Sunday, December 17, 2023

“GOOD NEWS” – The Gospel of Jesus Christ

By Gerald Cowan

    The word gospel has passed into the area of in-house religious jargon.  It has become an ambiguous word that can be interpreted or used in a variety of ways. Phrases in which the word gospel appears may also be difficult to understand and apply. Gospel Meeting, gospel sermon, and obeying the gospel, are examples.
We need to understand the real meaning and application of gospel as set forth in the NT. Not just the way it is used today, but... the way it was used and understood by the people to whom it first came. As the apostle Paul said: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), and I am convinced that Christ has sent me to preach his gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17 and 9:16).  He is not saying only, “Woe to me if I do not preach” but also “Woe to me if what I preach is not the gospel.” 


    The English word is from God-spel (derived from Gott-spiel), and is literally a God-story, a story or a message from or about God. This is certainly true of the New Testament collection of writings. It is both from God and about God, the Son of God, and the Spirit of God. But it is not an accurate translation of the Greek EUANGELION, “good news” or “good message.” EUANGELION (gospel) is the message itself, but the word does not specify either the source or content. Gospel identifies the source and content. Evangelism (transliterated) is the  preaching or proclamation of the message, an accurate report. 
    The content of the message:  It includes but is not limited to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor.  15:1-4) – Jesus himself preached the gospel (Mark 1:1, 14, 15).  It includes but is not limited to the plan of salvation (Rom. 1:16, 2 Thess. 2:13f). It includes but is not limited to history and prediction: the past, present, and future of all people and the world itself. God’s revelation of His interaction with and for the world begins in Genesis and continues through Revelation – every word, all the message that comes from the mouth of God (Matt, 4:4, Deut. 8:3). It includes but is not limited to the commands of God, both do’s and don’ts. We are required to “obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8-10). One cannot obey the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, or any part of the story about the Lord. To obey the gospel means to respond properly to the whole counsel of God, all commands in the current covenant and law of  the Lord.  The gospel is the total revelation, whole counsel, complete message – the full truth of God.  Acts 20:27
    Some feel that a gospel meeting or a gospel sermon is one in which the first principles about salvation, worship, organization, etc. are taught, or when hell-fire judgment is pronounced upon such cardinal  sins  as dishonesty, immorality, drinking, smoking or doing other drugs, dancing, and immodest clothing – the list may vary according to the person or group denouncing the sins. 
    In the gospel (message, truth) that was stated or preached by Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18,   Mark 1:1, 14 and Matthew 10:5-7) he did outline the plan of salvation (Matt.  Mt. 10:32, John 6:45, Luke 13:3-5, and Mark 16:15-16).  He also preached on various aspects of righteous living – especially in the sermon on the mount — the “Beatitudes” (Mt. 5:1-10), worship and service to God (Mt. 6),  and service to mankind (Matt. 7). He preached on the burning social issues of his day: Marriage, divorce and remarriage, (Mt. 5 and 19), Corrupt or unjust governments (Mt. 5:38-42), Peaceful and passive resistance – no eye for an eye , no retaliation, but returning good for evil, going the second mile, etc (Mt. 5:38-42). What  part of the preaching of Jesus was gospel? All of it?  All of it!  No one can say that any of Jesus' words were not gospel.
    The gospel preached by Paul. Of the 75 references to gospel in the NT, 60 are in Paul's writings. He calls it the gospel (Rom. 1:16), my gospel (Rom. 2:16, 2 Tim. 2:8), our gospel (1 Thess. 1:5, 2:14), the gospel which I preach (Gal. 1:11).  He insists that there is but one gospel (Gal. 1:6), and that it must be preached in its fullness (Acts 20:20-21, 27, 32).  Paul preached far more than first principles (see and compare Heb. 5:12-6:1), social issues – slavery (Eph. 6, Col. 3, Philemon), government and civil obedience, (Rom. 13), Family relationships  – husband/wife, parent/child ( Eph. 5-6, 1 Cor. 7), and righteous daily living (Eph. 4:1 Walk worthy of your calling as Christian. (Eph. 4:24-5:7). All parts of Paul’s preaching were gospel. 


It says both DO and DON'T. Who can say which is more emphatic?  The negative statements are often easier to understand. Usually you will find the commands stated in both positive and negative form,  though not always in the same place. The negative commands are often more difficult to accept as gospel – that is to say, as “good news.” People do not like being told that they cannot, should not or must not do certain things. One who focuses his attention on something forbidden may end up with an obsession for it.
    Example: Adam and Eve were told they could eat anything in the garden except one fruit. Eve did quite well under the devil's questioning as long as she put the positive thing first. We can eat of all...except this one (Gen. 3:2-3). But when she turned her full attention to the forbidden fruit, she saw it, noted that it was good to look at, good to eat, and would make one wise, make one to be like God,  that was the one she wanted – so she ate it.
    Paul is an example of the opposite – from bad to good, from a negative to a positive approach.  (Rom. 7:7-25) His own spiit was at war with the Spirit of God.  Having learned that he should not covet, he found himself coveting things and sinning in the doing – sinning and dying (Rom. 7:7-11). This does not make the Law bad. The Law is good; the Law brings life. Wrong attitudes and wrong responses  to the Law bring death (7:12-16).  When he focused his attention on Christ instead of on the sin, he found his problem solved (7:25). Your attitude, positive or negative, will determine whether you like the gospel or hate it, whether you feel it is a blessing or a burden to you.
    Amazing, isn’t it?  As long as you talk about what God and Christ have done and are willing to continue doing for you, your words are welcome – they sound like good news to the hearer. But when you segue into the do’s and don’ts, the emphasis on what one must do and must not do – and the results and consequences of one’s attitudes and actions – it seems like bad news to the hearer. Humans are basically selfish and self-centered, concerned more about privileges and freedom than about responsibilities and restrictions. They want the way to be easy and pleasant.  They do not appreciate a difficult way that is narrow and with strict boundaries that one is not allowed to cross with impunity, without severe penalties (Matthew 7:14-14).  
    People want a genial genie in a jar, completely subservient and accommodative to the wishes and will of those who find Him, obligated to serve them and please them in everything. They do not want a demanding commanding God who insists that He is the One who must be pleased (Heb. 13:15-16, 20-21. 
    If we consider what is at the end of the road we are called upon to walk, and the end of the road we are warned not to walk we will surely find that both the invitation and the warnings are indeed good news. Our minds cannot conceive of the real  beauty and joy of the  rewards God promises to the faithful (1 Cor. 2: 9-10). It is better than you are able to imagine;  God can do and will do more for us than we  are able to think or ask (Eph. 3:20-21). Surely the news of how to receive those blessings for ourselves is good news.  It must also be true that the end of the road for willful sinners is more terrible than the mind can imagine – there are no beauties, no blessings, and no joys in hell. This being true, surely the message about how to avoid that horrible end must also be good news.
- Gerald Cowan, a longtime preacher and missionary, is retired from full-time pulpit preaching. Gerald publishes an e-mail newsletter entitled GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICAL WRITINGS. He is available for Gospel Meetings and he may be contacted at

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