The gospel is the absolute core of true Christianity. Paul himself tells us this. Writing to the Corinthians, he says, “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:1–3).
In other words, for Paul, the gospel was that which is the highest priority. It has first importance.
If the gospel is so important, we must make sure that we get it right. Most anyone who has spent time in church knows that the word gospel means “good news.”
But what is this good news? Or, to ask it another way, what is the problem that the gospel offers to solve?
I happen to think that that last question is immensely important. Let’s be honest: each of us has problems in our lives we’d like to see solved. Some of us are wrestling with financial problems, or relationship problems, or health problems. On the bigger stage, there are world conflicts and economic hardships.
These are all real problems, and I would never want to minimize their importance.
But when the Bible talks about the gospel, when it tells us why Jesus died, it doesn’t address those problems—at least not directly. The central problem that the gospel seeks to solve is the problem of sin.
Here’s another way of thinking about this. All of the problems I mentioned above are horizontal problems. They are problems that we have with each other, or with the world around us. They involve the problems of this life.
But the gospel aims to address a problem that is primarily vertical: the sin problem that alienates me from God. Consider here Ephesians 2: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
This is our ultimate problem. We are sinners, and so by nature (and by choice!) we are “children of wrath.” That phrase means that we have earned our judgment before God. And that is a real problem.
But notice how Paul continues: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
You see, God himself has dealt with the sin problem. God the Son has died in our place, taking the penalty that our sin deserves, so that we might receive acceptance from God the Father. This is the gospel; this is the grace of God on display!
Receiving the gospel is not a solution to every human problem. Indeed, there are times that faithfulness to Jesus will increase our horizontal problems. But receiving the gospel solves our most important problem, making us right with God through Jesus Christ.