‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’ and it is generally used of the Christian message concerning Jesus Christ. Even in very early days there were some who tried to change the message the apostles were giving. Paul wrote, ‘There are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ’, Gal. 1. 7 NKJ. This upset Paul very much and he wrote strongly condemning such teaching.
What was this perversion concerning which Paul warned his readers? Were they denying the deity of Christ and His death on the cross? No, but they were saying that belief in Christ was not enough. There were many who were teaching that faith in Christ must be joined with circumcision and keeping of the law for one to be saved, to know his sins are forgiven. Christ was not enough. It must be Christ plus works.
Today there are still many churches that state that faith in Christ is not enough. Repentance and faith must be followed by baptism and a continuing life of good works. A minister said, ‘We believe salvation is a process, one can only know he is saved at the end’. Baptism is viewed as washing away one’s sins and as giving one new life, the beginning of this process of salvation. This produces an attitude of permanent insecurity. One can never know that he has done enough.
The gospel that Paul and the other apostles preached asserted that the sinner who repents and trusts Christ, believing that on the cross He suffered for his sins, is saved. Christ plus nothing is enough to save. Christ’s death was adequate to pay for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2. 2. ‘Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’, Rom. 5. 1. Justification is viewed as completed, not as a lifelong process. Repentance and faith are not viewed as works but as a change of attitude. The sinner who trusts Christ gives up working as a way to get right with God. ‘But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness’, Rom. 4. 5. Abraham is held up as an example of such faith. ‘Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness’, Rom. 4. 3. Salvation is viewed as instantaneous. The person passes from death to life, John 5. 24.
Today there is much confusion about baptism. Paul was careful to separate baptism from the gospel. Baptism is the proclamation of one’s faith in Christ, but it does not save. Paul said, ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel’, 1 Cor. 1. 17. He defined the gospel ‘by which also you are saved’ as ‘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, and that He was seen’, 1 Cor. 15. 2-5. The message is all about Christ; He is the Saviour. Jesus could say to the thief who turned to Him in simple faith, ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise’, Luke 23. 43. He was stretched taut upon the cross, unable to be baptized, unable to join a church, unable to right the wrongs he had committed. But he could repent and turn from his sin. He could trust Christ to save him. Today he is with Christ because of his faith. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast’, Eph. 2. 8-9.
Cornelius heard the gospel and opened his heart to Christ. He and others with him upon receiving Christ were filled with the Holy Spirit. Would anyone deny that he was saved at that moment? Peter then urged them to be baptized because they had received the Spirit and were saved, Acts 10. 44-48.
Is the reader trusting his baptism and good works to make him right with God? There will be no one in heaven on that basis. We have all sinned and deserve eternal punishment. It is only Christ who can take the load of sin from us and make us right with God. Turn from your sin and trust Him. Christ is enough. ‘He who has the Son has life’, 1 John 5. 12. Cry out to Christ for salvation, and do it NOW! Rom. 10. 13.