The word "gospel" is used over and over within Christianity; yet, in my conversations with many many Christians, I have discovered most have an incomplete understanding of the gospel. I believe with all my heart that our heavenly Father passionately desires that those who have been saved by the gospel understand the gospel that has saved them. So what is the gospel?
In the original Greek language, the word gospel means "good news". We find the word gospel used in the Bible both before the crucifixion of Jesus and following his resurrection. It is important this distinction is made between these two uses of the word "gospel" if we are to fully understand what the word "gospel" means when it is used before the crucifixion and after the resurrection of Jesus.
First, let's take a look at the word "gospel" as it is used before the crucifixion of Jesus, specifically in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Often, when we hear the word "gospel", we automatically assume it is referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, the word "gospel" in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is not referring to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but to the Kingdom of Heaven he was coming to establish on earth. Consistently, the phrase "the gospel of the kingdom" or the "good news of the kingdom" is used in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to refer to the coming of Jesus as a King to wear a crown and to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
The Old Testament prophets foretold of a Messiah or Christ who would come and establish God's kingdom on earth. Isaiah 9 speaks of this coming Messiah, this King who would come and rule the earth in righteousness and peace. The kingdom he would establish would be one of joy, healing, wholeness, safety, and love. Peace would flow all over the world. When this King ruled, there would be no more hunger, no more hurting, no more death, no more disease, no more pain, no more problems, no more heartache, etc...it would be the world we all long for in our hearts (and it is coming!).
The prophet Micah, in Micah 5:2, said this King would be born in Bethlehem. Most of our songs at Christmas refer to this coming King. Many of the hymns and modern worship songs sung in church refer to this coming King. Many of the songs we hear on Christian radio stations refer to the coming King.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record the birth, life, death, and resurrection of this King. His name? Jesus! Before his crucifixion, Jesus, along with his disciples, went out sharing the good news of the kingdom. They spoke of the kingdom of heaven being near. To confirm the validity of the kingdom and that he was the King, he performed miracles. These miracles were pictures of what life would be like in his kingdom.
The sharing of the "gospel of the kingdom" or the "good news of the kingdom" was the best news the people could hear. The King who was to come and establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth was here! Yet, we find in John 19, the denial of Jesus as the King and the calling for his death. But, this crucified King arose from the dead with a mighty resurrection and will one day return to establish his kingdom of peace on earth. The good news of the kingdom still exists and we await for his return to rule as King over all the earth...thy kingdom come!
Now, let's take a look at the second use of the word "gospel". The second use of the word "gospel" is used consistently following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The word "gospel" following the crucifixion and resurrection is used in the phrase "gospel of grace (Acts 20:24)" or the good news about all that God freely did for us through the crucifixion and resurrection to reconcile us to himself in a love relationship. The word "gospel" when used in the books of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, etc...refer to the glorious riches of God's grace freely given to us by God through Jesus and are received by faith.
We can best sum up the use of the word "gospel" in the following statements:
To become a part of of the Jesus' kingdom, we must receive by faith Jesus' grace. To experience the good news of the kingdom we must receive the good news of grace by faith.
So what is the gospel of grace?
The gospel of grace is EVERYTHING God did for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus to bring us into his kingdom, leaving us NOTHING to do but only to receive by faith what Jesus has already done for us (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The gospel or good news about grace is that all of our sins were counted against Jesus at the cross and through faith in Jesus we can be reconciled to God and become totally righteous before him (Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). The good news of the gospel is that through faith in Jesus we experience total forgiveness of all our sins (Colossians 2:13-14), declared by God to be righteous or innocent before him, are under no condemnation (Romans 8:1), at peace with God (Romans 5:1-2), God remembers our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12; Hebrews 10:17-18), and we are now members of God's family of grace (Ephesians 2:19-22). The gospel of grace is that through the resurrection we have been made alive with Jesus and seated with Jesus in heaven (Ephesians 2:1-9). We are no longer under the law but are now under grace (Romans 6:14). We have been released from the law and now the Spirit of Jesus lives in us and we call God our loving Father (Galatians 4:4-6).
So what is the gospel?
It all depends upon what part of the Bible you are reading. If you are reading in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the gospel is Jesus coming to wear a crown as King. If you are reading in Acts, Romans, Galatians, etc..., the gospel is Jesus bearing a cross as Savior.
I hope this helps you understand the word "gospel" more fully, and as a result, God's word better.