What is the gospel? Some say the whole New Testament; some say just the "death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ". What say you?
What is the gospel? This question, though asked for years, had received increased significance in today’s religious world. The song of ecumenicalism, based on their interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:1-4, is that the gospel consists of only three facts – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. From this interpretation they conclude that Christianity can unite upon these three important facts and that the rest is at best trivia and at worst divisive non-essentials. They, along with others who agree with them for whatever reason, have missed the boat.
What is the gospel? First, let’s read 1 Cor. 15:1-4:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 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.
Paul’s first sentence sets the stage for the subject of Chapter 15. He begins by reminding them of that which he preached while among them – the gospel. They received it, stood in it and were saved by it unless their faith was vain. Having reminded them of his message, he emphasizes three facts that were “of first importance” – the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Notice that he does not say that all else is of no importance, having nothing to do with salvation. He ascribes first importance to the three facts emphasized. Nowhere in these four verses or elsewhere in this chapter, this book, or elsewhere in Scripture does Paul limit “gospel” to these three facts.
When we arrive at verse 12 we discover why he places such importance upon these three facts. He uses the resurrection of Jesus Christ to rebut some among them who were denying that there was a resurrection from the dead. Paul’s approach is a wonderful illustration of his logical thinking. The rest of the chapter is Paul’s teaching concerning the resurrection from the dead and the body of the resurrection. Those who restrict “gospel” to Paul’s three recited facts ignore the context of the chapter, and the greater context of both the book and the Bible. If there were nothing else, one word in the text proves the point. Paul not only says that he preached the “gospel”; he also says that he preached the “word.” Clearly “gospel” and “word” are synonymous. How can this be proved?
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9)
The ecumenicists, having forgotten that Paul uses “gospel” and “word” synonymously, may say that Galatians proves their point, arguing that Paul says only that you cannot change the “gospel,” leaving the “word” to be changed. Such an argument demonstrates their desperation. Additionally, it demonstrates their lack of knowledge of the Scripture. The term “word” is used more to describe that which was taught than is the word “gospel.” Two other times Paul uses “gospel” and “word” synonymously (“word” often, but not always, connected with phrases such as “of Christ,” “of God,” “of truth,” or similar phrase). See, Col. 1:5 (“the word of truth, the gospel”); 2 Tim. 2:8-9 (Paul reminded them of Jesus Christ, risen and the son of David [a fact not mentioned in 1 Cor. 15] “as preached in my gospel,” for which he was “suffering, bound,” but in contrast “the word of God is not bound”).
Then, lest we forget, the gospel is not just something to believe, it is something to obey. Rom. 10:16 (“But they have not all obeyed the gospel.). The book of Romans begins and ends with the “obedience of faith.” Rom. 1:5; 16:26.
One last thought. Where, more than at any other time, does one draw nearest to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ?
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom. 6:3-7)
Isn’t it strange that the very position that some take in order to get as far away as they can from the essentiality of baptism, find that position taking them right back to the place they don’t want to be. It is not only strange, but sad, when those who do it are some who formerly were faithful members of the Lord’s body, His church. Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18, 24. They have left the Light of Him who is the Word for the glitter of denominationalism. There will never be a basis for unity in “Christianity” until all return to the belief and practice of the church as it is described in the New Testament. Any difference from that standard is of man, not of God.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)