The most common definition I've heard for the gospel is that it means "good news". Which is true. The logical question to ask though would be, "good news about what? The best way to answer that is to see what the Bible has to say. So here goes ...
A Biblical Definition of the Gospel:
If you wanted to use your Bible to explain to someone what the gospel is - where would you look? Probably the most quoted verse in Scripture is John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."
As beautiful and as full of meaning as that verse is - that's not the Scripture I would turn to. Although a good case can be made that it teaches the gospel. And I'd probably agree with that. In fact, there are many texts which could be used - because the Bible has plenty of good news!. But there's one Scripture which is my favorite when it comes to describing (and understanding) the gospel. And it's one I love to think about. It's Romans 1:16
Romans 1:16 comes right out and says, "this is the gospel" Let's look at it together, and then dissect it. It says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes ..."
Interesting. In this passage Paul is saying so many things - which we'll break down in a second. For now though notice this text is definitely claiming to define what the gospel is. Would you agree with that? Paul says he's not ashamed of the gospel. And then he tells us what it is. He says, "for it is the power of God unto salvation." Is that how you would explain the gospel? Would you define it as "the power of God"? What is he telling us here?
The Power of God
What is power? What do you think of, when you think of 'power'? Do you think of military might? Do you think of superior strength, or control? A lot of it depends on context, doesn't it? It certainly does in the examples I just gave. Yet in the definition I like there's a common denominator which applies no matter how it's being used, and no matter what the context is. And that's this:
Power is the ability to produce an effect. Think about that for a moment. All power results in being able to produce the outcome you want, regardless of the situation. That is power, isn't it? Having the
ability to acquire or produce what you want means you have power over it.
Now, applying this definition to our text we could paraphrase the text so far to be saying the gospel is "the ability of God to produce an effect". The ability to produce an effect. So what effect is the gospel producing? It says, "unto salvation." Which means so far that the "gospel", is the GOOD NEWS that God has the ability to produce salvation. Our next logical question would be -
What is "Salvation?"
One of the clearest definitions of salvation I've ever heard is "being set free from the power and penalty of sin." What a promise! I like that, don't you? Can you imagine not only being set free from the penalty of sin - but also from it's power over us? Amazing, isn't it?
And for any who might be thinking they can never be free from sins power over them I would remind them of who the verse says has the power ... God! That's the good news. That it's not our power - it's God's!
The difficulty any Christian has in living a victorious Christian life is when they're trying to supply the power through their own efforts. Although there's a lot I could say about that think of it like this - if you did have the ability to produce a sinless life using your own power then you wouldn't need a Saviour. But if you're a Christian it's because you recognized somewhere along the line that you were a sinner who needed saving. And that saving comes to us as a gift. It has to, if we are to have it, because we could never earn it through our own works.
Who does the Bible say is set free from sin's penalty and power? Everyone who believes! Wow. The good news keeps getting better and better.
How to Make the Gospel Real
Would you like to know a way you can experience more of God's power in your life? Let's start by looking at our "gospel text" one more time, completely paraphrased with our new understanding:
Paul says, essentially, "I am not ashamed of the good news of Jesus Christ! For it is the ability of God to set me free from the power and the penalty of sin, if and when I believe."
Faith is like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets. So if the gospel is God's power put forth to save man, and if it produces freedom in everyone who believes, it stands to reason that the greater faith a person has, the more they will experience the power of the gospel. Isn't that true? That means that one of the keys is to have greater faith.
Faith in the Power of God
As our heavenly Father, nothing pleases God more than to have His children come to Him in faith. Meaning God loves it when we trust Him and believe His Word! Do you realize whenever we doubt Him, we're saying we don't trust Him to do what He says He'll do?
How much would it help if, when we felt weak, we took our focus off ourselves and shifted it onto a new focus - a focus on God's ability to do what He says? Where in all the world do we see the greatest evidence of God's power (i.e., His ability)?
In creation! Psalm 19:1 says "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork." Who hasn't looked up at a sky full of stars, and marveled at the strength and wisdom of the One who put them there? The text goes on to say, "Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. Their is no speech or language where their voice isn't heard!" Ps. 19:2
What David is telling us here is that "day unto day (the heavens) utter speech" - in other words the heavens speak to us - of God's glory, wisdom and power. And "night unto night reveals knowledge" - again of the wisdom and power of a God who could create such an amazing display of glory as that which we see in the heavens. And this is universal speech and knowledge! It says, "There is no speech or language where their voice isn't heard."
Now get this ... using this passage, Paul reasons in Romans 10:14-18 that through the heavens the gospel had been preached to the Jews (connect vs. 15,17 & 18)! And, going right along with my premise that we observe the power of God in His creation, and gain confidence in His ability to save us when we contemplate His great handiwork, Paul says that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" vs. 17. But look what word of God He's talking about - he makes that statement right smack in the middle of his reasoning that the gospel is being preached by the heavens.
Connect Your Need to God's Power
So here is the sum of the matter. If God is faithful and true, that means He will keep His promises to us. In Scripture God has promised to completely save us from the penalty and power of sin - in Christ. That's the gospel, or good news. If we're NOT experiencing victory over sin in our lives it can mean only one of two things. Either God is unfaithful to His word, or we don't have enough trust in His abilities. Remember, the gospel is God's power to save to everyone who believes.
(NOTE: Actually a 3rd option could be that we're often happy to be saved from sins penalty, but not as interested in being saved from it's power over our lives, i.e., we like sinning)
But if we truly desire to live for God, and we want the freedom He promises us from the power of sin, we will behold His great wisdom and power in the things which He has created, and we'll trust Him. That is, once we realize that it's the same power at work in creation, now at work in our redemption (Redemption is our "re-creation", it's the same power that created us - now being put forth to save us!)
So, if anyone ever asks you what the gospel is, you can now answer with confidence that it's "the good news that God has the ability, through Christ, to completely save us from the power and penalty of sin, if we'll believe it through faith!"