The word “gospel” is a common New Testament term that Christians also use frequently today. Phrases like “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” “preach the gospel,” and “spread the gospel” are frequently heard in sermons, Bible studies, and worship music. But what does the term actually mean?
The gospel, which means “good news,” is the announcement that Jesus Christ has earned salvation for sinners through his sinless life, sacrificial death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. Sinners are invited to respond to the gospel through repenting of sin and believing in Christ.
How many times does “gospel” appear in the New Testament? What writers use it the most? What is the word used in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the writings of Paul? What does the gospel announce about Jesus? How do people respond to it? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Why Was Jesus Christ Crucified? to learn more.
The Meaning of the Gospel
In the ancient world, the word “gospel” had a secular use. People would use it to announce “good news,” such as victory in warfare. The writers of the New Testament, however, use the word in a unique way.
The word “gospel” is used approximately 120 times in the 27 books of the New Testament. It comes from the Greek word euaggelion, meaning “good news.”
The word can have different emphases depending on the context and modifiers that appear with it, like “the gospel of Christ” and “the gospel of the kingdom” (more below).
The gospel in the Gospels
As a noun, “gospel” is mostly used in Matthew and Mark. In verb form (euaggelizo), it’s mostly used in Luke and Acts. John doesn’t use the noun or verb form, but the concept of Jesus earning salvation for sinners, which requires an individual response, is a theme of his book ( more below).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s use of the word “gospel” have overlapping meanings, yet there are small differences evident as well. For example, as seen below, Mark 1:1 uses the word to refer to the story of Jesus Christ. Matthew 4:23 and Luke 16:16 use the word to describe the preaching of Jesus.
- Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
- Matthew 4:23, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”
- Luke 16:16, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”
Additionally, the early church titled Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John “Gospels.” This use conveys a type of literature that tells the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good news of salvation.
Also see How Do I Follow Jesus Christ as a Disciple? to learn more.
The gospel in the writings of Paul
A good example of the word “gospel” describing the salvation that Jesus earned for sinners in Paul’s letters is 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. Paul wants to remind the original recipients of “the gospel I preached to you, which you received… and by which you are being saved” (v. 1-2). Paul then restates the gospel:
“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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (v. 3-5)
Paul also uses the term several other times in his letters with various modifiers. All his uses of the term have overlapping meanings. Paul uses the gospel of “God’ and of “Jesus Christ” interchangeably. He also refers to the gospel of “our salvation,” which aligns with 1 Corinthians 15:1-15.
- Romans 1:1, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God“
- 1 Corinthians 9:12, “If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”
- 2 Thessalonians 1:8, “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
- 1 Timothy 1:11, “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted”
- Ephesians 1:13, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”
Also see What Is the Deity of Jesus Christ? to learn more.
The Gospel Announcement: What Christ Did for Sinners
The gospel is good news because the nature and destiny of sinners, without God’s intervention, is so bad. To understand how great the gospel is, it’s necessary to understand what the Bible teaches about how all people are born into the world.
All people have sinned
The Bible teaches that all people sin and that no one is perfect. Romans 3:23 reads, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Similarly, Genesis 6:5 reads, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
It doesn’t matter what race a person is, what nation or culture they are part of, what gender they are, or what social standing they have. The Bible teaches that everyone falls short of God’s moral standards. Therefore, everyone is a sinner and in need of a Savior.
The consequence of sin is death
Sin, which is an offense against God, separates a person from the Author and Sustainer of life. Therefore, the consequence for sin is death. This implies, not only physical death but also spiritual death, which lasts for eternity (cf. Matt. 25:46).
In Romans 6:23, Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As the verse teaches, what can reverse sin’s consequences is a free gift.
“Free” is another way to say that God saves sinners because he is gracious: “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Eph. 2:8).
Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin
Jesus took people’s place on the cross and paid the penalty for their sins. What motivated him to do this was love. Romans 5:8 reads, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (cf. John 3:16)
“If Christ had not gone to the cross and suffered in our stead, the just for the unjust, there would not have been a spark of hope for us. There would have been a mighty gulf between ourselves and God, which no man ever could have passed.” – J.C. Ryle
Also see How Did Jesus Christ Love the Church? to learn more.
The Gospel Announcement: How Sinners Respond
The Bible is clear that God invites people to respond to the gospel. In other words, once a person understands the penalty that Jesus took for them on the cross, they must personally respond to it. Responding to the gospel is often presented as an invitation in the New Testament.
- John 1:12, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
- Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
- Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
It doesn’t matter if a person’s parents are Christians, they are members of a church, or they are “a good person” and mostly kept The 10 Commandments. Each individual must respond to the gospel to be saved.
Also see How Do You Accept Jesus Into Your Heart? to learn more.
Sinners must respond with repentance and faith
- Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
- Acts 20:21, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some passages mention forgiveness and may imply faith: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)
Other passages mention faith and may imply confession of sin: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
“True repentance never exists except in conjunction with faith, while on the other hand, wherever there is true faith, there is also real repentance. The two are but different aspects of the same turning-a turning away from sin in the direction of God. The two cannot be separated; they are simply complementary parts of the same process.” – Louis Berkof
The Gospel Promise
The New Testament also highlights the results of responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ with repentance and faith.
- Eternal life: “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)
- Forgiveness of sin: “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:18-19)
- Assurance of acceptance: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)
“Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is He the best of several ways; He is the only way.” – A.W. Tozer
Also see Who is the Bride of Jesus Christ? to learn more.
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