Read the New Testament and you might come away with the idea that there is more than one gospel.
For example, the very first words of the New Testament in the King James Bible are, “The Gospel According to Matthew.” Read on and you will also find the gospels according to Mark, Luke and John. Keep reading and you will come across Paul telling the Romans about “my gospel” before warning the Corinthians to hold firm to the gospel that “I preached to you.” Read all the way to the end and you will also encounter the “gospel of your salvation” (Eph 1:13), the “gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15), the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:11), before finally reaching the “eternal gospel” proclaimed by the angel (Rev 14:6).
Of course, these are all labels for one and the same gospel. There is only one gospel in the Bible and that is the gospel which was known to Paul as the gospel of grace:
“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
The One and Only gospel
The gospel of grace is the gospel and there is no other. This gospel is built, not on a doctrine or a theology, but on Jesus Christ himself:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth … From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1:14, 16-17)
Whenever you read the word “grace” in the Bible, you can substitute the name “Jesus.” Jesus is grace personified. What does the grace of God look like? It looks like Jesus. What does the grace of God sound like? It sounds like Jesus. How do we know that God is gracious? He gave us Jesus who is full of grace and truth. So when Paul refers to the gospel of grace in Acts 20, he means exactly the same thing as when he and others refer to the gospel of Christ or the gospel of God or the gospel of his Son or the gospel of peace in other places. All of these gospels reveal the One who is called Grace, who was given to us out of the fullness of the Father’s grace, and through whom we have received grace upon grace.
What about when Jesus refers to the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 24:14)? Is this a different gospel?
Whenever you hear Jesus talking about the “kingdom” you can substitute the word “king” because the kingdom is nothing without the king. Who is the King? His name is Jesus. When Jesus says we are to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” he is essentially saying “seek me and my righteousness.” And where do we find his righteousness? In the gospel!
“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Rms 1:17)
To sum up, the gospel of the kingdom is the gospel of Christ which is the gospel of God which is the gospel of grace. They are different labels for the exact same gospel message.
What is the gospel of grace?
Paul summarized the gospel of grace in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Now, brothers, 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 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time… (1 Cor 15:1-6)
What are the four most important bits of the gospel message according to its most prolific preacher? They are that; (i) Christ died for our sins as foretold in the Scriptures, (ii) he was buried, (iii) he was raised as the prophets foretold, and (iv) he appeared in resurrection to many.
The gospel is 100% good news!
On the cross Jesus became our sin offering, taking our punishment and securing our eternal forgiveness. He died so that we might live, he was wounded that we might be healed, and he was cursed so that we might be blessed. Jesus forged a new covenant in his blood, exchanging our sinfulness for his righteousness. His miraculous return from death confirmed that Jesus was God’s Son, just as he said he was. It also showed that the demands of justice had been fully satisfied and that no further payment was necessary. As Derek Prince famously preached in The Divine Exchange, Jesus’ death on the cross was “perfectly perfect and completely complete.” There is nothing more that needs to be done.
Do you believe it?
The gospel is good news whether you believe it or not, but it will only save you if you believe it. As Paul declared to the Corinthians, “by this gospel are you saved.” Again, by which gospel are you saved? By the gospel of God’s grace:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
The gospel is not just for sinners
The gospel is no mere message. It is heaven’s cure for the world’s woes. And we can be fully confident that God’s cures are effective! Those who put their faith in his goodness and grace experience salvation power in all its fullness – victory over sin, healing from sickness, freedom from oppression.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Rms 1:16)
The gospel is not just good news for the sinner. It is good news for the sick, the prisoner and the poor. It’s even good news for Christians. Today many sincere Christians are bound up in the dead works of performance-oriented religion. Their joylessness and lack of fruit testifies that they have forgotten the good news of God’s grace.
What are the works of grace?
Someone once asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the One he has sent.’” (Jn 6:29)
The greatest thing you can do is believe the good news of God’s grace revealed in the One he has sent. Believe that because of what Jesus has done, you are forgiven, you have been clothed with his righteousness, and you have been adopted into his family. When you say “Yes!” to Jesus, he moves into your life and you become one with him in spirit. On the inside, you now look exactly like Jesus and your status before God is “perfect forever” (Heb 10:14).
But your outside still needs work. Your mind needs to be renewed. Your body may need fixing. Your relationships may need mending. Your neighbors and workmates probably need saving. And God’s plan is to bring heaven to your corner of the world through you.
God has empowered you through his Spirit and the precious promises of his word to fulfill the gospel mandate. We do not need to hunker down and ask God to give us things. We just need to believe that through Christ we already have everything we need to get the job done (Eph 1:3, 2 Pet 1:3).
“Working out your salvation” means discovering who you are in Christ, taking risks for Jesus, and ministering in his power and authority. It means representing Jesus and his cross-wrought victory in areas where sins’ effects are still being felt. When you shine with Jesus-light, darkness flees and the dominion of the king is enlarged. Sin, sickness and poverty are put under his feet when you put them under your feet. We complete the mission the same way we started – by trusting in God’s amazing grace:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor 15:10, NKJV)
Which gospel are you listening to?
Take care that the gospel you are listening to is the gospel of grace. As Paul warned the Galatians, anything which adds to or detracts from the good news of God’s grace, is a distortion or perversion of the true gospel (Gal 1:6-7). In Part 2, we will look at some of the ways the gospel of grace gets distorted.