Session Three: What is the gospel?

Having talked through evangelism as the proclamation of the good news in the last session, we now make time to explore the gospel itself. What is the gospel? Do we have a sufficient understanding of the message we preach to communicate clearly to those who listen?

BACKGROUND

St Augustine famously wrote: ‘O Lord, You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’ 1

The gospel moves people from despair, darkness, brokenness and hopelessness into light, joy, love, and hope. The gospel connects restless hearts to fulfilment in their Creator.

Tragically though, many followers of Jesus in this world who appear to have lost confidence in the power of the gospel. They don’t share the good news with the conviction that it has the power to save souls, to change lives and move this world from darkness to light.

In Romans 1 Paul declares, ‘I’m not ashamed of the gospel’, and with the world increasingly revealing itself to be a place of suffering, brokenness and despair, it is surely time for the church of Jesus Christ to stand tall once again on the promises of God found in his Word, that he is faithful and mighty to save (Isaiah 40:28-31; Romans 10:13), and to declare that we are not ashamed of the gospel, for ‘it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16).

Perhaps part of the problem is that we have lost touch with what the gospel actually is – how many Christians could actually articulate the gospel clearly to someone who has not heard the good news?

In essence the gospel speaks into three important questions:

WHO AM I? – Everyone asks this question in some way. What is the meaning of life? Is there purpose? What is my identity? The answer is that you are a child of God, created and loved by him.

SESSION GUIDE

WHO IS GOD? – There are so many religions in the world, even if God exists how can we possibly know who he is and that we are worshipping the right one? God has made himself known through creation, through the Bible, through the experiences of Christians all over the world, and through the person of Jesus Christ. Who is God? He is the creator and sustainer of life, the king of the universe, a perfect and loving heavenly father who longs to bring a broken and rebellious humanity back into relationship with himself.

WHO IS JESUS CHRIST? – The most compelling figure in all of human history. Few historical scholars doubt that he existed, but who was he? A wise teacher? A con man? A mad man? Actually, he is who he says he is, the Saviour of the world who has made it possible through his life, death and resurrection for you to be called child of God and know true life and relationship with your father God for all eternity.

Whilst these questions may be good (and natural) starting points for a dialogue about the gospel, they don’t necessarily lead us to a fully sufficient understanding of what the gospel is. And so we must dig deeply into scripture to ensure that the questions above (and any quest for truth for that matter) is answerable with the full and powerful gospel of Jesus Christ, for the gospel is good news to be announced.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul shows how important he views this when he states that ‘I decided while I was with you to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ And this is the heart of the gospel – that God himself stepped into the mess of our world in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life, died upon a cross to take the death we deserved, and rose again three days later thus breaking the curse of death. Salvation and true life is found through faith in him alone.

The sharing of this truth is not to bring about a change of mind in the person, but to bring about new life, a transformation that can only be achieved by God at work (2 Corinthians 5:17).

TEACHING

Read the following Bible passage and open with a short discussion of how much of the gospel someone needs to understand to be able to declare Jesus as Lord and receive salvation.

Romans 10:9 & 13-15

If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

From these verses in Romans we can quickly recognise that there is salvation for those who declare Jesus is Lord and trust that God raised him from the dead. We know that people can only hear this message if we are faithful to preach it, and that the good news is beautiful. But do we have a good enough understanding of what the good news really is to be able to share it simply and effectively to a contemporary audience?

Much of this session can revolve primarily around the discussion of what the gospel is, using the following sections of this booklet as an anchor point for what we believe the gospel actually is.

Advance: Gospel Doctrine (p. 35)

This systematic layout of the gospel

Advance: Gospel Narrative (p. 36)

Broadly speaking the same gospel is presented here as in the more systematic approach, but here there is more emphasis on a narrative explanation that reads more like a story.

These next two examples are to be used to critique a method of gospel presentation. Pick one (or both if you have time) and look at how the gospel is explained. What works well here and what is lacking? What might be the advantages to using these methods to explain the gospel, and what could be some of the problems?

Advance: 10min Youth Gospel Talk Example (p. 33)

The 4 Points Example (the4points.com)

Frank Turek quite rightly points out that, ‘What you win kids with, you win them to. If you win them with emotion, you win them to emotion…’2 If our gospel messages are watered down, one dimensional attempts to appeal to the heart of the listener, we might see lots of hands up ‘responding’ to the message, but what are they really responding to?

The gospel message brings with it some incredibly challenging ideas. It calls us all sinners, that we are broken, despicable beings who are deserving of death. The news is so good precisely because it is a response to a human condition that is so bad! People struggle with the idea of God judging us for our sin, of a loving God that would send people to hell. The temptation is to play down these aspects of the gospel, or jettison them completely, but this won’t do. The evangelist has a responsibility to explain the problem of sin (in an understandable way) so that the solution of the cross and the joy of the resurrection is understood for what it really is – the undeserved grace of God given lovingly to his children, the only hope for humanity.

Another area that is often missed out of contemporary gospel preaching is the idea that we are to die to ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Jesus with everything we have (Matthew 16:24). The call to the sacrificial life is often played down in favour of a ‘God will make you happy’ message. Of course we want to make the gospel understandable and relatable for any audience, but as Matt Chandler says,

‘The spiritual power in the gospel is denied when we augment or adjust the gospel into no gospel at all. When we doubt the message alone is the power of God for salvation we start adding or subtracting, trusting our own powers of persuasion or presentation.’

We must be clear on the gospel message, for the preaching of a deficient gospel will produce deficient Christians3. But preach it we must, for as Paul asks, how can they hear unless we do? Ultimately it is the Bible that provides for us our understanding of what the gospel really is, and helps us to make sense of our experiences of God.

Prioritising daily Bible study is essential for every believer, but especially for those who are communicating truth from it on a regular basis. How can we claim to have revelation from scripture if we are not allowing it to feed our lives on a daily basis?

Encourage every member of the group to start (if they don’t already) a daily reading plan via YouVersion.com (or the YouVersion App or a similar Bible reading system) and spend some time praying into this together. The following blog post by RT Kendall may also make for a good discussion as he passionately encourages the church to get back to basic Bible study: rtkendallministries.com/how-much-do-you-read-your-Bible

Fill out accountability forms and feedback. Schedule the next meeting and pray to close.

DISCUSSION

Make use of these through the session or all together in one section, whatever works best for your group.

  • What is the gospel?
  • What are some of the problems we can encounter when trying to frame the gospel for a contemporary audience?
  • What are the challenges of preaching the gospel today?
  • How can we explain the gospel simply to those who listen?
  • Why is the Bible so essential to the preaching of the gospel?

QUOTES

Integrate these quotes as part of your teaching or use them as discussion points if helpful.

‘If we are offended that sin can lead to so much death and destruction, then we should hate sin! ‘Hate sin!’ is perhaps the biggest lesson of this life. Hate sin! One sin killed us all. Let’s learn from that. The trouble is that we humans rarely hate sin (at least our own sin anyway) until it affects us adversely. Because we don’t hate sin, God’s punishment for sin seems terribly severe.’ – Clay Jones

‘The gospel is the lifeblood of Christianity, and it provides the foundation for countering culture. For when we truly believe the gospel, we begin to realise that the gospel not only compels Christians to confront social issues in the culture around us. The gospel actually creates confrontation with the culture around – and within – us.’ – David Platt

‘Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If he offered men his salvation, he also demanded their submission… The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or modified his conditions to make his call more readily acceptable. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.’ – John Stott

HOMEWORK

This task can tie into the call for a stronger personal engagement with Bible study. These gospel presentations must include scriptural support for every point being made.

Using the material about the gospel in this booklet and your Bible, produce a 3 to 5 point explanation of the gospel (with supporting Bible verses) that you can explain to the group. These will then be critiqued for both the theological sufficiency of the gospel being presented, and the effectiveness of the method of communication and explanation.


Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Pt. I

2 Frank Turek, Stealing from God(Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014) p. xxvi.

See John Wimber, Power Evangelism(London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1992) p. 28.