This post stems from the Kern reading group on Faith, Work and Economics at Talbot, a small group comprised of Talbot and Crowell faculty that discusses the intersection of the Christian faith with issues like poverty, work, economics and justice.
The English term “gospel” summarizes the central message of Christianity. This important word comes from the Greek εὐαγγέλιον [euangelion] that can be translated in English as good news or good message. The “good news” is intrinsically related to the person and work of Jesus who as the promised Messiah or Christ fulfills the Old Testament promises of redemption and who through his sacrifice on the cross provided an atonement for the sins of humanity. The bad news as consequence of our sins became good news in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the gospel!
In fact, the Bible describes the life and teachings of Jesus from four different perspectives. We call these stories the gospels or The Gospel According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John respectively because their main focus is Jesus Christ. Christianity has in the gospel its foundational message. Therefore, a follower of Christ is the one who believes, lives and proclaims the gospel to others.
In spite of the importance of the gospel to Christianity, there are frequently differences of opinion about what is precisely the good news of Jesus Christ. Evidently, Jesus forgives our sins and offers eternal life as perhaps the most well-known passage in the Bible, John 3:16, describes: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus restores our previously broken relationship with God and this spiritual element is foundational to the gospel. However, many have limited the gospel message in a way that could be perceived as merely “a ticket to heaven.” Namely, they teach that the good news in Jesus are exclusively spiritual. This gospel interpretation perceives social implications as secondary or in some instances even inexistent. In this view, the gospel is only spiritual and fails to provide hope to those struggling with physical needs
The good news about the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ restores our relationship with God, but also with other human beings, with creation and even with ourselves. In other words, Christ transforms all our existence and he reigns supreme in the whole universe. The message is not just a spiritual message about Christ, but the gospel is indeed Christ. Therefore, the good news of the gospel goes beyond the spiritual or mystical dimension. The gospel also has a communal and social dimension with implications of hope to those in need.
We do not need to speculate about the real message or intentions of Jesus because he clearly described them at the beginning of his earthly ministry. In Luke 4, Jesus began his ministry in Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. Verses 16 to 21 describe the moment when Jesus openly announced that he was the promised Messiah and in those words he explains the gospel message:
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus read an important messianic passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 that described the upcoming mission of God’s Messiah. With the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the gospel of Christ is good news to the poor, to the captives, to the blind and those who are oppressed. Jesus cares for the marginalized and offers them hope. As Jesus followers, we should imitate him and do the same. The gospel of Christ proclaims God’s justice to everybody, individually and collectively. Christianity without social implications is not from Christ and proclaims an incomplete gospel.
As followers of Christ we are called to preach the gospel to the whole world with our words, but also with our actions. Our lives and our genuine concern for the well-being of others speak as loud as our words. In my church and ministry, I constantly hear invitations to share more the gospel with people around me. I welcome and affirm those invitations, but I encourage all of us to proclaim the complete gospel like Jesus does. We need to remember that the gospel is not a secondary message to Jesus Christ, but that Jesus is, indeed, the gospel.