

• who Jesus is

• what He’s done

• what He brings

That’s how he organizes the book of Romans. Based on that, here’s a workable definition we can use, then, based on Paul’s teaching in Romans:

God, in an act of grace, sent His Son, Jesus, to earth as a man so that through His life, death, and resurrection He could rescue us, reign as King, and lead us into the eternal, full life we were created to enjoy.

Let’s break the first line of that down.


The gospel begins with God. God exists, and He’s been moving and speaking throughout history. That’s already a big claim, and we’re only one word in! an act of grace...

That word “grace” means “undeserved kindness.” Grace, properly understood, is what makes Christianity different from every other spiritual approach. Grace is the entire basis of the gospel: the melody line around which all other Christian truths are played.

...sent his Son, Jesus...

Or, as the apostle John explains it, God Himself became a man and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He did that so He could rescue us. The most important thing about Jesus is not what He taught but what He did. Paul’s letter to the Romans, in fact, speaks very little about what Jesus taught and a whole lot about what He did. It’s not what He taught that saved us, but what He did. The symbol of Christianity is not a lectern but a cross.

Christianity is, in its essence, a rescue religion. But—and this is what a lot of Christians, as well as non-believers, forget—the gospel is not just about what Jesus came to rescue you from, but what He came to rescue you for: the full, eternal life that we were created to enjoy. As Paul explains, the gospel restores us to the life we were made for all along.

This is an adapted extract from Essential Christianity by J.D. Greear, which draws on passages from Romans 1 to 12 to unpack the essential aspects of the Christian message, showing both secular and religious people what the gospel is and how it addresses our most pertinent questions.


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