For many years there has been a movement among Evangelicals in which the gospel has been reduced to just a simple individual salvation message. Those that preach evangelistic messages on Sundays with an altar call are the only true ones preaching the gospel according to these Evangelicals. However, is that all there is to the gospel of Christ? While I believe it is important we point to the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ as much as possible, is this done only through overt evangelistic messages?
A closer look at the New Testament shows that, by that narrow definition, most of the writers of the New Testament did not preach the gospel. The only instances of a gospel presentation for salvation of sinners in the New Testament (where the events of the last six hours of the life of Christ are specifically mentioned in, a salvation from sins, context for unbelievers) are in portions of the book of Romans (culminating in Romans 3:21-26; Romans 10:9,10; Acts chapters 2, 4, 7,8, 10,13,16,17,26). All of these instances of preaching the salvation component of the gospel were not in a church assembly but to the lost in the streets or in the synagogue. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is the only punctuated explanation of the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ out of sixteen chapters, possibly Philippians 2:5-9, and one can argue that portions of Hebrews 8,9.10 and 13 can also qualify as a succinct presentation of individual salvation. While there may have been other instances where you can argue for a succinct evangelistic salvation message, you get the general idea.
Furthermore, according to this narrow view of the gospel, the books of 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, 1,2nd ,3rd Epistles of John and Revelation do not preach the gospel!
What about the gospels? What about Galatians?
Of course, all four gospels end with the historical narrative of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, which is the apex of the gospel narrative for the salvation of sinners.
However, we also have to understand that in Mark 1:1 it says “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ”; In Matthew 4:23, Jesus began to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and affliction of the people. Luke 4:42, Jesus said He must preach the good news (gospel) of the Kingdom of God.
In all these instances and more, Jesus was proclaiming the Gospel before He ever mentioned the cross and His resurrection! As a matter of fact, at that point nobody but Jesus even knew He was going to be crucified, but Jesus still called what He was preaching “The gospel”!
What about the gospel of John? This gospel has many instances alluding to salvation as we review chapters, 1 and 3-12. However, the culmination of the whole book is in John 14:6 when Jesus says that “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the father except through me”; hence, according to this statement (and the fact that Jesus preached the gospel before mentioning the cross), the gospel is not just the last six hours of His life when He died on the cross and then rose three days later. The gospel or the good news is the person of Jesus Christ, which is why it is called repeatedly the gospel of Jesus Christ and not the gospel of the cross.
Does this diminish the importance of the death, burial and resurrection? Of course not, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is the culmination and ultimate intent of Jesus. The cross is also intertwined throughout the New Testament as a means by which believers can crucify the flesh and experience the resurrection power of a new life in Him (Romans 6:6-10). The view presented in this article doesn’t diminish the cross but enhances it. The power of the cross is evident in every aspect of a person’s post salvation experience. It also embodies the absolute perfection and sinless nature of the life and person of the Son of God. Hence, what makes Jesus’s death on the cross different from others who died on the cross (during His time) was the fact that He lived a holy, perfect life, without sin, for more than thirty years. The fact that the God/man Jesus knew no sin gave Him the legal ability to become sin for us so we can be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21,1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:18).
Even the book of Galatians, which deals with the cross (2:20,21) and aspects of salvation by grace as applied to believers, is not specifically used to win the lost; although, its principles can be extracted from it for a salvation message. Even when Paul states (Galatians 6:14) that he only desires to boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, he was not preaching the typical Romans 10:9,10 salvation message but applying the cross in his everyday life. Romans 6,7 is also part of the gospel component for Christ followers.
In 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 2, Paul speaks about initially bringing the gospel of salvation to them, but then speaks about trying to teach them deeper truths that build upon the cross and salvation (2:6-3:5).
The words elect, redemption, the cross, our new life in Christ, new birth, new creation and other key words referring to the cross and resurrection are mentioned numerous times in the epistles as regarding every aspect of redemption for believers.
As a matter of fact, in this present post-modern pluralistic society, there is so much biblical ignorance, that much of the time we need to start with Genesis chapter one and the initial fall of man(Genesis ch.3) to give the whole context of the redemption narrative presented in the First Testament before the average unsaved person can truly understand the necessity of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. When a culture has a Judeo/Christian worldview, then preaching the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ would often be enough for the lost to experience true conversion because they would already share some of our biblical assumptions; unfortunately, to many in the church, the gospel is merely an event and not a person
As a matter of fact, the typical evangelistic crusade and or outreach were unheard of in the early church. For example, Paul the apostle actually said that he would not preach the gospel in unreached regions until the local church increased in faith. (2 Corinthians 10:15,16; 1 Thes. 1:6-8)
Hence, his primary method of evangelism was through the building up of strong local churches, the faith community that applied the Gospel of Christ to their everyday life, vocation and purpose.
Someone may bring out the fact that Philip the Evangelist had an evangelistic crusade (Acts 8:1-4). However, there are several things to consider. First, this was not planned by the church but was the result of a persecution of the Jewish church in Jerusalem. Second, because of the persecution the normal function of the church was suspended for a time. Third, there was no already established church in Samaria and after the gospel was preached, Peter, James and John went to establish them and launch a church. The same persecution was also the catalyst for the launching of the Antioch church (Acts 11)
However, these instances illustrate the fact that, the salvation message was preached primarily in the streets to the unsaved, while the other aspects of the gospel were taught in local church gatherings.
Examining the Scriptures of the New Testament shows that the only instances the individual salvation aspect of the gospel was taught was outside the assemblies. However, it would not be wrong to have an evangelistic crusade, or preach the salvation message in a church service, we are here merely speaking about the New Testament record to expose the narrow view some have of the true gospel of Christ and how it should be applied in the local church.
Even a cursory glance of the book of Acts demonstrates that most people got saved and healed before they joined the assembly of the saints. Acts 5:13 even says those not in the church dared join them in their assemblies! So how was the gospel presented to believers in the local churches?
From what we gather from early church history found in the book of Acts (20:7) and extra biblical writings, the believers would celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Why is this significant? Because according to 1 Cor. 11:26 this sacrament proclaims the Lord’s death until He comes. That is to say, it is a witness to unbelievers of the power of the cross for salvation and to believers for continual cleansing. Also, during their gatherings as they mimicked the tradition of the synagogue as found in Acts 13:14-18, they read scripture, sang hymns, psalms and had a word of exhortation similar to what we read in the epistles.
Also, we need to mention that there is a difference between the gospel proclamation (Greek word Kerygma) which is the life of Christ as found in the gospels which includes His substitutionary death on the cross and subsequent resurrection and the teachings or traditions (Greek word Dediche) that is the application of the gospel of Jesus to everyday life. The kerygma is primarily found in the gospels and the dediche in the epistles. When Paul used the words deposit, teachings, doctrine … he was referring to the dediche. (read 2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:12,14.4:3;Titus 1:9,2:1)
Somebody with a narrow view of the gospel would probably say that the early church, as recorded in the epistles and extra biblical church historical writings, did not focus on preaching the gospel (as presented in Romans 10:9,10) if they went back in time and attended one of their gatherings. However, we must realize that, whether we are preaching on the be-attitudes of Matthew chapters 5-7 or the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as found in Matthew chapters 27,28, we are still presenting the gospel because the way to the Father is not an event but through the sinless, perfect Son of God. (John 14:6)
Of course, if I am proclaiming the gospel of Christ to an unsaved person I will, as the apostles in the book of Acts did, primarily focus on the death, burial and resurrection (historical) narrative of Christ (As found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 and Romans 10:9,10).
However, in the church, in order to establish believers in the faith, I have to focus on other components of the (kerygmatic) gospel, which include every aspect of Christ’s life including the implications of the cross to life, as well as the teachings (dediche). If all I preached was an evangelistic message built around passages like Romans 10:9,10, many unbelievers may come into the church but they will never become disciples that are properly established in the faith.
Thus, whether a church focuses their Sunday services on a succinct salvation message for the sake of evangelism or on establishing believers in the faith (which was the focus of Paul and the early church) so they can be equipped to win people to Christ outside of Sundays services, both of these faith communities are legitimately preaching and or applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.