What the Gospel Is! What the Gospel is not!
Rev. Dr. Celucien L. Joseph
Calvinism, Arminianism or any form of ism is not the Gospel! They are theological perspectives and speculations about the Gospel. They’re also schools of thought that provide a theological framework or ideals on how salvation works and how God saves people in Christ from their sins. Evangelicals embrace both perspectives because people read scriptures with different hermeneutical lenses, and from different constructed ideological frameworks.
What should then the preacher announce or proclaim to the unsaved and people of God? Should he/she preach the Gospel or theological views about the Gospel?
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, with conviction and boldness, Paul reiterates a common Christian tradition about the nature and content of the Gospel, which he communicates to the Christians at Corinth: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”
For Paul, the content of the Gospel is not a new message. He presents himself as a “recipient” of this ‘old message,’ an old story to which he now becomes its messenger. Accordingly, the Gospel message has become a Christian tradition ( It should be construed as an early confession of the Christian church) since it was well-known among the Christians, and was subsequently passed on from the post-resurrection and Pentecost generation to Paul’s post-conversion generation of Christians. Paul argues that the Gospel constitutes three components: (1) the death of Christ, (2) the burial of Christ, and (3) the resurrection of Christ. Paul accentuates that these historical events about the historical Jesus bear the testimony of the Old Testament and what the Prophets of the OT declared about the Jewish-Messiah. Here, one on hand, Paul is defending the historical reliability of Old Testament messianic prophecies; on the other hand, he is vindicating the historical reliability of the events surrounding the person of the historical Jesus. Paul interprets them as the fulfillment of God’s covenantal faithfulness to his people.
In addition, this “Gospel tradition,” which consists of a threefold historical event (death, burial, and resurrection), articulates boldly Christian identity and distinctive: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Secondly, Paul argues that believing in this message of the Gospel is a matter of life and death for the Christian, and the non-Christian—by implication: “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” He also expounds on this existential and experiential reality of the Gospel in latter verses of the same passage, in which he contradicts the false messengers who were denying the historical resurrection of the historical Jesus.
Further, Paul also implies later in the same chapter that Christians should denounce preachers or messengers who mix up the Gospel with other things, as well as reject those who have redefined the content of its message. Paul calls those individuals who have transformed the content of the Gospel for something contrary and unbiblical “false messengers” (15:15). The Pauline warning is this: Do Not Receive their Message!!!
In theological and homiletical reflection, the preacher-theologian should articulate with precision and clarity the distinction between the nature of the Gospel—that is what the Gospel is and what the Gospel is not—and doctrinal interpretation about the Gospel. Biblical integrity or faithfulness to the Scripture is a vital aspect of the Christian life. The concept of doctrine is a theological construct, and theological thinking about the Gospel is a different phenomenon than the message that is grounded on the person and works of Jesus Christ. While some theological doctrines have their source in the Gospel, some theological positions do not. Some doctrines are more biblical than others; the latter needs to be assessed with rigor and responsibility. Scripture should always be the compass to measure our thinking, orient our intellect, inform our theological beliefs, and determine our everyday decisions in this life of theological confusion and doctrinal ambiguity.
The Gospel is a very specific message we Christians proclaim, believe, and practice. As previously mentioned, among other biblical passages, it is well defined by Paul, in 1 Corinthian 15: 1-5. The Christian Gospel is a peculiar narrative we announce about Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection, which may lead to the salvation of sinners—according to Paul in Romans 10: 9-13. However, the Gospel demands both confession and belief. Confession is an oral affirmation of the sovereign Lordship of Christ; belief is the intellectual acknowledgement that Christ is who he claimed to be—He is the only Savior and mediator between God and humanity—and that the atoning and sacrificial work he provides on behalf of sinners is adequate and sufficient—before God.
Paul closes the 15th chapter of the letter to the Corinthians with these words:
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you…” 1 Corinthians 15:58