The word “gospel” means good news, and it is the very best news we wandering and broken mortal creatures might ever hope to hear. There is only one true gospel, but New Testament writers proclaim it through many pictures and figures of speech. It is as if they lead us through the city and find examples and illustrations on every street.
There is the courthouse — reminding us that God the judge has “justified” us. For the sake of his Son Jesus Christ, he has acquitted us, pronounced us righteous as if we had never sinned (Rom. 3:24-26). There are the public baths — and we remember that God has cleansed us, washed us, removed our moral filth and guilt (1 Cor. 6:11). Here is the orphanage — bringing to our mind that God has adopted us and made us his children by grace (Eph. 1:5, 11). Here is the attorney’s office — causing us to recall that Jesus Christ is our intercessor and the Holy Spirit our divine Advocate (1 Tim. 2:5; John 14:16).
We pass the hospital — and remember that Jesus heals our body, soul and spirit (Matt. 8:17). Here is the slave market — but we are redeemed (Col. 1:14). Over there are cozy houses — a reminder that the Father has reconciled us and called us home to himself (Col. 1:20-22). There is the bank — we who were poor are rich (Lk. 6:20). Here is the inn — reminding us that we who were hungry and thirsty have been filled (Matt. 5:6). Out there is the cemetery — and we recall that although we once were dead in sin we enjoy new life (Eph. 2:1-7).
These figures all share two common truths. First, that our problems were human in origin and resulted from sinful attitudes and actions — of ourselves and others. Second, that God has personally undertaken the task of remedying our problems — our guilt, our filth, our estrangement, our bondage, ailments and poverty, our hunger and thirst and homelessness — and he has done so without any help from us whatsoever (Isa. 43:11-12, 25; 59:15-20).
All this happened in Jesus our representative, and it occurred before we ever heard of it (2 Cor. 5:18-19; 2 Tim. 1:9). When we hear the gospel, we cannot contribute anything to God’s many-faceted salvation. All we can do is trust his kind disposition toward us in his Son, and give him our love, obedience and praise in return (Rom. 11:33-36).