Introducing the Essential Elements of Jesus' Gospel
Some of you recently asked about the answer to our question, “What is the gospel?” While the complete answer is in my book with Ben Sobels The Discipleship Gospel, we’ll continue to unpack the answer to that question via blog by introducing the essential elements of Jesus’ gospel today.
When we speak of the gospel that Jesus preached, it’s critical that we examine the New Testament Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are inspired records that reveal Jesus’ gospel to us. While you could use any of the four Gospels, we have chosen to primarily use Mark’s account for the purposes of this book because biblical scholars generally accept that Mark wrote his Gospel before the others, giving us the first written record of Jesus’ life and teachings. Another reason, and more to the point, is that Mark’s Gospel clearly reveals Jesus’ gospel in two specific passages: Mark 1:14-17 and Mark 8:27-31.
Jesus’ own words in these scriptures make it clear that there are seven essential elements of his gospel: four declarative statements, which form what we might say is technically “the gospel proper,” and three imperative responses. Each of the seven elements is not only deeply embedded with discipleship; they also call us to it. In this chapter, we’re examining several passages to discover these seven essential elements.
The Word “Gospel” Itself
Before we begin unpacking each of the elements, we need to lay a foundation by addressing several matters which will help us create categories and language that breed clarity. Let’s begin with the word “gospel” itself because its meaning is extremely informative in our quest to define Jesus’ gospel.
The English word “gospel” finds its origins in the Greek word euangelion, which literally means “Good News.” In ancient times, euangelion was used to describe an announcement of victory or celebration heralded through the streets for all to hear. As such, the ancient idea of gospel, or Good News, is a declaration (Psalm 96:2-3). This helps us make sense of why insightful New Testament scholars like Scot McKnight speak of the gospel as being “a narrative declaration” about Jesus. (We get into what “narrative declaration” means in The Discipleship Gospel, when we define the discipleship gospel.) Correctly understood, the gospel is a Scripture-based declaration about Jesus—who Jesus is, what he has done, how he fulfills all Scripture, and how he calls us to respond to him.
This is an excerpt from The Discipleship Gospel (available in digital and paperback). Get a discount by using code ‘TBP’ at checkout when you order here.
Declarations and Responses
The gospel, a narrative declaration of Christ’s story, has two aspects to it. First, there are four declarative statements to the gospel, which are about who Jesus is and what he has done. In this sense, the gospel truly is all about Jesus. We can call the declarative statements, as we mentioned, “the gospel proper.” Distinguished from the responses of Jesus’ gospel, this is the first aspect of the gospel. The second aspect of the gospel is Jesus’ imperative statements that call for our response to the gospel. They are how we should act when we hear the gospel.
Now, while the imperative responses to the gospel are not the gospel proper in the purest sense, they are, in fact, essentially attached to it. We can’t rightly detach the imperative responses to the gospel from its declarative statements. If people don’t respond to the gospel in the way Jesus calls them to, they won’t be saved. In other words, while we can distinguish between the declarative and imperative responses of the gospel, we must not separate them. They are critically connected. Jesus didn’t disconnect them, and neither should we. Together they form the seven essential elements of Jesus’ gospel. As we discover the seven elements, it’s helpful to remember these two categories:
Declarative statements that make up the gospel proper
Imperative calls to action that are our responses
The gospel’s declaration and our responses to it are like a wedding ceremony. The pastor makes declarative statements about what the couple is doing, and by responding to what he says, they enter into the covenant of marriage. When was the last time you went to a wedding and the bride and groom refused to answer the pastor’s questions? Jesus calls us to respond just like a pastor expects the bride and groom to respond at a wedding ceremony. Unless we respond to the Good News, we haven’t accepted it. We emphasize this point because there is a trend in the postmodern age to put the Good News before people in a very attractive package without calling upon them to act on it. There seems to be a fear of putting anyone on the spot. This, of course, doesn’t work because it’s impossible to have a gospel without a call to action.
With these things in mind, we’ll unpack these two aspects of Jesus’ gospel on this blog, continuing next week by looking at the kingdom of God and following Jesus as essential elements of his gospel.
For the reasoning that Mark was the first Gospel written, see John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck’s The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books) 99.
This is a phrase used by Matthew Bates to describe the declarative elements of the gospel. Such a phrase helps us distinguish between, in the language of this book, the four declarative statements of the gospel and the three imperative responses, all of which are essential to the gospel. For more on this, see Matthew W. Bates, Salvation By Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017) 29.
Scot McKnight, King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 58.