What Is The Gospel?

by Joel Finck

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The question asked by the Philippian jailer echoes through the corridors of time, and still rings in the ears of mankind today: “What must I do to be saved?” And likewise, the unmistakable answer of the Apostle Paul still graces the pages of the eternal Word of God, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). If the gospel of the grace of God makes anything clear, it is that we are saved by grace through faith, without the instrumentality of works. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).


Yet the question remains, “What does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” It is certainly true that Christ Himself must be the object of our faith (Acts 16:31), but Paul makes it abundantly clear that we must believe something ABOUT Christ in order to be saved. That is, faith in Christ includes believing correctly about His PERSON and His WORK.

I Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the gospel in its simplest form. In verse one, Paul states, “…I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you….” Then, in verses three and four, he states what it was he had preached unto them: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures: And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” The statements in verses five and six about Christ being seen of Peter and others are not more items to be included as “the gospel,” but rather, evidence supporting the fact “that he rose again the third day.” Paul simply expands on this point because the resurrection was the part of the gospel that some of the Corinthians had denied (I Cor. 15:12).

It should be noted that Paul included all three of these elements in his first recorded sermon after being officially sent on his first missionary journey. Acts 13:28-30 says, “And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain (vs. 28—the DEATH of Christ). And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre (vs. 29—the BURIAL of Christ). But God raised Him from the dead (vs. 30—the RESURRECTION of Christ).” Then, as he does in I Corinthians 15, Paul goes on to expand on the resurrection (Acts 13:31-37). Paul’s other recorded sermons follow a similar approach, where the death of Christ may be mentioned, but the emphasis is on the resurrection. “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD” (Acts 17:31).


Does this emphasis on the resurrection mean that the death of Christ is unimportant? Of course not! But the careful student of Scripture will notice an interesting pattern here. When expounding the basis of salvation to believers (for example, in the book of Romans), Paul goes into great detail explaining the death of Christ, for it IS the shed blood of Christ which pays the price of our sin (Rom. 3:24,25). But when preaching to the lost, Paul mentions the death and burial of Christ (as in Acts 13:28,29) but then leans heavily on the resurrection when pressing home his point (see Acts 13:30-37; cf. Acts 17:18,31; 23:6; 24:15,21; 25:19; 26:8). This is not without design. It is not that difficult to believe that someone died. It is not even that difficult to believe that someone died for another person’s sins. Innocent people have died in the place of another throughout history. But to believe that Someone rose again from the dead is a hurdle which the lost have a hard time crossing: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter” (Acts 17:32).

This is surely why God has established not only faith in the death of Christ, but also in His resurrection as part of the gospel message. And indeed, Paul DOES associate belief in the resurrection with salvation: “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that RAISED UP JESUS OUR LORD FROM THE DEAD” (Rom. 4:24). “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart THAT GOD HATH RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9).


While few would question the necessity of believing that Christ died for our sins AND that He rose from the dead, believers have sometimes questioned the necessity of believing that Christ was buried. In the same breath, we would propose that this is almost a “moot point,” for we have never yet met a true believer who denied that Christ was buried. However, it is the conviction of this writer that the burial of Christ is not unimportant in any way.

First, the burial of Christ fulfills the very prophecy of Christ Himself, that “as Jonas (Jonah) was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). This is the fulfillment of a major Old Testament type: “the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Secondly, the burial is proof that Christ actually died. And since it is essential to believe that Christ really died for our sins, believing that He was buried serves to confirm this fact.

Thirdly, the burial of Christ signifies an important aspect of our salvation: the putting away of sin. This truth is vividly illustrated in Scripture. The first mention of burial in the Bible is Genesis 23:4 where Abraham says, concerning Sarah after her death, “that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Peter writes that Christ “bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24). It was that sin-laden body that was buried in the tomb. Why? To put those sins “out of sight” forever! This significance of the burial of Christ is also illustrated in the feasts of Israel recorded in Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23. The FIRST feast, “the passover,” illustrates the death of Christ, “For even Christ our passover is sac-rificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7). The THIRD feast, “firstfruits” illustrates the resurrection of Christ, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Cor. 15:20).

But what does the SECOND feast, “unleavened bread” signify? It clearly signifies the putting away of sin, and corresponds to the burial of Christ. “Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Cor. 5:8). When observing the feast of unleavened bread, the Old Testament Israelite was to remove all leaven from the home (Exod. 12:15). Likewise, when Christ was buried, He removed from God’s sight all those sins He had paid for on the cross. Praise the Lord for the burial of Christ!

Finally, the burial of Christ is important enough to deserve mention as part of the great “identification” passage of Romans 6:3,4. As Paul says, we are “buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Christ obviously rose without sin, leaving our sins in the grave. Likewise, we should identify with Christ in a practical way by leaving our life of sin behind. We can do this by reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin. Being “dead indeed” includes death AND burial (Rom. 6:4).


In this dispensation, God has clearly included the burial and resurrection of Christ along with His death as a part of “the gospel” (I Cor. 15:1-4), as we have demonstrated above. It is God who has set these terms as the content of our faith in order to be saved. This is the METHOD of salvation in this day of grace.

To the dear lost soul who may have come across this article, we beg you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. Believe the message “that Christ died for your sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3,4). This is the gospel!