From the title you may be thinking that this is an outrageous question, but I believe, to some extent, the answer is “yes.”
It is not the definition of the word “gospel,” which will be examined here, but rather what really makes the “Gospel” gospel—that is, “good news”. What the Gospel is cannot be questioned when looking earnestly at the Scriptures—it is the truth that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (I Cor 15:3b-4 ESV). All the doctrines and gifts which constitute the gospel (such as the substitutionary atonement, justification, etc.) are often focused in on, and meditated on individually—and rightly so!—though sometimes this comes at the expense of missing the bigger picture. What actually makes the substitutionary atonement or justification “good news”?
The historical facts of Jesus death on the cross or even his resurrection from the grave are not, in themselves, good news. A key phrase in the Corinthians passage I quoted earlier is the three words. “for our sins.” “that Christ died for our sins…” I have previously taught in my Sunday-school class that what what makes the events of Good Friday and Easter “good news” is the fact that they were done “for our sins”; this is not entirely wrong, but I have come to understand that it falls short of the final answer. As we have done before, we must ask the question, “what makes this good news?” What makes the fact that Christ died for our sins good news? The answer to that is so elementary and obvious that it may seem that you have waisted 10 minutes of your life by reading this post, but I think that if most Christians are honest with themselves they will find that the simplicity of this truth may be the very reason it has not permeated our hearts.
The answer comes most clearly in I Peter 3:18, which says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (ESV). Ultimately what the makes the Gospel good news is that it restores man’s relationship with his Creator! Reconciliation. The good of the gospel is found in God Himself! John Piper, in his book, God is the Gospel, makes this point and expounds it quite well. In the conclusion of the book Piper sums it up by saying,
“The point of this book is that the Christian gospel is not merely that Jesus died and rose again; and not merely that these events appease God’s wrath, forgive sin, and justify sinners; and not merely that this redemption gets us out of hell and into heaven; but that they bring us to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as our supreme, all-satisfying, and everlasting treasure” (John Piper, God is the Gospel 167).
While maybe no Christians would object to this notion, do we really live it out? When we think of the glory of the Gospel, do we think mostly of the flames we are missing, or the friends and loved ones we will be reunited with, or do we think of how glorious it will be to spend eternity with our Glorious, happy, God? Secondly, is this how we present the Gospel to others—as the good news of reconciliation to God!—or is it a get-out-of-Hell free card? Or is it our own version of “your best life now”?
In the sphere of evangelism I have seen this screwed up again and again (and have done it myself). I think that instead of starting our Gospel presentations at, “all have sinned, and sin separates you from God,” we should take a step back and present the glory of God, and why the lost should even care that they are separated from God!
This is illustrated quite well in Acts 17 as Paul speaks to the philosophers on Mars hill. Notice how as he begins his discourse in verses 22-23, he doesn’t immediately refer to the sin nature or our separation from God. Rather, he begins to expound God as the awesome creator and sustainer of the universe! It isn’t until verse 30 that he alludes to sin or repentance! Why would a lost person care about being separated from God if he doesn’t even know anything about Him or his glory?
I hope this has been a reminder of the simple truth that God is the ultimate goal of the gospel! I pray that we will make this obvious in our own hearts, as well as live it out practically as we present the Gospel!