Vol. 2 - No. 6

June, 1983

Essence of The Gospel

by Robert L. McDonald

"We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it cloth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth" (Colossians 1:3-6).

The word "gospel" is a well-used word in the English. It is probably misused as much or more than the real meaning of the word as found in the New Testament. It is commonly used with reference to the daily affairs of life.

In the Bible, the word is used in a very special way. It refers to the whole scheme of redemption brought into existence by the wisdom and power of God. It is a message which is to be heard and believed to the salvation of man's soul.

In Kittel's monumental work (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) we are enriched with fifteen pages of history of the etymologies of the word. It is interesting to see the gradual change associated in the meaning of the gospel. The word was originally a technical term for "news of victory." When originally used, a messenger appears, with spear in his hand and decked with laurel as a crown on his head, shouts "rejoice…victory." There is much joy in the city with such an announcement.

This is only one of many derivations of the word. It meant reports of a political or private nature, especially related to victory or success. In the instance of politics, the news of victory would result in sacrificial feasts to celebrate the victory of battle. Nero even used the word with reference to the games in ordering a news of victory. Good fortune is contained in the word. Among the pagans the word conveyed the good news of the gods they worshipped.

The emperor was, in time, looked upon as being the personification of deity. His power was without measure. He supposedly worked miracles and healed men. The elements even obeyed his voice, being subject to him. When he spoke, there was no word to come from his lips but truth. His words were regarded as sacred; it was said that his word was gospel.

By the time of the first century, the word had begun to take upon itself the meaning of all of the above. With the coming of Jesus (God manifested in the flesh), who had all power in heaven and earth, to reign as King of kings, he would speak words of truth regarding the victory of salvation. When the disciples of Christ later crisscrossed the world proclaiming the gospel, they would tell of the good news.

In our text, the apostle Paul speaks of the "word of the truth of the gospel." The stories of the emperors and pagan gods were founded on the fables of the superstitious. The words of wisdom from the philosophers was a display of human wisdom with an accumulation of the mysteries of the ancients. But the gospel of Christ revealed the certainties about the true and living God. The "gospel according to Mark" begins, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." For hundreds of years the prophets of the Old Testament had spoken of the Messiah to deliver His people from their sins. Now John the Baptist appears on the scene to announce the soon to come kingdom of God and the salvation of the mighty one. After John the Baptist was placed in prison, Jesus continues the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom (Mark 1:14-15). Whenever the gospel was preached, there was never a doubt nor speculation as to the nature of the kingdom or the purpose of the coming of the Lord. The Lord and His apostles, and later the millions of disciples, spoke with all assurance of the truth and dogmatically defended the gospel anytime it was under attack. Without compromise, the apostle Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…" (Romans 1:16). Again he wrote, "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man…but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). Again, "I am set for the defense of the gospel" (Philippians 1:17). These loyal disciples of our Lord were not afraid, and without fear or favor, preached the glorious gospel of Christ. Their belief in and love for the gospel led them to defend it at all cost. The gospel is truth.

Each section of the world produced its own philosophies. The wisdom of those minds were usually limited to the society and environment where they lived. The exchange of the philosophers was gladly adopted so as to improve counsel and guidance when called upon. Athens was a place where devout persons and wise men would exchange such views. When Paul was in that ancient city and encountered Jews and Gentiles with the gospel, it was reported that some said, "What will this babbler say? He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17:17-18). The Bible student is well informed of the discourse which followed. Paul was not preaching a gospel localized to one section of the world. His message of salvation was not limited to the Jews or one tribe in a remote province. The gospel of Christ is the universal message of salvation. Jesus had said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). In Jerusalem, the apostle Peter said, "Ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe" (Acts 15:7). There was no difference between the Jews and Gentiles in this gospel age -- all were purified by faith in the gospel. As we witnessed the aggressive teaching of those early disciples, we should be stimulated to do more in converting lost souls to this message of victory.

The philosophies of the world are empty platitudes of human wisdom. To a person without a knowledge of the truth such words may seem spiritually uplifting. But human wisdom will not bring a person into a proper relationship with God. An Old Testament prophet wrote, "0 Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Another ancient wrote, "For my thoughts are not your throughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 'so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Man foolishly tries to devise schemes to improve his present life and vainly attempts to pass through the portals of death into a better life somewhere.

The gospel is an all sufficient message. In this life man has a greater respect for the marriage relationship because of what he learns in the truth of the gospel. He understands the union of husband and wife is life long and becomes a more beautiful marriage with each passing year. The inspired writer said, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled" (Hebrews 13:4). The person to embrace the gospel improves his life in being honest and righteous with his fellowman (Ephesians 4:24, 28). His speech is pure, seasoned with salt (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6). In every walk of man's life, the gospel will direct him in the way to ultimately bring victory in this life and in that which is to come.

Last, through the gospel there is reconciliation. Because man is guilty of sin, he is alienated from God and finds himself without hope. This was the very argument made by the apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:ll,ff). Through the gospel, man is saved from his past sins and becomes righteous as the result of his obedience to our Lord (Romans 1:16-17, 6:16-18). Through the gospel man gains a knowledge of his sinful condition and is made aware of his hopelessness. The heinousness of sin is seen when he understands how God looks upon man's sin to the extent that he would allow His Son to suffer and die the terrible death on the cross that man might be saved from his sins. And as the apostle Paul wrote in our text, the Colossians were assured that in the day they heard of the gospel and knew the grace of God in truth, they brought forth the intended fruit.