The word “gospel” is an important word for disciples and disciple makers.[i] The word means “good news.” The gospel is the good news that Jesus, by his person and by his death and resurrection, provides the basis by which our sins can be forgiven and we can be made right with God.
But we must respond to the gospel with faith. Those with true faith in the gospel become disciples of Jesus.
The gospel is good news because by Jesus and his resurrection everything has changed for every human being.[ii] The key to understanding the gospel is the in-between-time. It is a message for the time between Jesus’ first coming, where he died for our sins, and his second coming, when he returns to judge the living and the dead and establish his kingdom, as the Old Testament promised.
Again, the gospel message about Jesus is not often spoken clearly enough today. 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 describes the gospel in summary form.
“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 … ” (ESV).
Paul’s language is clear—your faith in Jesus and His work on the cross is the basis of your standing with God. You are saved through it, and there is nothing more important! The passage goes on to summarize the core gospel:
“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, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the 12. Then He appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (ESV).
The gospel focuses on Jesus the Messiah’s death for our sin. But the full gospel is not just His death; it includes His burial and resurrection—and how they are in accordance with the broader story of Scripture – described above (under the heading, Jesus is the Messiah). Our response to Jesus and his cross is to place our faith in him, to receive it as God’s grace, God’s gift to us.
“Here’s the gospel: you’re more sinful than you ever dared believe; you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” —Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian and author of The Reason for God
Our friend Bill Hull describes the gospel elevator speech. He says every disciple needs to develop a brief description of the gospel, the kind of description that you could give to someone who has asked you to summarize your faith, as you ride up on an elevator with them. Disciple makers need to be clear on their gospel elevator speech and help ensure that those who they disciple are clear on it too.
There are five key parts to a gospel elevator speech.
- Jesus’ identity.
- What Jesus did for us by his death and resurrection for our sin.
- What it means to respond with faith.
- What it means for our lives here and now.
- What it means for our lives when we die.
Here is a gospel elevator speech:
God sent Jesus – his only son and our Messiah – into the world. He came to rescue us and show us how to live. He died and rose from the dead as a sacrifice for our sins. He then ascended into heaven and is enthroned as King of the Universe. God now offers us forgiveness and a new life in his kingdom, but only if we will place our faith in Jesus – which is to trust and follow him in all that he teaches. Those with true faith in Jesus are disciples of Jesus. Disciples follow Jesus, are changed by Jesus and join the mission of Jesus. He is coming back. He will judge the living and the dead. He will take his true disciples into paradise for a life of joy that will never end.
We tell people that when they are ready to place their faith in Jesus and his gospel, they are ready to become disciples of Jesus. Our understanding of the gospel is a key part of disciple making.
There are important nuances to how different theologians, preachers, and teachers present the gospel. We want to focus on this point. As Dallas Willard taught us: the gospel we preach will determine the disciples we make.
To help you think through your understanding of the gospel, we invite you to join the Discipleship.org Collective for a conversation with Matthew Bates on Thursday, April 29th at 10:00 am CT.
His book, Gospel Allegiance is an important contemporary discussion on the gospel. Not everyone will agree with him. He may not even agree with my gospel elevator speech. But the conversation is within the guidelines of Discipleship.org’s 10 Affirmations, and his work represents a significant contribution to the discussion. Everyone will find the discussion helpful as they shore up their gospel presentation in their disciple making.
[i] This material is a modified version of material from the book, The Disciple Makers Handbook: Seven Elements of a Discipleship Lifestyle (Zondervan, 2017).
[ii] See N.T. Wright, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good (HarpeOne, 2015).