Amid all the hype and confusion around the biblical meaning of the Gospel, and given its importance for all eternity, our definition of the Gospel must align with God’s determination.
The Gospel is identified and defined in many scriptural passages, but we believe the strongest and clearest is in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5. Throughout the epistle, Paul corrected many errors, both doctrinal and ethical. The church struggled with many problems such as divisions, pride, toleration of sin, lawsuits, confusion over marriage, Christian liberty, spiritual gifts, and much more. In reality, however, the solution to each problem could only be met by standing solidly on the foundation of the sufficiency of the Gospel.
The Gospel is the foundation of doctrine, ethics, and reliability for Christian living. The Gospel in the Scriptures is the power of God (Rom. 1:16), the setting apart of sinners from sin (1 Jn. 2:12), the exchanging of father Satan for Father God (Jn. 8:44; Rom. 8:15), the adoption of sons (Gal. 4:5), and being a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). The Gospel is salvation’s beginning (1 Pet. 1:1–3), sanctification’s progress (1 Pet. 1:4–5), and glorification’s end (1 Pet. 1:7–9).
The Gospel is …
Paul captured the heart of the Gospel by presenting three necessary and fixed components: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Each element depends on the other and in the final analysis, declares the meaning of the Gospel. As we shall see, the death of Christ removes the sin problem, His burial reverses the death problem, and His resurrection reassures the sufficiency question.
Christ died for our sins
1 Corinthians 15:1–5: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
Paul addressed the believers regarding the Gospel he already preached and on which they now stood. Paul wrote not to reveal something new, but to make known what they, through pressure from the culture, had forgotten. Therefore, to avoid further ignorance and confusion, Paul wrote with intentionality.
“Christ died for our sins” is the clear purpose statement that begins to define the Gospel. The following verses make clear why Christ had to die. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Pastor and author John MacArthur addresses our desperate need by stating, “Man’s basic problem is not lack of harmony with his heritage or environment, as society would have you believe, but his total lack of harmony with his Creator, from whom he is alienated by sin (see Eph. 4:18).”[i]The good news, the Gospel, is that the death of Christ removes our sin problem.
Another essential point in this short phrase is with the word indicating substitution, “for.” The word explains that Christ died “on behalf of,” “in place of,” or “instead of” our sin. In other words, because sin was our death sentence, Christ died for our sin by laying down his life for us (Jn. 15:13). Jesus Christ paid the exact penalty of our debt but was not guilty of any sin (2 Cor. 5:21). He was the substitute predicted by Isaiah (53:4–5, 11), called the Passover Lamb by Paul (1 Cor. 5:7), and the One cursed by the law (Gal. 3:13). He took the punishment on himself in our place. Jesus said it this way: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Paul also declared, “Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4).
Sin was our death sentence until Christ bore that sin, paid the full penalty for sin, and presented the payment to Almighty God (1 Jn. 2:2), thereby averting the wrath of God against us. God accepted the sacrifice and removed the sin problem from all those who trust in Jesus Christ. Consequently, the goal of the Gospel is not on behavioral modification but transformation that results from Christ’s death.
Christ was buried
The second necessary and fixed component demonstrates the reality that Christ did die. You do not need to place the living into a grave, but you do with a dead person. When Christ died for our sins, he demonstrated the extent of his sacrifice by being placed in the tomb (Jn. 19:38–42).
But how does that connect with the Gospel? Paul mysteriously linked the significance of Jesus’ burial with our death to sin, spiritually. Believers are in such association with Christ, that when he died, we also died to the old way of life in preparation for being risen. Paul made it clear in Romans 6:3–4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
His death will affirm His authority over death when raised out of death. Our association with Him in the grave wondrously reverses our death problem. There is one final enemy that Christ at the end will completely change, and that is death. Paul said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).
Christ was raised
Paul closed out the section with the fact that Christ “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Included in the next verse is irrefutable evidence of Christ’s resurrection by his appearing to multiple witnesses (15:4–8). The Gospel includes all the necessary components for complete and sufficient salvation.
The resurrection of Christ is the key link in the chain of all Christianity. In other words, as Paul recognized, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” (15:17). Every element and assurance of the Gospel hangs on the resurrection of Christ. The primary point that the Gospel saves us from sin would fail and leave us with our sin problem if Christ did not rise from the grave.
Thankfully, Paul made it very clear, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20–21). Therefore, the resurrection reassures us that Christ’s death and burial are sufficient.
The resurrection also demonstrates God’s acceptance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sin. Paul said it well as he described Jesus as the one who descended from David “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). Paul, in verse 1, calls it the “gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” God, when he raised Christ from the dead, did validate that acceptance and declared Christ’s status of power and our freedom from sin. All those who trust in Jesus Christ alone receive approval before God, as we are adopted as members of his family, and become heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:15–17).
The result of the resurrection is complete because the real power that raised Christ will also give our mortal bodies life. Paul wrote, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
The sufficiency of our salvation is very clear, because it is not from us but Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
[i]John MacArthur, Remember & Return: Rekindling Your Love for the Savior(Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 2016), 73.