What is “the Gospel”?

God So Loved

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16)

One cannot deny that the Bible teaches that God so loved the world. And one cannot deny that the Bible also teaches that whosoever believes in Christ will have eternal life. That is God’s plan! That is what the Bible teaches and that is what must be taught and believed.  God has determined that whosoever will believe in Christ will not perish.

God IS Love

And the Bible also teaches that God is love.

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:8)

God does not just contain love; He is the very essence of love. Love is a part of God’s being. Love is one of God’s eternal attributes. Everything that finite man can know about love is because God’s image is stamped upon him. God’s love has been overwhelmingly expressed by the death of Jesus Christ.

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 Jn. 4:10)

God loved the world so much that He gave His only unique Son in order that man might live through Him. There can be no doubt that this is all true. There is also no way that a human being can limit the worth of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. His death was sufficient to satisfy God for all of the sin of Adam’s fallen race.

“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 Jn. 2:2)

If it had been God’s will to do so, all of Adam’s race would be saved. Yet not all of Adam’s race will be given life! And the unbeliever’s condemnation will be just because of unbelief. God will hold accountable all who do not believe.

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

How is it possible for God to elect some to salvation and to condemn the non-elect?  This is impossible for any human being to reconcile. God would be just to pass over all of His creation, but He has chosen to be gracious to some.  If we could grasp this truth, we could understand the mind of God.  What we do know is that God is righteous and just.  When God’s righteousness is called into question Paul responds;

“May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’” (Rom. 3:4)

God is righteous in all that He has chosen to do! That is all that we need to know.

A World of Sinners

“For God so loved the world.” Christ died for sin in order to save sinners who are a part of the world (1 Tim. 1:15).  But because God chooses to save some sinners and not all sinners still means that He loves the world. After all, the world is where sinners live!  Because God did not choose to save all who would ever live upon this earth does not mean that God did not love the world.

What about “the whosoever believes” part?  The “whosoevers” are the very ones that God has set His love upon. He has loved the world in order to save the “whosoevers.”  The “whosoevers” are the ones that will hear the voice of the Shepherd (Jn. 6:37-39).  (See “Chosen of God.”) The “whosoevers” are those who will be drawn to the gospel by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:44).

Is God’s will frustrated if people do not believe in Him? Is His will thwarted?  Every one of the “whosoevers” will come to Christ by faith. Not one of them will be left behind or lost. Why is this true?

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)

The “us” in this passage cannot be speaking of unbelievers. Why? Because unbelievers have never been a part of “us.” Peter is speaking of those who are not going to perish. They are not going to perish because God has willed them not to perish. And God’s will, will be done.

Drawing All Men

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.” (Jn. 12:32-33)

The word “all” cannot mean that all of Adam’s race would be drawn to the gospel of grace and believe. This is “universalism.” Universalism is the false teaching that in the end everyone is going to have life.  The Bible makes it clear that not all are going to “have Him.”

“He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” (1 Jn. 5:12)

God, at the end of the age in which He dealt specifically with the nation of Israel, sent Christ to the Jews only. Christ and the disciples preached the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 10:5).  But following His death and resurrection, God’s salvation was extended to all races. This does not mean that everyone of every race will be saved. This “drawing all men” is fulfilling the portion of the God’s promise to Abraham that in him all of the nations of the earth would be blessed. It means that God will draw all kinds of people from every tribe, language, and nation to Himself (Rev. 5:9). And so people from every nationality (not just from the Jews) will be drawn to Christ who has been lifted up. Again, God’s plan will not be frustrated.

May or Can

The small words in the Bible many times carry the most weight. God did not waste words in the Bible.  Read carefully these words of our Lord as He speaks to a group of religious Pharisees.

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” (Jn. 6:44-47)

Christ used the little verb “can” in this verse for a reason. This word implies ability, and it means exactly what it says. The text does not that no one “may come” but that no one “can come.”

The children may ask, “Dad, may I drive the car?” At issue is permission to drive. However, the child may ask, “Can I drive the car?” This is a horse of a different color. You might respond, “Well, I don’t know, can you?”

Christ is saying that God must make those who are unwilling to come, willing. God must break through the darkness of the fallen heart and make us willing to believe in Christ.

Christ was clearly teaching that no human being has the ability to come to Jesus Christ unless first drawn by the Father. Fallen man is simply not able to “come to God” unless God intervenes! Man is dead in trespasses and sins and unless God opens his eyes, they will remain that way.

Not Popular

Because of the imprint of Adam’s sin on our souls and Satan’s evil influence around us, the clear facts of the gospel have often been watered down, distorted, and compromised. During the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth a perverted gospel replaced the genuine one.  The gospel of grace focuses all attention upon the work of God alone, but the distorted gospel allows man to share in God’s glory.

During the extreme persecution of the church in 300 A.D., a compromise was reached between the persecutors (emperors of Rome) and the persecuted (those having believed in Jesus Christ). The result was that the simple gospel of grace was plunged for hundreds of years into a sea of religious rituals and tradition that often blinded people to God’s grace.  (See “Religion”)

God brought this period to an end with the Reformation in Europe during the sixteenth century. The gospel of grace was once again brought to the surface and it began to burn brightly.

One might ask this very important question. What did the original reformers think about God’s electing grace? It should come as little surprise that the gospel that was retrieved by the reformers in Europe was the gospel of God’s sovereign grace.  Men like Martin Luther, Zwingli, Edwards, Calvin, Tyndale, Bullinger, etc., all believed and preached the gospel of God’s grace. They clarified God’s grace revealed in the Scripture. That is why their views of the gospel today are referred to as “reformed views.”

The reformers surfaced the gospel of God’s electing grace because that is the gospel. Shortly after God’s grace reemerged, it was distorted again. And now, after hundreds of years the gospel of God’s grace is under siege again.  Man has slowly crept back into the picture.

God’s grace has never been popular in any generation. Martin Luther said, “All objections to predestination proceed from the wisdom of the flesh (human reason.  Hence, whoever does not deny himself and does not learn to keep his thoughts in subjection to the divine will, never will find an answer to his questions.” (Commentary on Romans, Kregel Publications, 1976, pp 130.)

During His first visit to planet earth, the Lord Jesus Christ read this portion of the Old Testament scriptures to some Jews in the Temple:

“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.’ And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” (Luke 4:18-22)

The Jews listening to Jesus were amazed at His wisdom. Up to this point things were going fine.  Christ had favor with the crowd. But notice carefully what He said next.

“But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-24)

There were many widows, but God went to only one. There were many lepers, but God chose to cleanse only one. This was sovereign election! This was the Creator’s right to do with His creation that which He desired.

“And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.” (Luke 4:25-29)

The people were filled with rage and they lashed out at the Lord Jesus.  They despised the truth of election.  We may despise the truth of election, but we cannot deny that the Bible teaches it.

The Bible’s truth concerning the exercise of God’s sovereign control over man will never be popular with man because it is not of man.  There is no part of it that glorifies man in any way. No human being would have ever invented this truth. It stands in direct conflict with man’s fallen mind. It flies in the face of man’s total depravity. It leaves no glory for man, none!  It places all responsibility in the hands of God alone. Man inherently fears the idea of not having some control even in a small way.

Our secret desire is to assume some responsibility, even if it is the very small amount of “having believed.” Our flesh wants some credit for having made a “right choice.”  Our humanness wants some of the glory for having exercised some wisdom in believing the gospel.  But God will share His glory with no creature!  (See “The Creator’s Privilege.”)

Why Preach and Pray

If God has already predetermined His plan, then why preach the gospel? We are to preach the gospel for the same reason that we teach God’s grace. Because God’s word tells us to preach the gospel! God’s word teaches that God has a people who will believe the gospel, and so God says preach the gospel (1 Thess. 2:4).  Preaching the gospel is God’s way of calling those who belong to Him. It is the way that God carries out His plan.

What about those who are sent to the mission field? Should they not go? Certainly they should go! Human beings will continue to be sent by God with the message of grace.  Missionaries will continue to go into the world.

And why pray? We are to pray because God instructs us to pray (1 Thess. 5:18). It is through the medium of prayer that God’s will is accomplished.  God the Holy Spirit will move us to pray because God wills us to pray (Rom. 8:26-27).

Dr. Mal Couch, president of Tyndale, Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said it well: “Believers are to live and work as if it all depends upon them, but they are to recognize that it really doesn’t.”

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” (Job. 12:7-10)


New American Standard Bible

Mal Couch, Tyndale Theological Seminary

John MacArthur