What the Gospel isn’t
I mentioned in my last post that there are many different ways that people define the Gospel. To truly understand the Gospel, you need to know exactly what it isn’t, so in this post, I’d like to share a few things that are important to know that the Gospel isn’t:
The Gospel isn’t…
- A promise of prosperity – The Gospel doesn’t promise us that once we accept Christ into our lives that we will live a long, happy and healthy life. I’m not saying you won’t, but there is nothing in the Gospel that says you will. The very fact that our Savior died one of the most unimaginable deaths possible should remove that promise out of the equation for us – but even if it didn’t, Jesus Himself said in John 16:33 that in this world we would have trouble (not riches and happiness – trouble).
It’s a growing theme today in the church to promise that Christianity will make all your troubles fade away, and that’s why I believe it is important for me to tell you otherwise. Accepting Christ’s work on our behalf doesn’t change anything about the world that we live in. There will still be bills to pay and people who sin against us. We live in a fallen world, nothing will change that. However, when we accept Christ’s work on the cross, we know that this world isn’t all there is. We know that while we might be merely surviving in this life, that we will be safe in eternity. While we might not prosper here, we will be welcomed into God’s kingdom when we die and be eternally happy (Rev. 21:4).
God’s gift to us is far better than earthly riches that will pass away. When we understand that, we can set our minds on things above – things yet to come (Col. 3:2).
- A list of rules or required actions – Colossians 2:16 says that believers shouldn’t let anyone judge them based on what they eat or drink, by the religious festivals, New Moon celebrations or Sabbath days that they do or don’t observe. The reason for this is that there is no one act or combination of acts that you can perform or avoid to earn salvation. It doesn’t matter if you read your Bible every morning before the sun comes up, celebrate Passover instead of Easter, or go to church every weekend, the Gospel isn’t a to-do list. While those might be good things to do, they won’t save your soul, and they are not the Gospel.
This might step on some toes, but since the Gospel isn’t a list of rules or required actions, and not something that we can earn, it isn’t a prayer that we pray either. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that if you repeat after me you will be saved – Jesus never said that and neither did anyone else. I’m not saying you can’t be saved if you did say one of those prayers, I’m just saying that saying a prayer doesn’t save you – that isn’t the Gospel at all.
I absolutely love the words written in 1 Samuel 16:7: “Man looks at outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” You see, it isn’t so much what we say or do, or even what we appear to be, but it’s what is in our hearts that God really cares about. Yes, Jesus did say that if we love Him we will obey His commandments (John 14:15), however even if we truly believe that whatever rules we follow are because we want to glorify God Proverbs 21:2 tells us that all of our ways seem right to us, but God weighs our hearts. He knows if we are trying to earn our salvation or acting out of love for Him. It’s that simple. No act we can perform will gain us the salvation of the Gospel, but if we truly love God, we will try to act in a way that pleases Him, knowing that if we fail, He will forgive us because the price for our failure has already been paid.
The bottom line is that the Gospel isn’t something that you can earn or a promise of earthly things. It’s a gift of grace from our Creator (Eph. 2:8).
- A license to sin – While the Gospel isn’t a list of requirements, it’s also not an excuse to do things we know are against God’s will. Once we accept Christ and start learning more about who He is and what He has asked of us, we will want to do things that please Him. Knowing that we will be forgiven if we fail, out of love for God we will purposely try to please Him.
When you truly love someone, you want to make them happy – you want to make them smile. It’s true that you might not be able to do that all the time, but you want to. If you don’t care what they think or say, then it isn’t real love. When we love God, we can’t help but care about what He wants. When we accept the Gospel, we do so out of love for God and what He did for us. This means that we will not use it as an excuse to sin because we know we’re forgiven, but instead, have a growing desire to please Him with our thoughts and actions (1 John 5:3).
Here’s how the apostle Paul wrote it in his letter to the Romans (6:1-4):
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
When we accept Jesus’ work on the cross, we start a new life – a life where we strive to please God out of love. Not continue to sin because we know we are forgiven. Sure, we will never be perfect, and will always struggle with sin – it’s human nature – but we will love God more than sin, and desire to honor Him.
- Temporary, old-fashioned, or outdated – Another thing the Gospel isn’t is ending. Christ died one time, for all time. There is no limit to the number of sins His blood will cover, and nothing will ever come along that will replace His saving work on the cross. The author of Hebrews pointed out that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8) What He did for us will never change, and His love for us that prompted Him to offer us the free gift of salvation will never change either.
We will never be able to out-sin God’s love. The blood that Christ shed on the cross didn’t have an expiration date or a sin limit. It wasn’t a temporary solution for those people who needed a leg up to doing it on their own. It was a permanent covering for those who admit they are sinners and could never make it on their own.
What Christ did will never go out of style, because it was never stylish to begin with. We will never need something new or trendier to take the place of His work, and we don’t need a new message that is easier for us to relate to or cooler to tell our friends about. The Gospel has always been offensive. I mean, God became a man and allowed the people He created to brutally kill Him. That’s not the kind of thing that’s cool to do, but He did it because He loved us. His sinless blood covered the sins of the world, and that is all that was needed then, and all that will ever be needed for the forgiveness of sins.
Not only will Christ’s work on the cross last forever, but the work it does in our lives is unending as well. The Gospel isn’t a onetime thing that you experience and then move on from. It doesn’t save us from our sins and then simply stop applying to us. We need the Gospel every single day of our lives. It’s where our hope comes from.
The New Testament is full of reminders about the Gospel written to believers. Reminders of what Christ did, why it mattered, and how it should affect them. If you believe the Gospel for the truth that it is, it will affect everything about the way you live your life, the way you see the world, and the way you react to the things that happen.
The Gospel is an eternal gift from God promising us that Christ has paid the punishment for our sins so that we can spend eternity with Him.
Comprehending the Gospel
So if the promise of the Gospel isn’t something we can earn, how do we begin to comprehend it? Here’s something that the apostle Paul wrote to help the Ephesians understand:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. …For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (2:1, 4-5, & 8-10)
That isn’t exclusive to Ephesians, but each of the letters that was written to believers in the Bible has the theme that we are sinners, and are saved by the grace of God. We’re not saved by good works, but for good works. Here’s another verse that Paul wrote, this time to Titus:
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” (sound familiar?) “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy… so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (3:3-5, 7)
Have you ever had someone give you something just because? Not because it was your birthday, they felt you deserved it, or because they wanted something in return, but just because they were thinking about you and wanted to show you how much they cared? That’s the Gospel. We don’t deserve it, we didn’t earn it, there’s no practical reason that we should have it, but God loved us so much that He gave it to us anyway.
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:15).