Though many people are familiar with the word gospel, we’re often fuzzy about its content. What exactly is “the gospel” and why is it good news? Many popular gospel presentations distill the gospel message down to three or four core principles. These simple summaries can be very helpful. But a richer way to understand the gospel is as a story—the true Story that speaks to our purest aspirations and deepest longings. This Great Story has four chapters.
CREATION: THE WORLD WE WERE MADE FOR
The Story begins, not with us, but with God. Deep down, we have a sense that this is true. We sense that we are important—that there is something dignified, majestic, and eternal about humanity. But we also know that we are not ultimate. Something (or Someone) greater than us exists.
The Bible tells us that this Someone is the one infinite, eternal, and unchanging God who created all things out of nothing (Genesis 1:1-31). This one God exists in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Because God is Triune in his being, he wasn’t motivated to create the world because he needed something—be it relationship, worship, or glory. Rather, he created out of the overflow of his perfection—his own love, goodness, and glory. God made human beings in his image (Genesis 1:27), which is what gives us our dignity and value. He also made us human, which means we are created beings, dependent on our Creator. We were made to worship, enjoy, love, and serve him, not ourselves.
In God’s original creation, everything was good. The world existed in perfect peace, stability, harmony, and wholeness.
FALL: THE CORRUPTION OF EVERYTHING
God created us to worship, enjoy, love, and serve him. But rather than live under God’s authority, humanity turned away from God in sinful rebellion (Genesis 3:1-7; Isaiah 53:6). Our defection plunged the whole world into the darkness and chaos of sin. Though vestiges of good remain, the wholeness and harmony of God’s original creation is shattered.
As a result, all human beings are sinners by nature and by choice (Ephesians 2:1-3). We often excuse our sin by claiming that we’re “not that bad”—after all, we can always find someone worse than we are! But this evasion only reveals our shallow and superficial view of sin. Sin is not primarily an action; it’s a disposition. It’s our soul’s aversion to God. Sin is manifested in our pride, our selfishness, our independence, and our lack of love for God and others. Sometimes sin is very obvious and external; other times it’s hidden and internal. But “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Sin brings two drastic consequences into our lives. First, sin enslaves us (Romans 6:17-18). When we turn from God, we turn to other things to find our life, our identity, our meaning, and our happiness. These things become substitute gods—what the Bible calls idols—and they soon enslave us, demanding our time, our energy, our loyalty, our money—everything we are and have. They begin to rule over our lives and hearts. This is why the Bible describes sin as something that “masters” us (Romans 6:14). Sin causes us to “serve created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).
Second, sin brings condemnation. We’re not just enslaved by our sin; we’re guilty because of it. We stand condemned before the Judge of heaven and earth. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We are under a death sentence for our cosmic treason against the holiness and justice of God. His righteous anger toward sin stands over us (Nahum 1:2; John 3:36).
REDEMPTION: JESUS COMES TO SAVE US
Every good story has a hero. And the hero of the Gospel Story is Jesus. Humanity needs a Savior, a Redeemer, a Deliverer to free us from the bondage and condemnation of sin and to restore the world to its original good. This Rescuer must be truly human in order to pay the debt we owe to God. But he can’t be merely human because he must conquer sin. We need a Substitute—one who can live the life of obedience we’ve failed to live, and who can stand in our place to bear the punishment we deserve for our disobedience and sin.
This is why God sent Jesus into the world to be our substitute (1 John 4:14). The Bible teaches that Jesus was fully God—the second person of the Trinity—and also fully human. He was born to a human mother, lived a real flesh-and-blood existence, and died a brutal death on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God (Hebrews 4:15), making him the only person in history who did not deserve judgment. But on the cross, he took our place, dying for our sin. He received the condemnation and death we deserve so that, when we put our trust in him, we can receive the blessing and life he deserves (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Not only did Jesus die in our place, he rose from death, displaying his victory over sin, death, and hell. His resurrection is a decisive event in history; the Bible calls it the “first fruits”—the initial evidence—of the cosmic renewal God is bringing (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). One of the greatest promises in the Bible is Revelation 21:5: “Behold, I am making all things new.” All that was lost, broken, and corrupted in the fall will ultimately be put right. Redemption doesn’t simply mean the salvation of individual souls; it means the restoring of the whole creation back to its original good.
A NEW PEOPLE: THE STORY CONTINUES
So how do we become a part of the story? How do we experience God’s salvation personally and become agents of his redemption in the world? By faith or trust (Ephesians 2:8-9). What does that mean? We trust a taxi driver when we count on him to get us to our destination. We trust a doctor when we agree with her diagnosis and entrust ourselves to her care. And we trust in Jesus Christ when we admit our sin, receive his gracious forgiveness, and rest entirely in Jesus for our acceptance before God. Faith is like getting in the taxi. It’s like going under the surgeon’s knife. It’s a restful, whole-hearted commitment of the self to Jesus (Psalm 31:14-15). This is what it means to believe the gospel.
When we trust in Jesus, we are released from sin’s condemnation and from its bondage. We are free to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God. We are free to die to ourselves and live for Christ and his purposes. We are free to work for justice in the world. We are free to stop living for our own glory and start living for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are free to love God and others in the way we live.
God has promised that Jesus will return to finally judge sin and make all things new. Until then, he is gathering to himself a people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). As part of that called-and-sent people, we have the privilege of joining him in his mission (Matthew 28:18-20) as individuals and as part of his spiritual family. By grace, we can enjoy God, live life for his glory, serve humanity, and make his gospel known to others through our words and actions.
This is the good news—the True Story—of the gospel.
(from The Gospel-Centered Life by Robert H. Thune and Will Walker)
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