Over the past several years I have been thinking through how the term gospel is used in the Bible. It has a narrow form and a broad meaning in the Scriptures. The narrow, and very true form, is represented by texts such as 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 which reads:
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. 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...
This is clearly the gospel of the church that followed Jesus on his mission into this world after his resurection. However, the gospel has a broad form that requires much more context of understanding that a mere few sentences, points or laws. One rather jarring passage in the New Testament that points to the broader story in Scripture being called "the gospel" is found in Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia. Now don't misunderstand me, the gospel Paul preached, and the Galatians are reminded not to abandon, is the apostolic preaching summed up in 1 Corinthians 15. Yet in Galatians three we find a wonderful indication that this gospel has a much more looming history (and future) than some acknowledge:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
So in some very true and profound way Abraham had the gospel preached to him in the Abrahamic covenant; the promise God made to Abraham that in him, all the nations should be blessed. So the gospel holds as its pinnacle jewel, the death, burial and resurection of Jesus for sinners. This jewel is the center of the gospel and the center of history; but the good news has a much broader historical and futurical (future history) scope.
In communicating this story many have taken the tact to present the gospel in a narrative form. Something which does not talk very long to communicate. Here is my simple attempt...if you read it aloud you will find that it does not take very long at all:
I would summarize the gospel as the story of the one Creator God, making all things, space, time, matter, energy in order to display his nature to his creatures. God created human beings in his own image and likeness to know him, love him, and reflect his character in the world to one another for their joy and his glory. Our first parents then gave God the proverbial Heisman, choosing to live life their way rather than God’s way. They turned away from God and his provision for them, disobeying his commandments and thereby bringing fracture in their relationship with God, one another, and creation. God in his grace set about to redeem a people back to himself and has pursued us throughout history to this end. He promised in the very early days to send a human being, a seed of a woman to bring people back to God, reconciling them to himself and all things (Gen 3:15). Throughout history he communicated with us and connected with us through prophets, men called to speak God’s message to humanity. He made covenants with his people that would culminate the in his sending of his own Son to the earth. He would be a Jewish person, the offspring of Abraham (Gen 12, 15). He would fulfill God’s commandments perfectly satisfying the demands of the law completely and live without sin (Heb 4.15). He would be a king to his people (2 Sam 7) guiding them into a life of love, joy and peace. He would teach us the truth, show us perfected humanity, and ultimately die to pay the penalty for our own rebellion and sin. This person, Jesus, gave his life for us in what Martin Luther called the great exchange. Our sin was placed on him as he took our deserved judgment and punishment by dying on a cross. We then receive his righteousness, a favor and good name before God the Father (2 Corinthians 5.16-21). We are thereby forgiven, brought back into relationship with God, our guilt is removed, God’s wrath no longer is upon us, and we now become his followers and agents of reconciliation in the world. We receive all of this by his grace; none of it is earned by our works or actions. God will someday bring his kingdom in fullness where Jesus will completely and finally bring an end to all evil and usher in an eternal age of life and peace for all who follow him. Those who persist in rebellion against God will face his justice for all which was done in this life.
Of course more could be said than I have here, but the essence of the broader gospel story is there. As a guy who did not come to faith until I was almost 20, seeing the big picture of God's work in the gospel has been very helpful to me understanding what God has done, has promised, is doing and will do in the eschatology.
In my next post here I will share a little diagram we came up with last week when speaking to college students and our little church here in New Jersey. I hope it may give you great appreciation for the gospel and a compassion to connect God's story with others who may be interested in the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).