Isn’t the Gospel Already Defined?
In The Discipleship Gospel we offer a clear 101-word definition of the gospel. Some might argue that the gospel has already been defined in the Bible in multiple ways. This is true, but only to a certain extent. For starters, the Bible reveals the gospel throughout all Scripture—every inspired word from Genesis to Revelation. As Jesus told the two disciples on their way to Emmaus after his resurrection, all Scripture concerns him (Luke 24:27). Plus, the gospel is revealed through the four Gospels of the New Testament. The Gospels are called such because they reveal the gospel. Not to mention that the gospel is defined in specific passages like 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. These gospel revelations define it in the most primal sense. They are the first written record of a gospel definition in history.
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Revelations of the gospel in the Bible do not confront the specific gospel issues we’re experiencing in much of the contemporary church today, even if they are similar to first-century issues. In stating this, we’re not calling into question the sufficiency of Scripture at all! We are questioning, though, whether or not the church’s ears have become dull to Jesus’ gospel in favor of “gospels” of our own creation—non-discipleship gospels that tickle our ears in various ways rather than confront us with the actual Christ (2 Tim. 4:3).
If Christians today aren’t intentionally making disciples—and the majority of them are not—it’s not God’s fault because he has given us everything we need. The reason we’re not making disciples today is rooted in the fact that we have not paid close enough attention to Jesus’ gospel. We have discipleship deafness, meaning that we no longer hear Jesus’ call to be disciples and to make disciples as a part of the gospel. As a result, we no longer think that discipleship is part of salvation. Matthew Bates writes, “There is only one path to final salvation, the path of discipleship…. We are only and ever saved by discipleship to Jesus.” This is why it’s critical to define the gospel today—so that we can hear it again! It’s why we call this the discipleship gospel—so we can hear Jesus’ old gospel anew and with unplugged ears.
In Chapter 2, we identified the five non-discipleship gospels. While these gospels are misguided, make no mistake: these non-discipleship gospels have been clearly defined. In fact, this is one reason their influence is so pervasive in churches and why churches aren’t making disciples. Certain tenets of these false gospels are almost considered to be doctrine—that’s how bad it has become!
With this in mind (and before we define the discipleship gospel), let’s be fully aware of the grave danger of believing and sharing non-discipleship gospels. To fully grasp the problem, we need to know the consequences of not defining the real gospel. The Apostle Paul made the consequences crystal clear to the churches in the region of Galatia: if you don’t believe the real gospel, you’ll quickly drift into believing and sharing “a different gospel.” If that happens, the consequence is that you’ll be cursed! Don’t worry, though. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at how to avoid the Galatian curse.
3. Some might argue that the gospel is revealed through creation. While in a most general sense this is true, the gospel is specifically about Jesus being revealed as the Christ. Because creation, in general, doesn’t reveal this, we have left it off this list.
4. There are other specific passages in the New Testament that define the gospel, like Romans 1:1-6, which are similar to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. We treat 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as representative of all these other succinct articulations of the gospel in the New Testament.
5. Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017) 205-206.