10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Gospel

A professor of New Testament lists 10 key points on the heart of the Christian message.

Darrell Bock is executive director of cultural engagement and senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is an editor at large for Christianity Todayserves on the boards of Chosen People Ministries and Wheaton College, and is the author of Who Is Jesus? We asked him to give us 10 things he wishes everyone knew about the gospel.

1. The word gospel refers not to a kind of music; it meant “good news” in the Roman world.

The word gospel was originally about a kind of public announcement that was seen as good news. When the church took up the term, they were declaring that the message of salvation in Jesus Christ was good news. They were calling on people to repent and join the kingdom of God.

In Greek, repent means to change your mind about something. In asking people to repent, the early Christians were saying, “Change your mind about the way your life and God work.” That need was met by the story of what Jesus had done. So they tell the story of Jesus’ work in order to share the gospel. (See Mark 1:15.)

2. The gospel is not primarily about sin.

Often, when people hear about the gospel, they think the emphasis is on sin, or more particularly, forgiving sin. That is actually only part of the story. More important is what happens as a result of sin being forgiven. There is a permanently restored relationship with God that is the key result. The gospel is more about reconciliation than about the forgiveness that leads to it (See Ephesians 2:11-22)

3. The gospel does not mean automatic salvation.

Some people think that their salvation is a given unless they do really bad things. That is not what scripture teaches. Rather, we all stand in need of salvation, but need to exercise faith in what God has done to receive it. Salvation, therefore, is received by faith by the one who turns to God seeking forgiveness. (See Romans 3:21-25a.)

4. The gospel is about grace, not works.

The salvation that comes through Jesus comes not as something we earn, but something God gives that we acknowledge we need. So, when I ask God to forgive my sin and seek his forgiveness and salvation, I am recognizing that I cannot save myself and I cannot earn salvation.

Grace is said to mean God’s riches at Christ’s expense. The point here is that his work on the cross pays the penalty for my sin and opens the door for God to forgive me and brings me back into a reconciled relationship with him. Works cannot earn salvation. Works result from salvation out of divine design and a grateful responsive heart. (See Ephesians 2:8-10.)

5. The gospel has a goal beyond heaven.

The point of the gospel is not about going to heaven, as nice as that prospect is. It is about being engaged with God forever. I like to joke that living forever is a good thing depending on whom it’s with. The good news of the gospel is that it opens the door to a restored relationship with God that he enables. So, the exciting thing is that reconciliation results with benefits starting now, not just in the future. (See 2 Corinthians 5:16-20.)

6. The gospel is about the giving of the Spirit.

Another often under-appreciated element of the gospel is that with forgiveness comes God sending his Spirit to indwell, enable, and direct us. Here is the key to the renewed relationship the gospel brings. We are not left to ourselves in our walk with God. This gift comes from the raised Jesus, who receives the Spirit from the Father and passes it on to all who call out in his name and seek deliverance from God. (See Romans 6–8; Acts 2:16-39; 1 Corinthians 15:1-19.)

7. The gospel connects us to others.

When we believe in the gospel, we become part of a large community known as the body of Christ. That body is made up of many members all of whom have been equipped to help minister to one another and a needy world. (See 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.)

8. The gospel connects us to a cloud of witnesses over the centuries.

We walk with and trod a path of faith many have undertaken before us. The Hall of Faith of Hebrews 11 walks through the cloud of witnesses whose trek of faith set the stage for the gospel as they hoped for what was promised. Since then, many saints have followed and joined the ranks. Those who believe are not alone, but are part of a family that spans the centuries and will one day be united before God. (See Hebrews 11.)

9. The gospel is something Moses, David, Isaiah and many others longed to experience.

We participate in a precious promise when we embrace the gospel. Jesus taught that the righteous and the prophets longed to look into what the disciples were experiencing. To share in God’s promise realized — aka the gospel — is to share in a very good, longed-for thing. (See Matthew 13:17.)

10. The gospel is so great that it is worth everything.

Jesus taught that the gospel of the kingdom was like a treasure hidden in a field or a pearl of great price. There is joy in finding it, like a treasure discovered. Upon discovering what it is, there should be no hesitation to sell all you have to buy it — only, in this case, it is free. (See Matthew 13:44-46.)

Bonus: the gospel is for the world — an equal opportunity provider.

This gospel is offered to anyone in the world. It is a gift that can be received by anyone. All you have to do to receive the pearl is acknowledge your need of forgiveness and a restored relationship to God, understand Jesus took your place and paid your penalty, and accept the offer of life and the Spirit God gives to those who come to him for their spiritual well being. When anyone does that, they become a child of God. (See Acts 1:8; John 1:12.)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Darrell L. Bock
Written by

  • nwcolorist

    Bullseye! Thank you for a clear and concise explanation of the gospel.

  • Raymond Cobb

    One of the essential parts of the gospel is the resurrection, according to Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-4. I didn’t notice this fact in the article unless I missed it. Without Jesus resurrection from the dead there would be no gospel and therefore no forgiveness of sins.

  • bakabomb

    This is a narrow interpretation of the Gospel offered by someone with orthodox credentials, and doesn’t stray beyond literalist boundaries. Nevertheless, I’m surprised at the emphasis on personal salvation and the concomitant downplaying of our role (as humans, not just as believers) in addressing and mitigating the problems of the poor, oppressed and marginalized. Even literalists generally recognize the importance of that aspect of Jesus’ teachings, and I’m disappointed that it receives essentially no mention above.

    What’s Bock’s opinion of the “Prosperity Gospel”? Is he a proponent of the “Prayer of Jabez” — given that “enlarging one’s own boundaries” of necessity requires diminishing someone else’s on an earth with finite resources? How dare I feast while others starve?

    Would you rather not “go to Hell” — a notion my understanding of a loving God compels me to reject — with the “unsaved” than banquet in Heaven with the privileged? (Recall that the parable of Lazarus and Dives totally flips that script.) This focus on me, myself and I, and personal salvation, falls far short of Christ’s commands.

    • nwcolorist

      bakabomb, If you interpret Jabez’s prayer in a spiritual context–that we make see our world more as God sees it–it makes more sense. The Bible is after all a spiritual book.

    • Brad D Johnson

      Interesting comments/questions.
      I take it that Bock is writing to specifically “challenge” others’ ego-centric thinking that seems to understand the power of the gospel for salvation and little else.
      Adding a point or two on impacting one’s world would have been welcome.
      In my tradition, we seem to erroneously (and unwittingly) separate faith in Jesus from serving man kind; preferring to focus on the propositional truths of the faith and ignoring many/most “felt” needs of others.
      It should be noted that one need not be regenerate to serve others.
      Perhaps that is precisely why the regenerate must make more of it.

  • Bruce Power

    It is encouraging in this day of social gospel and down playing of the Bible as nothing more than literary history to read Dr. Bock’s words. The Christian world today needs now more than ever before to remember and proclaim the gospel of Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17b