What is the Gospel?
The word gospel simply means "good news." Specifically it is the good news about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and how this work of Christ can atone for our sins.
Intellectually accepting the claims of Christ does not make one a Christian or save you from your sin. Neither does an emotional religious experience or any type of work (be it a prayer, baptism, sacraments, church attendance or any other "good works") performed with the hope of meriting God's favor.
One can only become a Christian by repenting of his sins and turning to Christ in faith. But don't take our word for it. We would encourage you to consider the following truths from God's Word. Please feel free to look them up for yourself if you have access to a Bible.
All men are sinners and have offended a holy Creator God. Consider the following passages:
"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." (Romans 3:10, 11).
"For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" (Romans 3:23).
For a more detailed account, read the first 3 chapters of Romans. In these chapters, the apostle Paul makes it very clear that all men (be they heathens who have never heard of the true God, or be they religious people such as the Jews of Paul's day who knew much about the true God) are sinners and stand condemned before the holy, righteous God.
Since God is holy, righteous, and just He can not allow sin to go unpunished. Paul makes it clear that all men have rebelled against God and no man can excuse his actions due to his culture, background, status in life, etc.
Even those who have never heard the gospel have rejected the witness of God's creation (Psalm 19:1-3) that testifies of his eternal power and deity (1:20). In layman's terms the Bible teaches in Romans 1-3 that all mankind is in big trouble!
No man can merit God's favor or make things right with God on his own. Consider the following passages.
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6)
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;" (Titus 3:5).
In every man-made world religion there is some standard of righteousness (righteousness essentially means conformity to a standard or meeting one's obligations, in this case before God) or ethical conduct whereby man, by diligent effort, can merit favor with a god or gods (be they theistic, polytheistic, pantheistic, or otherwise).
As a result he can enter heaven, nirvana, or whatever state he seeks to enter. The Bible teaches, however, that God's standard of righteousness is perfection, and that no man can meet it. Therefore, mankind can not reconcile himself to a holy God.
We encourage you to examine Romans 3-4 to see Paul's arguments against the possibility of justification (declared to be in a state of righteousness before God) by works. These chapters make it very clear that man can do nothing to earn his own salvation or work his way to heaven.
The results or punishment for our sins is death.
This includes both physical death and the "second death," which is the eternal separation from God in a place of punishment referred to as "the lake of fire." Consider the following passages.
"For the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23)
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" (Romans 5:12)
"Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." (Romans 1:32)
"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8)
From Genesis (Genesis 2:17) to Revelation, the wages of sin has been death. All men since Adam and Eve are sinners by birth and by choice. Therefore, all men must pay this penalty.
Fortunately, however, the story does not end here. If it did, man would have no hope.
Christ died for our sins so that we wouldn't have to pay our own "death penalty."
He was then buried, and rose again on the third day. This is often referred to as the "gospel" or "good news." As a result of this good news, every man can now have his sins forgiven and receive God's free gift of eternal life.
"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:" (I Corinthians 15:3,4)
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
"...but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (II Corinthians 5:21)
Even though God hates sin and must punish sinners, He still loves sinners and doesn't desire them to "perish" (II Peter 3:9). That's why He intervened in our behalf by sending the Lord Jesus, His "only begotten Son" to die in our place.
Jesus Christ was the God-man, completely God and completely man. As a result He was perfect and sinless, and therefore qualified to pay our sin penalty for us by his substitutionary death on the cross (II Corinthians 5:21).
His resurrection from the grave proved that God had accepted his sacrifice for our sins. Therefore, as a result of Christ's shed blood on the cross, the believer can have his sins forgiven and his life completely cleansed (I John 1:7).
In addition to having his sins forgiven, the believer receives Christ's perfect righteousness ("the righteousness of God") when he becomes a Christian. This is a judicial transaction whereby the believer is justified (declared righteous) before God. In God's eyes the new believer is positionally just as righteous as Jesus Christ even though practically he is not yet perfect and will still struggle with sin.
This truth explains how a believer becomes reconciled with God and can thereby enter heaven upon death. God sees Christ's righteousness and not the believer's sins.
We encourage you to read Romans 5 for a more thorough explanation of Christ's substitutionary death.
We can accept God's free gift of eternal live by trusting Christ as our Lord and Savior. This trust is not only a positive act of faith toward God through Christ Jesus, but it involves also a turning away from our sinful lives (what we call repentance). Consider the following verses:
"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,"(Acts 3:19)
"Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21)
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:9-10)
"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:13)
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:36)
"And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, ..." (Acts 16:30-31).
We clearly see from these passages that salvation is not in a religion, a plan or a prayer, but in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) that all of us must choose to accept or reject. Although Christ died for all men, he did not create robots that would be forced to believe and obey. He gives each of us a choice. In essence, that's what salvation is from man's perspective; a volitional choice to turn from our sins (repentance) and to turn to Christ (faith).
Faith (belief or trust) and repentance are often used interchangeably when the gospel message is presented. Some passages mention repentance while others speak of faith. Acts 20:21 mentions both. Obviously they are synonyms that are used of different aspects of a believer's conversion.
Repentance emphasizes the "turning from" and faith emphasizes the "turning to." You can't have one without the other. Saving faith will always include repentance and vice versa.
What this means then is that a simple intellectual consent to the truths of the gospel does not constitute saving faith. Neither does simply reciting "the sinner's prayer." We must remember that sin is rebellion against God, and before we can receive the forgiveness of our sins from Christ our Savior we must be willing to bow our knee (in humble repentance) to Christ our Lord.
This does not mean we must first reform our lives before we can be saved for this would be salvation by works. Rather it means that we are willing to give up our sins and let Christ change our lives by reforming us from the inside out.
It seems too simple, but that's what the Bible teaches. All one must do to be saved is to truly trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We encourage you to read John 3 for the Lord's explanation of "the new birth."
Your Next Step
If you still would like to study further, we would encourage you to read the entire Gospel of John and/or the first ten chapters of Romans.
If, however, you are already convinced that you need to repent of your sin and trust Christ, you can do it right where you are.
We would encourage you to simply pray to God, admitting to Him that you are a sinner, in need of His gracious salvation. Tell Him that you truly believe that Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose again, and that you would like to repent of your sins and turn to Christ in faith.
Don't worry about the exact words, because it's not a prayer that saves you anyway, it's the repentance and faith that is in your heart. The prayer is simply a way of expressing your desire to God.
If you would like to talk with someone about the possibility of trusting the Lord as your Savior, please contact us.
If you have trusted Christ, please contact us. We would enjoy helping you in any way that we can. If nothing more, we would like to send you some follow-up materials that explain the Christian life more fully.