Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Essence of the Gospel

Here's something I've been contemplating, and I'd like to make this a running discussion for the THEOparadox community. The following is a statement that captures the essence of the Gospel to the best of my understanding. This came from asking myself, "If I had to summarize the Gospel in a single statement, how would I do it?" Here's what I settled on:

God gave His Son,
Jesus Christ,
for sinners
to be saved from sin
and sanctified
and secured forever
to the glory of God

It starts and ends with God, His love for sinners and His eternal glory. It concerns Jesus Christ and His work in behalf of sinners.

Those are the strengths of this statement. Do you find any weaknesses in it? I'd like to incorporate something on grace, faith, repentance and other related concepts. Please use the comments section to respond with thoughts on this, to offer your own statement describing the essence of the Gospel, or to draw our attention to classic statements on the subject. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Praise God for saving sinners! Soli Deo Gloria!

Derek Ashton

EDITOR'S NOTE: Based on the comments received, my improved Gospel summary currently looks like this:

God lovingly sacrificed Jesus Christ,
His only begotten Son, on the cross
for a depraved, law-breaking humanity's
only means of salvation from His just wrath -
and through His resurrection sanctified
and secured forever those who believe -
for their eternal good and His eternal glory.

Feel free to comment further.


  1. Derek,

    Isn't the necessity of faith part of the gospel message? John 3:16 would seem to indicate so. Literally: "For so loved God the world that His Son, the only begotten one, He gave so that all the ones believing on Him may not perish, but may have life eternal."

    "Repent and believe the gospel" is, I suppose, outwardly speaking not part of the facts of what Christ did on our behalf, but the facts themselves are useless unless laid hold of through faith and repentance.

    [On deeper study we will, of course, come to see that even our repentance and faith are wrought for us by Christ. When we repent and believe it is because God gave these things to us through regeneration, as a gift of His grace in Jesus Christ.]

    But you are looking for a simple statement and what you came up with is a good start, subject to the observations I mentioned.



  2. Tony,

    This is precisely the kind of feedback I'm looking for. I agree that faith is a requirement and is essential to the Gospel message. I believe it is paradoxically both a requirement and a gift. As Augustine said, "Lord, require what Thou wilt, and give what Thour requirest." Although I don't think he spoke in Old English. Here's a possible revision to the Gospel statement:

    God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, for sinners to believe upon and be saved from sin, sanctified, and secured forever to the glory of God.

    This adds the faith requirement.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Have you come across any good Gospel summaries in your reading? I bet I have and didn't write them down. And I wonder what is the best summation in Scripture? Some verses in I Corinthians 15 come to mind.


  3. Derek,
    Would there be a way to include the schoolmaster that God provided?
    The schoolmaster being His law that shows every man guilty. It shows man that indeed he is a sinner and in desperate need of the good news of the gospel. When witnessing I have found it more effective when the person realizes this and makes them more receptive. Do we need to first show the lost that they are lost?


  4. Jesse,

    Thanks for making this great point. The Law, as a revelation of God's holiness, is a great way to help people see their need for the Gospel. The Law proves we are lawbreakers. But I'm not sure I would include a mention of the Law in this type of statement. Here's why: it seems to me that Law and Gospel are best kept separate. Law leads us to Gospel, but it is not "part of" the Gospel. It shows us that the Gospel applies to us, that we are "qualified" for it. One might say it is the "bad news" that comes before the "Good News". Someone once made this famous remark, "The Law can lead a man to Christ, and no further." I think that's well put.

    However,if you have a Gospel statement that includes Law I'd like to read it. I don't see why something about Law couldn't be incorporated as long is it's clear that the Law is the way of condemnation, not salvation. Thanks for the good comment. Points like this are what this discussion is intended to bring out.

    Grace & peace,

  5. In my church, we sometimes sing a song called The Gospel Song. Here are the words:

    Holy God in love became
    Perfect Man to bear my blame
    On the cross He took my sin
    By His grace I live again

    I like the simplicity. It's a good summary of the Gospel with a personal touch.

  6. Hi, Derek. I've seen some very good definitions of the gospel, which I'll try to locate and share with you. For now, I want to pose a question.

    Based on Paul's teaching in 1 Cor. 15:1-11, doesn't it seem that Christ's death for our sins, and his burial and resurrection would have to be essential elements of any definition of the gospel?

  7. Barry,

    Great point. Iron sharpens iron, and this is definitely an iron-quality quesition. As are the other two questions that were asked by the previous commenters. I'm thrilled to receive this kind of insight and wisdom.

    I wrapped up the whole work of the cross (death, burial, resurrection) in the phrase, "God GAVE His Son." This is perhaps too vague. As Tony Hayling said, it's "a good start" but it's probably not specific enough and needs further development.

    Wow, I'm starting to see blind spots in my thinking, this is so humbling (and good)! Please share your definitions of the Gospel - I'm ready for mine to be upgraded.

    Thanks for weighing in - great to hear from you.

    Grace & peace,

  8. Fascinating discussion. If you're looking for a real, real shorthand way of preaching the gospel to yourself every day as Jerry Bridges comments, I like the following:
    God was offended.

    That obviously assumes a LOT :-) But compacting the gospel into a sentence, no matter how long the sentence, still assumes some things so why not go very terse?

    Let me break down each word, but I'm going to go out of order:
    * God: This begins where gospel presentations really should begin, that there is a God, who by definition is an authority. The Christian assumes the God of the Bible who claims COMPLETE authority. This God also claims to be holy and demands we meet the same holy standard that He has (Matthew 5:48, 1 Peter 1:15-16). Gospel presentations that begin and end with man do not focus correctly, as you noted in your original post.
    * offended: Since we always fail to meet this holy standard by our constant rule-breaking and internal desire for wickedness, we have offended the holy creator, who by simply being the ultimate authority should be given all honor and praise and glory forever. Since God passionately loves and upholds the might of His name He MUST punish the only beings who have rebelled. We tarnished His honor as perfect creator, and He was offended as a result.
    * was: WAS! WAS! What a beautiful word! Within that three-letter past-tense word is represented the truths of 1 Corinthians 15, the four gospels, Isaiah 53, etc. WAS is cause for celebration, rejoicing, dancing, praise!

    Was changes us. Was gives us reason for hope. Was puts within us a tractor beam of obedience to God, giving us new taste buds for obedience to God's Law (Ezekiel 36:26,27).

    Was is always past-tense. Every time you say it, the offense from God over whatever sin you have just committed is always and forever in the past. No matter how many times you say it, the offense is always behind you.

    So there you have it, "God was offended." Yoda may have said it in the proper order, were he a gospel-loving Christian: "God, offended was."

    I would like to hear from other people, but I like this short-hand way of representing the truth of the gospel for myself.

  9. Chris,

    This is why I affectionately refer to you as "Dr. DeVidal". You are a well studied believer from whom I learn much and benefit greatly.

    "God was offended" is a catchy phrase, and it has a lot of merit. In the course of this discussion I am learning that there is much more to the Gospel than can be properly put in a single statement. We're almost forced to leave something important out every time. "God WAS Offended" says much about the holiness of God and man's sinfulness, and it emphasizes both wrath and grace, guilt and forgiveness, the despair in lostness and the glorious hope of salvation.

    Using this phrase as a Gospel definition is like going to the airport and boarding a plane through the baggage compartment. You do get on the aircraft, but not according to the usual or obvious route! It's good, thanks for sharing it with us.

    One might even say it's paradoxical in the way it initially makes God out to be totally wrathful, but then you notice the word, "WAS!" and see His grace again.

    Grace & peace,

  10. My friend Jawara recently sent this:

    God lovingly sacrificed His only begotten Son Jesus the Christ for a law-breaking humanity's only means of salvation from His just wrath; sanctifying and securing them forever for His glory and their enjoyment of His presence.

    This is really thoughtful and about fifty times better than my original suggestion. There's a lot of depth to this one. I like it more every time I read it.

  11. Going back to the law... I would say that as far as the good news goes, the law is a facet of the good news. This is because we are saved to come back to the law and are now empowered by the Spirit to uphold it all the more, in other words, love God with our heart, mind, and soul, and our neighbor as ourself.

    Secondly, I would agree that the moral law as it condemns us is part of the bad news rather than the good news, yet I would even still refer to it as a part of the gospel message as a whole. Romans 2:16 says "God will judge men's secrets through Christ as my gospel declares."

    Lastly, I find the gospel to be a multi-faceted diamond and it is difficult to exhaust it all. The sense in which sinner's are called to believe and repent for salvation is emphasizing only one of its sides, and happens to be the side which is useful for evangelism. The one who already is in the Kingdom will forever emphasize the gift of knowing God's love and forgiveness in a way that no other creature has, and will do so forever. This too is another side of the same diamond.

    I like to borrow from R.C. Sproul and say "The gospel is that we are saved from God, by God, to God."

    I have even changed this and added to it, "we are saved from Christ, by Christ, to Christ, for Christ."

    p.s. I love these discussions!

  12. Cameron,

    I also love these discussions. As I mentioned before, this particular discussion is the best part of THEOparadox as far as I'm concerned.

    You make a great point about the Law. Jawara's suggestion above purposely includes the word "law" with this in mind. For believers, the Law is wonderfully paradoxical. On one hand, Paul makes it clear we are saved from "the Law," the legal demands of perfection through self-effort. But on the other hand, Paul says the Law is good if one uses it rightly. And He says in Romans 7 that he delights in the Law in the inner man. Also, he says he is not "under the Law," yet He is not without Law being under the Law of Christ. And you alluded to this, that LOVE is the fulfillment of the Law. Only a redeemed heart agrees with David in Psalm 119, when he says "Oh, how I love Your Law!" It seems that we can fall off of all sorts of theological cliffs on this matter. Legalism and Anti-nomianism being the most obvious ones. So, in some sense the Law IS part of the Gospel - but we have to be very careful to define what we mean.

    You are so right about the diamond!

    Thanks for weighing in, and feel free to comment on anything you find here at THEOparadox.

    Grace & peace,

  13. Derek:
    I'm not sure how I would incorporate this idea, but let me throw it out there. Some believers understand "salvation" to mean that God makes them without sin in order to be able to be in His presence. Others would argue that "salvation" means that God "reckons" sinners as without sin through their position in Christ. I wonder if a definition of the Gospel should communicate that it is our "position" in Christ that makes it possible for the Father to even see us. Thoughts?

    Dan Grubbs
    The Portico Dialogue

  14. Dan,

    Thanks for commenting. This is a good point. Last week I added an updated Gospel summary in the sidebar, which places the word "graciously" before "sanctified." This might add more clarity on the point you are making.

  15. The Gospel is the good news about substitution. What we are unable and unwilling to do,(obedience) Christ has done for us perfectly. Simply rest in His Person and work and forsake our own works and righteousness, trusting only in Christ plus nothing.


  16. Mark,

    Amen to that! Christ obeying FOR US and dying IN OUR PLACE is a central facet of the GOOD NEWS. Thanks for commenting.

    This is my favorite part of my own blog, because it's the place where lots of people from diverse backgrounds have taught me (or at least reminded me about) the most important truths.



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