"By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you."
- 1 Corinthians 15:2
What is the Gospel? Most of us have a general idea of what the gospel is, but for the most part, the term "gospel" has various meanings. In a general sense, the gospel is the whole Bible. Yet our understanding would not be complete if we left it there. The Greek origin of the word gospel is euangelion, which means "good news." Well, what good news? The answer will tell us, from the Christian perspective, exactly what the gospel is and why it's important.
Although many people read the gospel, interpretations of it vary. Some look to the gospel in hopes of attaining God's favor in financial or material prosperity. Others look for political implementation of God's laws. Others emphasize following Christ, seeking his kingdom, and pursuing holiness. Some of these themes are biblical, but none of them tell us what the gospel is.
Fortunately, we are not left to cipher out the meaning of the gospel; the Bible clearly tells us what the gospel is. The Apostle Paul explains:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: 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. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
The gospel is the good news from God that, first, "Christ died for our sins." God created Adam without sin, but Adam rebelled brought the entire human race down with him into ruin. But God loved humankind so much that he sent a better Adam (John 3:16) who lived the perfect life that Adam failed to live, and who died the guilty death that we don't want to die. As in one man the entire human race fell, so also in one man the entire human race can be saved. This man, the word made flesh, atoned for our sins on the cross, absorbing all the wrath of God against his people. In doing so he left no debt unpaid, saying at the end, "It is finished" (John 19:30).
Second, the good news is "he was buried," emphasizing that the suffering and death of Jesus was utterly real and final. There was no need for the Roman soldiers to break his legs to hasten his death. Instead, they stabbed him with a spear. From the wound came blood and water (John 19:34), a result of the hypovolemic shock he sustained after being flogged. His body was wrapped up and put in a tomb sealed by a large stone.
Finally, the good news is "he was raised on the third day" in the same physical body in which he died. In this resurrected physical body he appeared to more than five hundred people on twelve different occasions over a forty day period (Acts 1:3). On four occasions he was touched or consented to be touched. Four times he ate food with his disciples. Four times they saw his empty tomb, and twice he showed his crucifixion scars. He essentially exhausted the ways it is possible to prove that he rose from the grave. No event in the ancient world has more eyewitness verification than does the resurrection of Jesus.
This is the gospel: that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. Whatever else may be said only tells us more about the mighty work of Jesus Christ.