I believe we are often misleading in our use of the word “gospel” in the church.
We will typically say the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is the good news of His coming, dying, and being raised for our salvation. But then when we teach Galatians 1:6-9 regarding people perverting the gospel and turning to another gospel, we define it in a much broader way. In applying this passage we see those who are not following overall New Testament teachings as being guilty of perverting the gospel. Thus, those who teach salvation at belief alone through he sinner’s prayer, have women in public leadership roles, or add instruments of music to their worship without New Testament authority are perverting the gospel.
We speak of “gospel” preachers and “gospel” meetings. Many, including myself, have even used an evangelistic teaching method focused around “obeying the gospel” and teach that the term is a reference to baptism.
We are critical of those who want to reduce the gospel down to simply the “death, burial, and resurrection” so that other matters are secondary and not as necessary to obey or follow. I heard a speaker one time argue that the farther the issues were from this central theme the less they were binding and authoritative for churches today. The Lord’s Supper and baptism are close to Jesus’ DBR (death, burial, resurrection) but other issues like worship, women’s role, and church leadership are farther, and thus not as binding on local churches from different times and cultures.
As I recently studied Paul’s teachings to the Galatians in 1:6-9, I made the observation that how one defines or reads the term “gospel” greatly impacts their convictions. Many only consider the DBR of Jesus, while others consider the whole NT document as the gospel.
After the sermon my wife, who is my best sermon critic and life-time church member, said “it is confusing, we shouldn’t say the word means two things, all my life I have heard it refers to the DBR.”
After this study, sermon, and discussion, it is my contention that we should be more consistent in our usage of the term “gospel.” I think we can actually harm the understanding and obedience to the gospel by referring to it as simply the DBR of Jesus.
So what is the Gospel?
The gospel is the message about Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-5, Gal. 1:4). But it is also the message of Jesus. The gospel accounts tell the “gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Sermon on the Mount and the rest of Jesus’ teachings are certainly a part of the gospel.
The gospel is also what the Apostles taught as they received inspiration from Jesus. Paul says in the context of Galatians 1 that he received his gospel directly from Jesus Christ (v. 11-12). The gospel Paul spoke of was not limited to just the DBR of Jesus, but clearly involved the truth of salvation by faith separate from works of the old law (Gal. 2:2-16). Paul called it the “gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24) and the “gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13). Thus, all of the New Testament message is the gospel. It is the message about and of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is to be obeyed (Rom. 10:16; Gal. 5:7; 1 Pet 4:17, 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Obeying the gospel certainly involves being united with the DBR of Jesus in baptism (Rom. 6:3-6), but it is not limited to baptism. This is obeying the gospel, but so is obedience to any other Biblical teaching and command.
I would suggest that the gospel is very similar to other NT terms like “the faith” and “the truth.” It refers to a core body of teachings given in the NT writings which Christians are to follow.
Paul’s Warning in Galatians 1 is about exchanging the true gospel for a counterfeit one. When we transpose our beliefs for the true gospel we are guilty. This is serious business which means a forsaking of God and brings us under the judgment of God.
I have said all of this to encourage us in the church to be more consistent and precise in our use of the term “gospel.” We are inconsistent when we define it often as the DBR of Jesus and then in other contexts speak of those who are perverting the gospel. Our use of this term, may be one reason why some of our number, especially youth, have opened themselves to false doctrine, because they see the gospel Paul speaks of as only talking about the DBR of Jesus. In their view, as long as you believe in that, everything else doesn’t really matter that much.
***To listen to my sermon visit the Audio Resources Page and listen to the sermon “A Perverted Gospel” from 1-11-15.
What are your thoughts?