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  • Writer's pictureTrey Talley

Do You Really Know The Gospel?

Updated: Mar 25

When professing Christians are asked about their salvation, their mind often goes to a time when they walked an aisle at church, raised a hand, made a decision, said the sinner’s prayer, were baptized or joined a church. While such activities are often relied upon as proof of salvation, the truth of the matter is that such activities are no guarantee of salvation. For instance, it is possible that a person could walk an aisle at church, raise a hand, make a decision, say the sinner’s prayer, be baptized, join a church and still be just as unsaved as a person who had done none of these things. Can people claim to be Christians, yet still be on their way to hell? The answer is, “Yes.” So, if these things do not provide the surety of salvation, then what does? This leads to some critical questions, such as “How can a person be saved?”, “How do you know if you are actually saved?”, and “How do I check on the salvation of others?” The Apostle Paul writes that the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…”[1] In other words, belief in the gospel is essential for a person to be saved. Whether a person has walked an aisle, filled out a card, raised a hand, said the sinner’s prayer, asked Jesus into their heart, or even whether or not he or she was baptized, is not the key to determine if one is genuinely saved. The key issue is belief, and the key belief must be the gospel. This means that belief in the gospel is not a secondary or tertiary matter when it comes to determining one’s salvation, it is primary. Since believing in the gospel is required for salvation, it is of utmost importance to know what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he used the word “gospel.” So, what is the gospel? Many have heard the word “gospel” and can put together the six letters that make up the word. However, it is not enough to just know the word, say the word, or spell the word correctly; we must know the message that the word gospel represents. More than just a word, the gospel is a message that is packed with the truth of God about His Savior. However, the details of the gospel message are becoming less and less known even by professing Christians. As the trusted theologian, Graeme Goldsworthy has written: It is a matter for some concern that some books and study courses on evangelism seem to assume that every Christian is clear about what the gospel is, and that what is needed most is help in the techniques of explaining the gospel to unbelievers. Experience suggests that this assumption is poorly based and that there is a great deal of confusion among believers about what the gospel is.[2] Such “confusion” about the gospel is no small matter since it is the essential belief for one to be saved. But sadly, there are many professing Christians who take the liberty to change, and even replace, the gospel message with a message of their own. Usually, this is done somewhat unintentionally by taking too much information away from the gospel, or by adding too much non-gospel information to the gospel. Even though such false communication about the gospel may be inadvertent, it creates a tremendous problem for Christianity. J. I. Packer writes, “The result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”[3] Of all people, Christians, should not be the ones that are confused about the gospel or taking liberty with the gospel. We should be the ones who know it, believe it, proclaim it, and are adamant about preserving it. As R. C. Sproul has written, “This Gospel is the only Gospel: there is no other; and to change its substance is to pervert and indeed destroy it.”[4] Changing God’s message of salvation has dire consequences.[5] The result is the creation of manmade false gospels being believed and proclaimed as the one true gospel from God. Such changed gospels are not from God, and do not carry the “power of God for salvation.” If the wrong gospel is being presented, no matter how adamant a professing Christian is in sharing it, and no matter how sincerely someone believes in it, if it is the wrong gospel, then there is no salvation. Instead of saving, false gospels have the opposite effect.[6] As one of the most influential Christian writers of the twentieth century, A.W. Pink, wrote: The ‘Gospel’ which is now being proclaimed is, in nine cases out of every ten, but a perversion of the Truth, and tens of thousands, assured they are bound for Heaven, are now hastening to Hell, as fast as time can take them. Things are far, far worse in Christendom than even the ‘pessimist’ and the ‘alarmist’ suppose.[7] What a dire summation of the state of professing Christians’ ability to articulate the gospel correctly. According to Pink, the vast majority of people claiming to be Christians are actually not Christians. These pseudo-Christians have heard and believed a gospel, but it is the wrong gospel, and it lacks the power of God to save them. What is more shocking is that professing Christians are the primary makers and propagators of the false gospels which lead people into false conversions and a false assurance of their salvation. Of all people, why would professing Christians want to alter the message of salvation? Most likely, they do not miscommunicate the gospel out of an evil desire to mislead others. Instead, the miscommunication appears to occur due to a general lack of knowledge about the gospel message they claim to know and proclaim. This lack of gospel knowledge then leads to the communication of a gospel which is inadequate or even distorted. Despite their good intentions, if professing Christians do not know and understand the gospel, then any attempt to convey the gospel to others will be insufficient. It is here where we find the source of the confusing, inadequate, and incorrect gospels that well-meaning Christians often proclaim; they just don’t know the gospel well enough to communicate it to others correctly. Good gospel communication requires a good knowledge of the gospel. If an individual does not personally know the gospel, then how can he or she share the gospel correctly with others? Knowing and understanding the gospel personally should produce clearer gospel communication. However, when the knowledge and understanding of the gospel are poor, it is a given, that one’s communication of it to others will be as well. With so many professing Christians proclaiming different versions of the gospel, it appears that the gospel is unintentionally being redefined to mean anything that a person wants it to mean. Far from being a set message delivered by God, for us to hear, believe, and repeat to others, there is now great liberty taken with the message. Such liberty has substantially clouded the definition of the gospel and, in many cases, created a gospel that is not even close to the original. Recently, I asked a group of Christians at a local collegiate Bible Study; “What is the gospel?” Sadly, as I expected, the answers they gave significantly varied. One said, “It is a way of life.” Another said, “It is asking Jesus in your heart.” Another said, “The gospel is all of God’s Word.” Still, another man began to explain that the gospel was God getting him through a painful divorce that he had just gone through. And another said, “The gospel is about doing what is right in life.” So, which of the students got the answer right, or is there even such thing as a right answer? In a room, full of professing Christian students there was not even a near agreement on the gospel, but even more concerning is that not one student seemed to be troubled by the differing definitions that were given. Similarly, the other day, a man knocked on my office door and introduced himself as an assistant to a well-known evangelist that was coming to Dallas to put on a massive evangelistic crusade at the convention center. The assistant was canvassing the area and distributing fliers to help increase attendance. As I spoke with him, I discovered that he had been on staff with this popular evangelist for five years. He spoke at length about the details of the massive evangelistic crusade and how they were hoping for 10,000 people to be saved. “Wow, that is a lot of salvations!”, I said. Then I asked the man, who apparently knew all about evangelism, “Well, if you don’t mind me asking, what is the gospel?” He replied, “What do you mean?” “Well,” I said, “you work for an evangelist, you are helping with an evangelistic crusade, and you are expecting 10,000 to be saved at the event. So, what is the gospel that will be presented at the convention center so that 10,000 people can be saved?” A seemingly easy question for a man who has worked for a major evangelistic organization for five years. However, the question sent him scrambling for an answer. And what he did next seemed to be a bizarre mental exercise of saying everything and anything Christian that he could possibly think of in his attempt to define the gospel. Unfortunately, he never landed on anything close to a biblical definition of the gospel. After quite some time of rambling, he finally stopped. Exhaustedly he replied, “Wow, I really needed that! It has been a long time since I’ve had to think about the gospel.” How could this be? I would like to say the problem of defining the gospel found with the group of college students and the staff member for the big-name evangelist were rare, but the more I ask professing Christians to define the gospel, the more I realize just how prevalent the problem of clear gospel proclamation has become. Can the content of the gospel message be whatever we determine it to be? Can each Christian make up his or her own gospel? While our relativistic culture would undoubtedly say, “Yes!” We, as Christians must say, “No!” As those who are to represent the Word of God correctly, we must understand that we do not have the right to create our own individual gospel message and call it, the gospel. The gospel is a far more precise message than many Christians are willing to admit. The gospel is a message that has been determined by God that we are to believe, and proclaim to others, as is and unaltered. We should not treat any important message with such subjectivism and especially a message from God Himself that involves eternal salvation. With that said, let me ask you, “What is the gospel?” Really, think about it for a moment. How will you answer this question regarding the foundational belief of the Christian faith? What will you say? What words will you choose to speak about salvation? For many professing Christians, such a question would cause much anxiety and even panic, but this need not be the case. The gospel can be known. We as Christians just need to do a better job of studying the gospel that God has made abundantly clear in His Word. Would you like to know and understand the gospel better? Do you want to be able to speak about the gospel to others correctly, without confusion? Would you like to be confident that the gospel that you are sharing is the gospel that is the “power of God for salvation?” In the following pages, we will explore each phrase of the gospel message that was given to the Apostle Paul to gain a better understanding of what he regarded as “the gospel of God.” By knowing the information of the gospel message better, you will be better equipped to communicate salvation to others in a way that is biblical, Christ-honoring, and God-glorifying.


Dr. Trey Talley, Lead Pastor and Elder

[1] Romans 1:16: All Bible references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version Containing the Old and New Testaments: ESV. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007)

[2] Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 81

[3] J. I. Packer, introduction, in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), http://www.the-highway.com/Death.html

[4] R. C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 100

[5] Galatians 1:6-9

[6] Romans 1:16

[7] Arthur W. Pink, Studies on Saving Faith (Memphis, TN: Bottom of The Hill Publishing, 2011), 12

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