What Is the Gospel? A Closer Look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

What is the gospel? Many have heard that “Christ died for their sins,” but they have no idea what it means. Ed Stetzer takes a closer look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

What Is the Gospel?

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 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)

“Of first importance”

The gospel is not afterthought or something to be included once in awhile, but is of first importance and at the heart of our ministries. It is of first importance because it is through the gospel that God works to take people from death to life.

“Christ”

Messianic designation for Jesus encompassing all the prophecies of the Old Testament. The Messiah would be God who became a man to become our substitute.

What Is the Gospel? Explain who Jesus is, God the Son who became a man.

Oftentimes, a pastor will give an invitation at the end of a message and ask people to come forward to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, but the pastor never explains who Jesus is. For many, it’s like saying, “Come forward and receive Narzak as your Savior and Lord.” The person sitting there is thinking, “Who is Narzak? I have no idea, and therefore I will stay firmly glued to my seat!”

It’s true, the name Jesus or Jesus Christ has name recognition, but most of those hearing the name have no real understanding as to who Jesus is. Some believe that he was a great prophet, others a great teacher, healer or example. I have personally shared the gospel with many, many people over the years and have discovered that the majority of Protestants do not know or believe that Jesus Christ is God. I always ask the question, “Do you believe that Jesus is God?”

The majority respond with, “No, he is the Son of God.” Roman Catholics do better with this question than Protestants because they have had the concept of the Trinity drilled into them from youth. But most people are confused as to who Jesus is, and that is why it is crucial to explain that Jesus is God the Son who became a man. How can a person make a decision to accept someone they do not know? And yet that is what happens in many churches.

There are many Scriptural references which teach that Jesus is God the Son who became a man. The pastor or evangelist should know these verses and use them to make the point.

  • Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
  • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1, 14′
  • “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.Titus 2:13
  • But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. Hebrews 1:8
  • Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:1

Even though Jesus is the Son of God, it is better not to use that designation. When I first began sharing the gospel, I referred to Jesus as the Son of God, and the person to whom I was witnessing agreed with me saying we are all sons or daughters of God! After that, I decided to make the point that Jesus is God the Son who became a man. In Isaiah 9:6 above, both the humanity and the deity of Jesus the Messiah are in view. “Unto us a child is born” refers to his humanity, and “Unto us a son is given” refers to his deity, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The hearer needs to understand who Jesus is, and that is why it is important to explain that he is God the Son who became a man. This truth is part of the wonder of God’s love that you are trying to convey to others.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

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