Letter 12: What Is the Gospel?

 

My Son,

 

When you hear the word “Gospel,” what do you think of? The term “Gospel” is often used in Christian circles, but many people don’t even understand what that word means (I know I didn’t know for the longest time). It seems that leaders often take it for granted that everyone properly understands that term. For starters, the word “Gospel” comes from the Greek word “Evangelion,” which means “Good News.” In Christianity, the term Gospel is associated with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

So, what exactly is this Good News of Jesus Christ? Some people like to boil down the Gospel into a short phrase, and that can be useful at times (I will share some of my favorite summaries in a bit), but the Good News is much more. In fact, the Good News has been most explicitly recorded into four books of Sacred Scripture: the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The entirety of Christ’s life and saving work on the cross is the Gospel we share. Sharing a teaching of Jesus is sharing the Gospel. Sharing about Jesus’ healing ministry is sharing the Gospel. Sharing about the kingdom of God is sharing the Gospel. Sharing about Jesus Christ’s birth, hidden life, public life, teachings, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, reign, and second coming are all aspects of the Gospel that we, as Christians, proclaim. As you can see, the Gospel is centered on Jesus Christ, and the central part of Christ’s mission is found in his Passover, or Paschal mystery, where he became the lamb that was slain and raised from the dead to give us life. “The Paschal mystery of Christ’s cross and Resurrection stands at the center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world” (CCC, 571).

The Gospel is about Jesus and the Gospel is for us. “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” (CCC, 1846). As St. Paul tells St. Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:13). Jesus himself says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Sinners are found in every nation and people group, and Jesus came for all of them. The Gospel is for everyone. We are to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world because Jesus died for all of humanity, Jews and Gentiles.

This is the great mystery of the Gospel that St. Paul writes about in his letters; “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith…that in Christ the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:8-9,14, 28-29). “The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32). Through his Church, the Body of Christ, God is creating a new humanity, so that he may once again be united with his children. The Church is universal, or catholic, and therefore encompasses all people groups, age groups, income levels, genders, and any other category of humanity. The goal of this new humanity is to be caught up in the life, love, and holiness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity” (CCC, 260). This is Good News!

There are many ways to summarize the Gospel message without compromising its content or diminishing its impact. Perhaps the most popular verse in Scripture used to summarize the Gospel is found in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). The Good News is that God has sent his Son. “‘But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.’ This is ‘the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’: God has visited his people. He has fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants. He acted far beyond all expectation – he has sent his own ‘beloved Son’” (CCC, 422). Why did God send his Son? God loves us and wanted to save us from the tyranny of sin and death so that we may have eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

The very first paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a beautiful summary of the Good News of Jesus Christ: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life” (CCC, 1).

From the very start of the Church, summaries of faith have been used to communicate the Gospel and unite the people into the one faith of Jesus Christ. One such Creed from the early Church Tradition is the Apostles’ Creed. If someone asks you to articulate the Gospel, you can respond with this Creed, saying, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen” (Apostles Creed, CCC p. 56-57).

My hope is that you are now more confident to articulate the Gospel so that you can go and share it with others. Summarizing the Gospel can be a useful tool, but remember to point your listeners to the original Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). It is in these Gospels that we can read about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet the Good News isn’t merely to be read, but experienced and obeyed. The Good News of Jesus is that we are adopted children of God and incorporated into his Body, the Church. It is through the Church that the Paschal mystery is re-presented at Mass for us to experience. It is through each of the Sacraments of the Church that we participate in the Gospel. Through Baptism, we die with Christ and are raised up to walk in the newness of his life. Through Confirmation, we are strengthened in the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Through the Holy Eucharist, we partake in the Body and Blood of Christ so that his sacrifice nourishes and sustains us. Through the Anointing of the Sick, people can unite their sufferings with the sufferings of Christ, and even experience the healing ministry of Christ. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the forgiveness purchased for us by Christ can be applied to our lives. Through Holy Orders, the priest becomes the representative of Christ the Good Shepherd to the flock. Through Holy Matrimony, the husband and wife become a living picture of Christ’s love for his Church. All of these Sacraments are instruments for experiencing the Gospel.

May you grow to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with boldness, and experience this Good News through his Church. God loves you.

 

Love,

Dad

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