Book Review: What Is the Gospel

“What Is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert

What is the gospel? One would expect this question to have a short, simple answer, considering that Christians everywhere devote themselves to proclaiming “the gospel” (the word means “good news”). We proclaim the gospel because Jesus did it (Mark 1:14-15). We proclaim the gospel because Jesus told us to do it (Mark 16:15). We proclaim the gospel because Paul told us it is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). We proclaim the gospel because Peter told us it is the means by which the spiritually dead may live holy lives by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 4:6). So… what is the gospel?

As Gilbert quickly shows us, the answer to this question may not be as simple as we might expect. He tells us: “Ask any hundred self-professed evangelical Christians what the good news of Jesus is, and you’re likely to get about sixty different answers.” He then shares just twelve examples (many of which are mutually exclusive) of definitions of “the gospel” taken from various evangelical websites, books, and ministry publications. The fact that these definitions are mutually exclusive means that they can’t all be right… which means that at least some (if not many) self-professed evangelical Christians are wrong about the evangel — the gospel.

Because of this fact, a book like this one has been desperately needed. Gilbert moves quickly but clearly through what the Bible tells us about the greatest news anyone could ever hear. To do this, though, he backs up to provide the context for our understanding of the gospel.

He begins by defending the authority of the Bible. Without the Bible, there is no gospel. But the Bible has no authority unless it is entirely and inerrantly true. Thus, we must believe everything the Bible tells us about the gospel, or nothing at all. We can’t pick and choose.

Next is the reasoning for God’s authority. As our Creator, He has the divine right to make up the rules, and to hold us accountable to them. Again, we don’t get to pick and choose what we believe about God. We must believe what the Bible says about Him. So while He is indeed a God of love and mercy (no one has a problem with these attributes) He is also a God of holiness and judgment. Contrary to the teaching of many popular preachers, judgment of sin and sinners is not incompatible with love and mercy. If fact, it is precisely because God loves righteousness that he must judge and condemn sin.

The next step in this systematic examination of the gospel message is the Fall of Man. God created man in a state of righteousness and relationship with Himself, but Adam screwed up. He chose to disobey God’s will, condemning the entire human race to lives of sin and separation from God. Furthermore, each and every human who has ever lived — save One! — has compounded this guilt by continuously sinning against a holy God. For this, each and every man, woman, and child deserves death and eternal separation from our Creator.

So far, all we’ve got is bad news…

But praise God! He has offered us a Way to be reconciled in our relationship with Him! He has offered a Way for us to be judged for our sin and found Not Guilty! Knowing what we know about God’s holiness and man’s sin, the pursuit of this Way and its proclamation to the world ought to be our singular pursuit in this life, should it not?

Gilbert shows us in Scripture why it was necessary for Christ to die for our sins. Why He was the only possible Way for a holy God to overlook our sins and declare us innocent. Why Jesus had to be both fully God and fully man. Why we cannot contribute anything at all to our own salvation. Why His death would have meant nothing for us if He had not risen from the grave and ascended to Heaven. This is the very “heart of the gospel”, yet each of these Truths are denied by many professing Christians! To profess the true gospel, however, we must profess the entire gospel. Leaving out any part of it leaves us with only bad news.

Following this description of Christ’s work and the redemption it accomplished, Gilbert shows us the Christian’s appropriate (and inevitable) response: faith & repentance. These are “two sides of the same coin”; we cannot have one without the other. Our works do not save us, but they are the evidence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. A saved person WILL bear fruit. This fruit is the renunciation and hatred of our sin, and a total commitment to relying on God’s power to live as we are called, even in the face of suffering and persecution.

But what benefit is it to the Christian to endure this suffering and persecution? We endure because we look forward to the promise of the kingdom of God and the blessings that come with it. Gilbert shows us that this kingdom is really more of a kingship; it is “God’s redemptive rule, reign, and authority over those redeemed by Jesus.” This is a kingdom that is both already and not yet here. That is, it is partially fulfilled right now, and we share in some of its blessings in this life. We already have fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the Church. Satan is already bound (but not yet destroyed; Matthew 12:29). We are already adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15). We are already raised and seated on high with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). But the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom is yet future. Christ is coming again, and when He does, sin, death, and Satan will be finally destroyed. We will spend eternity in perfect fellowship with God and all the saints (Revelation 22:4-5). There will be no more suffering or sorrow (Revelation 21:4). This is our great hope (Titus 2:13)!

The last two chapters deal with ways in which many professing believers substitute something that is less than the gospel in place of the true gospel. Three examples (though there are more) are (1) “Jesus is Lord” — the teaching that God is supreme ruler and judge, with no mention of the redeeming work of the cross; (2) “Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation” — the teaching that God created the world “good”, that the relationship of man with God is broken, and that God is coming again to repair that relationship and restore the goodness of creation, with the exclusion of how this is accomplished and how man can be included in that restoration; and (3) “Cultural Transformation” — the teaching that our ultimate purpose is to change the world by following Jesus’ example, as opposed to finding our ultimate fulfillment in the transforming work of Christ. The common thread in each of these particular examples is that they are all partially true. Jesus is Lord. The Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation narrative is a good outline of the Bible’s main story line. We are called to live holy lives as modeled by Jesus Christ, resisting evil and promoting good in our culture. However, when the stumbling block of the cross is removed, we remove the only possible bridge between God and Man.

This is contrasted in the final chapter with a display of the power of the true gospel. The gospel message can, does, and will change the world! It begins in the heart of every believer, causing us to repent of our sins, believe in Christ, rest in the assurance of our salvation, love Christ’s people, love the lost, long for the Lord’s return, and proclaim the gospel until He does!

As it turns out, the gospel really is quite simple. However, simple does not equal easy. The radical message of redemption requires a cost that we don’t want to pay, so we seek ways to make the gospel “comfortable” or “relevant” for our lives and our culture. This is no gospel at all. Thank the Lord for His infinite wisdom and mercy in providing the true gospel, and revealing it in its simplicity in the Scripture! May He anoint each of us with power from the Holy Spirit to live our lives in the shadow of the cross, and to proclaim the gospel to our neighbors and all nations!

Buy this book here.

One comment on “Book Review: What Is the Gospel

  1. […] Guide to the Gospel — Here’s a free, downloadable reading/discussion guide for Greg Gilbert’s excellent book, What Is the Gospel? […]

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