The word “gospel” in the Bible means “good news.” Simply, it is the good news of what Jesus has done in his life, death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-5).
But why does this matter? What does what Jesus did 2000 years ago have to do with me?
If we are really honest, we must admit we are broken people. Human beings are capable of beautiful things, but we are also deeply flawed. One of the ways the Bible describes our flaws is “idolatry.” (eg, Rom. 1:22-25) Idolatry is simply this — when we turn something that is good and useful and make that thing an ultimate thing — a thing that we must have in order to be happy or feel fulfilled. There are obvious idols like money, sex and power. But then there are the more subtle idols — human approval, marriage, children, discipline, self-expression, even religious activity. What makes idolatry so powerful is that these things are not bad things, but they were never meant to define us. They were never meant to be worshipped. We have worshipped the created thing rather than the Creator. And what we find is that when we do this, these things fail to satisfy us and end up enslaving us. They tear us down when we cannot live up to their expectations and they make us self-righteous and prideful when we do.
Enter Jesus. Jesus is God himself becoming a human in order to rescue us from our self-induced slavery. In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, a “great exchange” is made (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus lives the life we should have lived, and he dies the death that we should have died. Jesus takes on our slavery, rebellion, alienation, exile and receives the punishment we deserved. In exchange, not only are we forgiven, but Jesus robes us in his perfect righteousness, and gives us his status as a beloved child of God. We are given a new identity — not one that is defined by our achievements or performance but one that is given by sheer grace — a beloved son or daughter of God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus had done. (Eph. 2:8-10)
What we need is rescue, not mere “religion.” Though they may be helpful, moral principles and self-help are not enough to address our deep insecurities and addictions. This is what it means to truly believe the Gospel; it is not merely an intellectual assent to a set of facts and a promise to clean up our lives. It is a daily struggle to turn from our idols which enslave and live in light of who are are because of what Jesus has done for us. As author Ravi Zacharias has said, “Jesus did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came into this world to make dead people alive.”