On Easter, it is always good to refresh our understanding of the gospel so we can avoid the trap of being pulled away by additions to it that undermine our relationship with God.
Here’s how I summarize it in a call-out box in What’s Best Next, in a chapter where I talk about the relationship between the gospel and good works:
What is the Gospel?
The gospel is very simple: Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Paul states it very clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
It’s not enough to just hear the gospel, or go to church, or have been baptized. We have to believe the gospel. Believing the gospel does not just mean assenting to it intellectually, but relying on Christ crucified and risen for our acceptance with God and right to eternal life.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved….Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10; 13).
We enter a right relationship with God through faith alone in the gospel, not as a result of any works we do — before or after becoming a Christian. Good works are a result of having been accepted by God, not the means or basis of our being accepted by Him.
Further, you never get beyond the gospel. Once you become a Christian, you don’t “graduate” on to more important realities. The gospel is always “of first importance,” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:3). Christ died for the sins of Christians, too — that is, the gospel is not just something we point unbelievers to, but is something we continue relying on every day as Christians. As Christians, Jesus’ death and resurrection continues to be the full and complete basis of our forgiveness and righteousness before God.