So far in this series, What is the Gospel?, we have looked at the reason behind unfolding the gospel in this manner and four foundational aspects of the gospel. The purpose of the following posts, beginning with this one, will be to give a basic and biblical definition of “gospel” and then to unfold each aspect of the gospel looking at the roles of both God and man.
In the original language of the New Testament (Greek), the word ευαγγελιον is a noun that means “gospel” or “good news”. This noun occurs seventy-seven times in the New Testament. Interestingly, the Greek verb ευαγγελιζω, which means, “preach the gospel,” also occurs seventy-seven times. However, the reason the average Bible reader comes away from the Bible without a clear and confident answer to the question “What is the gospel?” is that the definition for this noun and this verb is assumed in the text rather than being directly expressed. In other words, the Bible does not function as a dictionary that gives us a definition of “gospel.” So can we even define “gospel”? Yes. How? Context. Context. Context. What is this good news, this gospel referring to and speaking of?
There are certain key biblical elements that make up the gospel and each of these are necessary to understand in order to properly see the gospel for what it is.
God is the Eternal Creator
The first element is the biblical truth that God is the eternal creator of heaven and earth. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas came to the city of Lystra, which was located in Asia Minor. There was a man who had been crippled from birth who was listening to Paul preach (Acts 14:8-9). Paul then heals this man, “seeing that he had faith to be made well” (Acts 14:9). After witnessing this miraculous healing, the crowd marveled. These people were standing jaw-dropped and wide-eyed in disbelief as to what they had just seen. A man who had never walked “sprang up and began walking” (v. 10). The crowds realized something miraculous and divine had happened among them. Luke writes that the crowds lifted up their voices in praise of the gods of Greek mythology: “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men” (v. 11)! They then called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes (v. 12). They were so grateful and amazed that the priest of Zeus even wanted to offer a sacrifice to these gods with the crowds (v. 14).
However, Paul intervenes. His intervention gives us our starting point to understanding the gospel. “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them (v. 15, emphasis added). Paul begins to share the gospel by establishing a truth that these Hellenistic men clearly denied. He begins with God’s role as creator. Paul teaches us here that one crucial element to the gospel is the truth that God is alive and he created everything.
I know this sounds basic, but think about it. Remember our first essential, fundamental truth? The gospel is from God. It belongs to him! Therefore, if this God is not living and did not create, there would be no good news for sinners. In the words of John Piper, “No cherished aspect of the Christian gospel would have any redemptive meaning if there were no living God who created heaven and earth” (God is the Gospel, 26). The gospel shook the very walls of the worldviews of those in Lystra as it showed them a God who was not made of stone or served by men, but was the living creator of all things. Thus, the initial element of the gospel is the fact that God is alive and created everything. Without this, there would be no gospel.
God is the Sovereign Ruler
The second element of the gospel is that God is the sovereign ruler over his creation. This establishes a crucial aspect to the gospel, namely, that men are accountable to God; the creature is accountable to the Creator. By calling the men of Lystra to turn from their false gods to the living God, Paul establishes the fact that man is not autonomous. We are creatures. Our existence is dependent on the providence of the Creator. That simple fact teaches us that we are not accountable to ourselves, but instead to the one to whom we are dependent for life. God is the eternal creator of heaven and earth and this means he has the right to reign and rule all of his creation as he pleases. In the words of pastor and author Greg Gilbert, “Because he created us, God has the right to demand that we worship him” (What is the Gospel?, 28).
The all-glorious, all-powerful, all-joyous God of eternity past chose to create. Out of the abundant glory and joy within the Godhead overflowed, like abundant water from a fountain, a magnificent creation with man as its pinnacle. Immediately from this point, everything that was created was placed in a specific relationship with the creator. All of creation is subject to the will of the creator. All of creation owes obedience to the creator. God established a special covenant, or relationship, with man in the Garden. The bliss that was the sinless Garden of Eden abundant with the presence of the eternally joyous God was most enjoyed by the man and woman he created. From the moment God created humans, they have been accountable to him:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. –Genesis 2:16-17
The gospel begins here. The good news of God’s salvation of sinners begins with the living God who created heaven and earth. This sovereign Lord establishes a covenant with man. But what happens when man breaks this covenant? What happens when the creatures forsake their relationship with the creator? What happens when man exchanges the truth about God for a lie and forsake worshiping the Creator? We will seek to answer these questions and more next Friday.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.