There’s a Vietnamese dish called “beef seven ways.” It serves beef in a series of, you guessed it, seven different courses: fried, boiled, minced, souped, and so forth. It’s all beef, but presented in a variety of mouth-watering preparations and courses. I am always reminded of this dish when I am asked to tell people what the Gospel is. It’s a question I like—not only because I’m a preacher committed to the Word, but because it gives opportunity to show how there is something of a magnificent variety in the Gospel itself. The Gospel, like beef seven ways, is too big to be served only one way; it can be presented to us in a variety that is spiritually mouth-watering.
“Gospel” is a word that means “Good News.” It is a report, a telling. When the messenger running from the battle of Marathon finished his 26.2-mile sprint (and before he collapsed, dead!), he announced victory. His message was an instance of euangelion—evangelism. He was bringing good news. The church also bears witness to good news. The content of that good news is our Gospel.
But the good news we have to tell isn’t just one thing. I fear that for many people in the church today, the Gospel message is limited to something like the Four Spiritual Laws, or what some have called the Romans Road. You are a sinner, God has sent Christ, Christ died for sin, through faith in Christ you will be saved from sin. For others, the to state the Gospel means to tell a story about a specific model of atonement (often, the model that is called “penal substitutionary atonement”). There is no disputing that these features are part of the good news, but I want to suggest to you that they aren’t the whole of it. The Gospel—the good news of God in Jesus Christ—is bigger than just personal salvation.
Like beef seven ways, I think the Gospel can be presented in a wide variety of ways—all while still being the Gospel! For the remainder of this piece, I want to offer you seven ways we can serve the Gospel. (Might there be more than seven? Of course! But these are my seven favourites!) So, without further ado, here is the Gospel, Seven Ways:
1) The Gospel, as Jesus preached it, is the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand. The most common oversight when we talk about the Gospel today is to neglect the fact that our reproductions of the Romans Road look so little like Christ’s Gospel in the New Testament. Consider again what Mark says about Jesus’s preaching at Mark 1:14-15, “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.’” This is explicit—that before there was a cross and resurrection there was a Gospel to be believed, and that Gospel is good news about the coming Kingdom of God. What is God’s Kingdom? It is God’s reign, God’s justice, and God’s will for the earth. It is the inbreaking power of God for change, and its coming is fundamentally good news. Because God’s reign is coming, we should repent now of those ways that characterize the earthly kingdoms. To put this good news in other words, “God is coming, so get your act together!”
2) The Gospel, as the apostles preached it, was the good news that God has raised Jesus from the dead. It is an astonishing thing to realize that the apostles, when they preach the Gospel, also don’t talk very much about personal sin and salvation—instead, they talk about the resurrection. For them, this was the good news—good news first carried by the women who were watching the tomb, announced to them first by an angel of God (Luke 24:5-6), “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen!” The resurrection is the Astonishing Fact—that a man came back from the dead, raised to life by the Spirit of God, that in his resurrection lies the firstfruits of the end of the world. Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was near, in the resurrection of Christ the Kingdom is now here.
3) The Gospel, as the apostles preached it, was the good news that Jesus is King. Once again, there are striking differences between the preaching of the apostles and our modern presentations of the Gospel. Consider again Peter’s summary argument from his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:36), “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” In this presentation of the Gospel we are not yet at personal salvation—here, Peter is announcing the Lordship of King Jesus. Jesus is the anointed one, the promised King of Israel. Jesus is kurios—the Lord Himself—that in encountering Jesus we are encountering the person of very God. Mortimer Arias noted that while Jesus preached the Kingdom, the disciples preach the King. Jesus is King; Christ is the Lord—and it is good news that in him evil has been judged and will be judged; in him will be found freedom for prisoners, release for captives, healing for the sick, freedom for the oppressed. In the Lordship of King Jesus every earthly lordship is judged—all politics and powers and systems and nationalisms are subject to his supreme lordship—so that (Phil 2:10-11) “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
4) The Gospel is the good news that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, our alienation from God has been removed. We come at last to that element of the Gospel which is most commonly preached—that our sin, which stood between mankind and God, has been eliminated in Christ. This is a message that Paul states clearly in Ephesians 2:1-10—that formerly we were dead in our transgressions, but now in Christ we have been granted new life through his resurrection. This is the good news that Christ’s obedience and death have cancelled out our transgressions, while his resurrection life enables our new life in right relationship to God. Moreover, Paul is keen to note that this Gospel is also the good news that this transaction is effected by means of God’s power, and God’s gift, and not our effort. We don’t earn salvation, nor do we inherit it by means of our genetics. God has given us the gift of salvation in the person and work of Christ—this is the good news that we receive it by faith!
5) The Gospel is the good news that in the physical body of Jesus a new way for unity has been made for all people—both Jews and Gentiles. When the apostles began their preaching on Pentecost Sunday, they didn’t yet seem to have a vision for how expansive the message of the Gospel was to be—Peter even targets his preaching solely to “the house of Israel.” But God had a bigger plan—His Kingdom, and His King, would be for the whole world, for all people. Interestingly enough, the second half of Ephesians chapter two is also the Gospel. In that passage—verses 11-21, Paul describes how ‘formerly’ we were a divided people—divided by the law—but now we are now, in Christ, a unified people, a new humanity. This new humanity every bit as much the good news for Paul as is the language of personal salvation. This is the good news of the Church, that God has called from out of the world a people for Himself, that through His Spirit they will be made one, perfected, and purified for His purposes—agents and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
6) The Gospel is the good news of the Incarnation. Although I began this list with the preaching of the Gospel in Mark, the real beginning of the Gospel was the good news announced to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 2:31): “Behold,” Gabriel said, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” To Mary, God first announced His plan to invade the world (and a close look at the Magnificat will reveal how politically Mary perceived this announcement!). But in addition to marking the fulfillment of God’s long plan for humanity, embedded in Christ’s birth there is a more fundamental good news: God Himself has taken on flesh, the world which we see around us, material reality, is good enough for God. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis on this point, God likes matter; He made it. It was His idea in the first place. And when Christ took on flesh he condemned once and for all any theology that views the material world as worthless. Subjected to frustration? Yes. Requiring submission and management? Of course. But what must not be missed is that, from day one of creation until now, God’s world is good, and in the incarnation of our Lord God affirms that goodness for all time. There is no greater condemnation of the evils of the world than that God declares the world to be good.
7) The Gospel is the good news of the Trinity. I have saved, for last, what is perhaps the most important aspect of all—but since it is the most explicitly theological, I wanted to present those more explicitly biblical elements, first. Before Christ’s coming we knew God to be One, perfect, and holy. He was a monad; solitary, powerful, but alone. With the coming of Christ we have learned that while God is still One, He is also mysteriously Three. The ‘mystery’ here is not a kind of hand-waving over a difficulty, but rather our acknowledgement that God is greater than our concepts. Whether or not we understand the Trinity is immaterial—what matters at this moment is that this revealed doctrine is incredibly good news. Why? Because in God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we have access to know and experience God. That because of Christ’s sacrifice, death and resurrection, we receive the Spirit as a deposit and gift—the Spirit makes a way for us to become like Christ, so that we can live in right relationship with the Father. In other words, it is the Trinity that makes it possible for us to know, love, and experience God! And if that isn’t good news, nothing is.
Doubtless there are more ways I could have carved up the Gospel—but these are the seven that are on my heart this week. I could easily have broken some of them into parts—for example, I could have made salvation by faith its own course on the menu. But maybe I’ll ask you, reader. Are there any you would add?