Every Christian I know agrees that the gospel is essential to Christianity. It is “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). We know the word gospel means “good news” but what is this good news really about? And what is salvation? Is it escape from earth, life in heaven, missing hell, having our sins forgiven, or inviting Jesus into my heart? Likely we’ve all heard one of more of these answers given to that question.
The problem is not that there is no truth in these standard, simple answers but rather that this minimal truth is inadequate, even peripheral to the correct biblical answer.
Mark’s Gospel begins with words that I frankly missed the first thirty years of my life: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Whatever the gospel is the record of this message is what the writer will give to his reader in the Gospel of Mark. (Of course, it is also to be found in the other three Gospels, which together give us the rich, full and truly robust answer to our question about the gospel of Jesus.) But Mark 1:1 is followed, only a few verses later, by Mark 1:14: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.”
A simple observation strikes me as profoundly clear, and deeply important, in these additional words. There is one gospel. That gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. But note that this gospel is the good news of the kingdom. The two, the gospel and the kingdom, are one and the same.
I grew up without ever hearing anything, at least so far as I can remember, about the kingdom of God. (The rare exception might have been my mother teaching her dispensational views of the kingdom, a kingdom which would only come in the time following Jesus’ return!) I certainly never equated the good news of Jesus with the kingdom! But I submit to you that apart from the kingdom of God there is no gospel, no good news.
My friend Professor William Abraham, a Methodist teacher of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, says there is a basic “logic” to real evangelism. This logic means that the gospel must have relevance and power for the present, not just for the distant future. The truth of this logic will only be seen when you take the gospel of the kingdom seriously.
My friend Professor Alan Streett writes:
The gospel must have relevance for the present and not only for the distant future. According to New Testament accounts, the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom (and not the promise of going to heaven) was the thrust of Jesus’ gospel sermons. It provided the rationale for evangelism. The words “gospel” and “kingdom” are so interconnected that the New Testament writers use the umbrella terms “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” 20 times to describe the good news of salvation (Heaven on Earth, Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2013, 12.)
Alan Streett, in a magnificent, readable and imminently biblical new book, Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now, says that when the message Jesus and the apostles preached is compared with contemporary gospel messages