“I have something to tell you. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” I’m sure someone has said that to you. I like to hear the bad news first to end on a positive note. But regardless of the sequence you prefer, one thing is certain: everyone likes good news.
The Bible tells us good news using the word “gospel.” We’ll look at what the Bible means by this word, why it’s necessary to address the “bad news” we all experience, and how Jesus brings this good news to us.
What Does “Gospel” Mean?
In the original Greek language of the New Testament, the word we translate as “gospel” literally means “good news.” Here’s a passage that makes this clear:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12 ESV)
This passage comes from the story of Jesus’ birth, when angels made this announcement to shepherds who were tending their sheep at night. As the angels said, this good news is wrapped up in the Person they’re speaking about.
The Gospel Introduces a Savior
The gospel is about a person, Jesus Christ. The angels call him the “Savior,” which helps us understand why Jesus is good news.
Earlier, an angel had come to a man named Joseph, telling him the name he should give the baby that was to be born to his pregnant fiancé, Mary. Mary was a virgin as the baby was miraculously conceived by God’s Spirit. The angel said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:12 ESV).
The name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name, which means, “the Lord saves.”
We often speak about “being saved” as the effect of hearing and believing this gospel message. However, salvation only makes sense in the context of danger. If you aren’t in danger, there is no point in being “saved.”
Suppose a friend broke through your front door one night, rushed up the stairs, swooped you out of bed, and quickly carried you out of the house into the street. After gaining your composure, you would ask him what the problem was that precipitated such a drastic action. If he told you there was nothing wrong, you would rightly be perplexed. Surely the house should be on fire or something life threatening must be happening for such a dramatic act?
If the good news is that Jesus is our Savior, this implies that there was a problem that he came to solve, a danger he came to save us from. In order to understand the gospel, we must know that danger.
The Gospel Solves Our Problem
The unified message of the Bible from its first book, Genesis, to its last, Revelation, is that humanity has a problem. Men and women have rebelled against their Creator; we have disobeyed God and denied his right as Lord over our lives. The Bible calls this “sin,” and it results in a broken relationship with our Maker.
Sin is a universal problem. No individual is immune. Just look around, or simply be honest with yourself about your own heart. This is how the Bible speaks about this universal condition of mankind: “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9 NIV). And again: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).
Unfortunately, sin results in both physical and spiritual death. This is what the Bible calls “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23 NIV). Death is a just penalty placed upon rebellious sinners by a righteous God, and ultimately results in eternal punishment, what the Bible calls “hell,” where we suffer for our sin.
In essence, the gospel assumes the bad news—actually really horrifying news. Put another way: you must first admit the bad news in order to embrace the good news.
The Gospel Is Good News
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that God has worked to solve this dire situation we all find ourselves in. We can explain this good news in two basic steps:
- God removes the penalty of our sin.
- God restores our relationship with him.
By sending his Son Jesus into the world, God provided someone who could take upon himself the penalty we deserve to pay for our sin. This is what Jesus did by dying on the cross. He died the death we all deserve to die. And only through this death can all our sins against God and others be forgiven.
Being fully human, Jesus can serve as our substitute before God; in being fully God, Jesus is able to pay our eternal debt.
However, it didn’t end there. Jesus rose from the dead, conquering death. So, both the spiritual consequences of our sin (God’s judgment) and the physical consequences (death) of our sin have been eternally dealt with. That is why the Bible says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV).
Not only does sin result in physical death, but it also results in spiritual death. Our relationship with God is broken when we rebel against him. This results in alienation from God. Yet, God graciously restores our relationship with him through faith in his Son. The Bible calls this reconciliation. It simply means that by trusting in Jesus’ work on our behalf, our relationship is renewed with our Maker.
This is why the Bible can say to believers in Jesus, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he [Jesus] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV).
Jesus’ resurrection signified that he overcame both spiritual and physical death. In rising from the dead, Jesus has assured those who trust in him that they too will be resurrected and granted eternal life with God, knowing that he who raised Jesus will raise them also with Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:14).
The Gospel Is a Gift
Perhaps the most incredible part of this good news is that it’s entirely free. It’s a gift given by God, motivated by his sheer kindness.
You need not work for it; you needn’t try to improve upon it; you don’t have to worry about somehow paying for it. Salvation is simply to be received as a gift. You must merely believe and trust in Jesus for it. The Bible calls this “faith.”
Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). Jesus ties together belief in the good news with repentance, or a change of mind. It’s turning from your sin to God and saying: “I am a sinner who needs Jesus, and I know that only Jesus can save me from my sin and make me right with God.”
Can there be anything better than knowing that you have an eternal debt that you cannot repay, yet which the Creditor—the one to whom you owe this debt—pays for himself? He relieves you of the burden; he sets you entirely free from any penalty or condemnation that would have come by not paying the debt yourself. He forgives you and reconciles you to himself. What good news!
The Gospel Is For Everyone
By sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, God made a way for us to be saved. God offers this message of hope and reconciliation to everyone, because everybody has the same spiritual problem.
That problem leads to death, and God’s just eternal punishment. Yet believers in Jesus have the assurance that Christ has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10 ESV).
Why did God do all this? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV, emphasis added).
Pick up the Bible and read for yourself about this wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ—a great place to go is the book of Romans, or read one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Pray to God and ask him to help you understand his Word and “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:1 NIV).