The word “gospel” is one that has been neutered through overuse. We’re somewhat inured to the impact of this term because it’s been so appropriated into our culture and even marginalized into its own sort of subcategory.
So in order to understand how powerful of a term this is, you really need to do a little etymology and historical study…
It’s a word-for-word literal translation of the Greek word euangelion (eu- “good” + angelion “message”) and has something of a dual origin, as far as the Judeo-Christian paradigm is concerned.
In the Old Testament, specifically the prophets and most common in Isaiah, you’ll find an overture to “good news” about what the Lord was intending to do with or for the people of Israel. So for the early church, which consisted almost exclusively of Jews in the beginning, this idea of “good news” was not entirely without precedent. Over the aeons they’d received a proclamation about this or that but, with the life and message of Christ, they were getting the good news of all time.
Further, for those Christians living in the Roman Empire there was an extra sort of socio-political/theological twist. Whenever the Caesar would make a special proclamation to the people, it was described as “gospel.” Now, of course, the Roman Caesar ruled as a supreme political and spiritual leader of his people. So this euangelion was something of a leaping off point for an understood cultural touchstone.
By implication, it is the Christ that holds dominion over both, and not Caesar. If this is so, what He has to say and how He says to live cannot be taken under advisement as those of, say, the Emperor/philosopher Marcus Aurelius or the Greek ideologue Plato or the spiritual teacher Siddhartha Gautama, who we now call Buddha.
If Jesus is just a wise man, then we can treat Him as one. We can take His advice or leave it, perhaps appropriate some maxims to apply to our own derivative paradigm while disregarding Him as authoritative in how we live our lives. I do this with the many gifted teachers I’ve known in my life. I still do this with my own father with regard to parenting. I use what I think is sound and forfeit those ideas that I believe to be obsolete, impractical, or irrelevant with my own vision of family.
Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t grant the same sort of liberty that is found in the Roman stoics, the Greek Platonists, or any of the billions of Buddhists walking the globe. With Christ, you must either take Him at His word, or you deny everything He stood for.
The Christian way of life is precisely that, a way of life. To attempt to cut it up and rearrange the pieces is like attempting to do with a clear sheet of window glass. You might be able to see something, but everything’s going to be distorted. The life and message of Jesus Christ is a complete and coherent system unto itself. If you start changing out the gears it’s not going to work. You’ll end up with chaos and confusion instead of enlightenment.
At the same time, bound up within the faith is its open-handed promise of redemption — redemption for all manner of people, not simply one culture. Though it is certainly exclusive in its way, it is also able to be adapted by every tongue and tribe upon the earth.
The case to believe in Jesus is Lord, therefore, cannot be merely an intellectual assent to a set of doctrines (“I believe in these things, therefore all is well”), or to a spiritual experience that is pleasant and makes me feel safe and comfortable.
But to believe in Jesus is to reject Caesar, Plato, Buddha, Barack Obama, Thomas Jefferson and, in my case, Matthew Prosser as Lord and Savior. We are summoned to obey, yes, but also to trust and love. Essentially, this is a summons to believe and live in the new kingdom that Jesus inaugurated and to reflect this new allegiance in every aspect of our lives.
You were alienated, hostile, and enemies in your minds.
He reconciled you. (Rom 5:10-11, 2 Cor 5:18-21, Col 1:20-23)
You were held hostage.
He paid your ransom. (1 Tim 2:5-6, 1 Pet 1:18-19)
You were cursed.
He redeemed you. (Rom 3:24, Gal 3:13, Eph 1:7, Col 1:14, Tit 2:14, Heb 9:11-12)
You were a sinner.
He forgave you. (Eph 1:7, Col 1:14, 2:13, 1 John 1:9, 2:12)
You were in darkness.
He brought you into light. (John 12:46, 8:12, 2 Cor 4:6, Eph 5:8, Col 1:13, 1 Pet 2:9)
You were an orphan and a slave.
He adopted you as his child. (John 14:18, Rom 8:14-17,23, Gal 4:4-7, Eph 1:5)
You were wicked.
He justified you. (Rom 3:24,26, 4:5, 5:1,9,16,18, 8:30, 10:10 1 Cor 6:11, Tit 3:7)
You were unrighteous.
He made you righteous. (Rom 5:17-19, Gal 5:5, Phil 3:8-9)
You were enslaved to sin.
He set you free. (Rom 6:17-18,22, 8:2, Rev 1:5)
You were guilty.
He made you innocent. (Rom 4:8, 1 Cor 1:8, 2 Cor 5:19)
You were full of shame.
He took your shame. (Rom 9:33, 10:11, 1 Pet 2:6, Heb 12:2)
You were empty.
He filled you up. (Col 2:10)
You were dead.
He made you alive. (Rom 8:10-11, Eph 2:4, Col 2:13)
You were in debt.
He cancelled your debt. (Col 2:14)
You were far off.
He brought you near. (Eph 2:12-13, 1 Pet 3:18)
You were rejected.
He accepted you. (Rom 15:7)
You were lost.
He found you. (Phil 3:8-9)
You were born into sin.
He rebirthed you and a made you new. (1 Pet 1:3-5,23-25, 1 John 3:9, 2 Cor 5:17)
You were blind.
He gave you sight. (2 Cor 3:14-16)
You were poor.
He made you rich. (Rom 8:32,10:12, 2 Cor 8:9, Eph 1:17-18)
You were condemned.
He removed your condemnation. (Rom 8:1)
You were under wrath.
He saved you from his wrath. (John 3:36, Rom 3:24-25, 5:9, 1 Thess 1:10, 5:9, 1 John 2:2, 4:10)
You were weary and heavy laden.
He gave you a light and easy yoke. (Matt 11:28-30)
You were flawed.
He made you perfect. (Heb 10:14, 12:23)
You were dirty.
He washed you clean. (1 Cor 6:11, Tit 3:5, 1 John 1:7-9, 2 Pet 1:9)
The good news of the Gospel is far more than repeating a “sinners prayer’ or following a religious ritual. While it may include such a prayer and be followed by a ritual, the statement “Jesus is Lord” also demands more than lip service.
It is a call to live out the kingdom of God, to live under and within God’s loving reign, and to reflect this new life in every thing I do and say. It takes over.
Dying to sin and despair, living to hope and love: this is the good news of the Gospel.