Chapter 3 of Good News for Bad People
We have looked at the four Gospels and the book of Acts to see what the Christian message is. Now we can turn to the letters of Paul. Jesus appeared to this rabbi and made him a powerful agent for the kingdom of God. He can tell us what the gospel is.
Paul began his letter to the Romans by saying who he was and the message he had: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son” (Romans 1:1-3, NRSV).
What is the gospel about? It is about Jesus, the Son of God. In verse 9, Paul calls it “the gospel of his Son.” What does this gospel do? “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (verse 16). The gospel tells us about a righteousness that we are given by faith (1:17). The gospel tells us how our sins are forgiven and how we are counted as righteous through Jesus Christ.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul told us more about the gospel: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Here Paul associates the gospel with the cross, because it is through the cross that we are forgiven.
In the next verse, Paul calls the gospel “the message of the cross.” It is all about Jesus. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (2:2). “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:17).
In Jewish culture the cross was a scandal, a shameful death. God could not possibly let the Messiah die a cursed death. Greeks thought it was stupid to follow a crucified criminal (1:23). It was foolish to believe in a resurrection.
But Paul boldly proclaimed the cross, for this was the heart of his message. We are made right with God because Jesus died on the cross. The good news about the cross is that we are forgiven and we can live forever with God!
Paul defines the gospel
Perhaps the clearest definition of the gospel comes in chapter 15, where Paul reminds the Corinthians of the tradition he had received, and the tradition he gave them. This is what he wanted them to focus on:
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
The gospel is a message of salvation, Paul says, and we can believe it. The most important thing, Paul says, is that the Messiah died for our sins, just as the Scriptures had predicted. It was not an accident—rather, it was the key to our salvation. The gospel proclaims the resurrection of Jesus, because that gives us confidence that we will be raised, too, because we belong to Jesus.
This is not the only way to describe the gospel, as Paul shows in the next letter. In 2 Corinthians 5:19, he calls it “the message of reconciliation.” The message is about reconciliation between us and God. Once we were enemies, separated by our sins. Through Jesus and his death on the cross, we are forgiven, and we are friends and family of God. It is good news—to be received by faith in Jesus, not by working for it.
Some people did not like the message. Paul encountered opposition from both Jews and Gentiles. In Galatia, false preachers said, No, it’s not that simple. If you want to be saved you have to keep the law. Paul responded: No, you will never keep the law well enough for that. If you want to be saved, it will have to be by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus became a curse for us, so that we don’t have to be accursed (Galatians 3:13). He paid the ransom to redeem us, to purchase us for God’s kingdom. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
It is in Christ that we received the Holy Spirit when we believed “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (verse 13). It is through Christ that God gave us new life, by grace, and raised us up with Christ “and seated us with him in the heavenly places”—in the kingdom of God. Jesus has done the work. We are to believe the good news, to accept him, to love him, to give ourselves to him.
When Paul was jailed for the gospel, he rejoiced that the gospel continued to spread: “It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12). Everyone knew about his allegiance to Christ, because that was the center of his message.
Paul even rejoiced when some other people tried to take advantage of his imprisonment. They were trying to exalt themselves against Paul, but he saw good even in that, because they were preaching about Christ. “What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice” (verse 15-18). The important thing, Paul said, is that people preach about Christ. That is what the gospel is about.
Paul described the gospel to the Colossian church, too. The message starts with the sins that alienated us from God, and climaxes in the cross of Christ that removes those sins:
You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard. (Colossians 1:21-23)
Paul mentions the kingdom of God in this chapter, too: “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (verse 13). We have already entered the kingdom of God through the work of Jesus Christ. Through his death on the cross, Jesus brings us into the presence of God.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
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This article was written by Michael Morrison in 2001 and updated in 2014. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
The emphasis is clear: the gospel is about Jesus Christ and salvation by grace through faith in him. The news is wonderful! God has chosen us for salvation and tells us about it through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Salvation is his gift to us, given through Jesus Christ.
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
“This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10). The gospel tells us about eternal life through grace. Turn to God—accept his gift—turn toward Jesus Christ!
This is the wonderful news. It’s about Jesus and what he has done for us. Life with Christ is far better than life without. The better we realize it, the more we will be willing to accept it.
The time is at hand. Believe the good news—trust Jesus.