Ashamed of the Gospel

by R.C. Sproul

One of the most popular New Testament paraphrases ever published in English was called Good News for Modern Man. The title was taken from the meaning of the word Gospel, which translates the Greek term euaggelion, which, of course, means "good news."

In Christian jargon, it is now commonplace to hear the term Good News used as a synonym for the term Gospel. But in reality, the "modern man" who hears modern forms of the Good News hears very little of the Gospel.

The Gospel is indeed good news. But we cannot reverse the subject and the predicate so that we identify good news with the Gospel. We know that not all news is good news. We also know that not all good news is the Gospel. When the boss tells an employee that he is going to get a raise, that's good news-but it is not the Gospel. When the biopsy report comes back negative, that's good news-but it's not the Gospel.

Here we must ask an impolite and perhaps disturbing question: When does an evangelist fail to do the work of evangelism? The answer: when he fails to proclaim the "evangel," that is, the Gospel. Like anyone else, the modern evangelist faces the temptation to sugarcoat the Gospel-with the result that the good news he proclaims is not the Gospel at all. When an evangelist tells a person that "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," he is telling him good news-but it is not the Good News of the Gospel. Likewise, when he proclaims to people that God loves them "unconditionally," he is speaking good news, but not the Gospel.

The Old Testament is filled with examples of false prophets who told people "good news." For instance, Jeremiah was surrounded by such purveyors of false teaching: "From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!' when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush" (Jer. 8:10b-12a).

The message of "peace" from the lips of the false prophets sounded like good news for the people. As a result, the false prophets had far more converts than Jeremiah. But theirs was a false gospel. When the people heard "Peace," they were not troubled. They saw no need for repentance. Indeed, there was no need for anyone to repent if he already had peace with God. In the same way, why should any modern person flee to Christ if he hears that God already loves him unconditionally? If that message is true, does it not mean that we can continue in sin without fear of judgment? If God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life, how can my impenitence possibly disrupt that plan?

When we look beyond the modern distortions of the Gospel and return to its original proclamation, we see a stark difference between the true Good News and the "good news" of some modern evangelists.

Paul announces the Gospel in his thematic statement of the book of Romans: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith'" (1:16-17).

Here Paul speaks of the Gospel of Christ, which he first mentioned in verse 1 ("the gospel of God"). The true Gospel is one that has its origin in God's revelation. It is God's Good News about the work of Christ for us. It is God's power unto salvation.

The Gospel is about salvation. In biblical terms, salvation concerns rescue from some calamity. To be cured of a serious disease is to be "saved." To escape defeat in battle is to experience salvation. But these are examples of salvation in a general sense. We must be careful to distinguish rescue from earthly calamities and rescue from the ultimate calamity that will befall mankind.

The biblical Gospel is the Good News that God has provided us with salvation from the wrath that is to come. By His life and death, Jesus rescues penitent believers from God's judgment. Ultimately, therefore, the salvation of which the Gospel speaks is salvation from God.

Since salvation is from God and His wrath, we see why the indiscriminate proclamation of the unconditional love of God is not only not the Gospel, but in reality undermines and fundamentally denies the Gospel itself. The modern "gospel" is a gospel without wrath. A gospel without wrath is not the biblical Gospel.

It is noteworthy that immediately after setting forth the central theme of the epistle to the Romans-the revelation of the Gospel-Paul plunges into a serious discussion of the wrath of God. He says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them" (1:18-19).

Paul explains that all men have suppressed the truth of God that is plainly revealed to them. All have refused to retain God in their knowledge. All have turned to idolatry. As a result, all are exposed to the just wrath of God. Paul brings the whole human race, both Jew and Gentile, to the tribunal of God and shows that all are "under sin."

Judged by the standard of righteousness, men face a judgment they have no hope of escaping, except by trusting in the work of Christ on their behalf. The Gospel is about real salvation by a real Savior from the real wrath of God. When God's wrath is obscured or denied, the Gospel is eclipsed with it. There is no true Good News apart from a correct understanding of the bad news that makes it necessary.

Reprinted from Tabletalk magazine, January 2002, with permission of
Ligonier Ministries, P.O. Box 547500, Orlando, FL 32854, phone 800-435-4343.