Recap: There are many definitions of “gospel” (see Defining the Gospel pt. 1) Paul defines the “gospel” as the good news of God’s kingdom by referring specifically to Christ’s death and resurrection. In this narrower sense, the good news of the gospel is salvation and eternal life through faith in Christ, and it is most commonly what Christians mean when referring to the “gospel” and sharing the good news of Jesus. But what exactly is the content of the gospel message of Jesus?
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. ” 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV
Verse 1-2: The gospel message is incarnational
The message of the gospel is delivered from one (Paul) to another (the Corinthians). Paul reminds the Corinthians of “the gospel I preached, which you received…” (vs. 1). God’s plan is that the heralding of this good news is wrapped in relationship, one person to another. In that sense, the gospel is incarnational— wrapped in human skin, so-to-speak.
That does not imply that we cannot hand out evangelistic tracts or use other media to proclaim the message. Certainly, the work of ministries that have broadcast through shortwave radio the gospel message into countries closed to Christianity, has resulted in the salvations of untold many. Similarly, the church has led many to Christ through the strategic use of the Internet to bring the gospel and Bible teaching into countries unreachable or closed.
An incarnational gospel means that Jesus became human in order to give us salvation. Jesus now sends His disciples throughout the world to make “disciples,” not merely “converts.” The difference between the two is one of emphasis. Conversion in a sense brings “fire insurance.” That is, by conversion through faith in Jesus, we receive eternal life and are saved from the eternal fires of hell.
Being a “disciple,” on the other hand, is the entire life-process that begins with conversion and continues as we follow Jesus with all the challenges of daily picking up our cross to follow Him. “Conversion” is fire insurance, but being a “disciple” is more like receiving a home improvement loan where God’s Spirit rebuilds our lives to be more like Jesus.
Further, salvation begins with a personal act of faith in Jesus and continues with life transformation. Most importantly, the individual grows within the context of a believing church community (Romans 12:1-8; Ephesians 4:15-16). The good news is never intended to be broadcast coldly from one mind to another, but is received into the heart originating in the love of God and nurtured by the love of fellow believers in the church.
Putting it another way, the message of the gospel is wrapped in human relationship the same way our verbal communication is wrapped in all kinds of non-verbal intonations, facial and body expressions, and even the relational status of the one communicating and one receiving the communication. For instance, we may listen more attentively with more respect to an expert in the field than we would to our friends. Similarly, we can communicate the core facts of the gospel’s message, but we are to wrap the delivery of that message in the Lord’s love (John 13:35). In these ways, communicating the gospel message is incarnational, beginning with Jesus and now proclaimed through His disciples.
Authored by Dr. David F. Ingrassia, Stewarding Pastor of Charlotte Awake