In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the apostle Paul summarizes the most basic ingredients of the gospel message, namely, the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of the resurrected Christ. Note the four clauses introduced by that in bold type in verses 3-5 below:
15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…
These verses, which were an early Christian confession, give us the heart of the gospel and show the that the resurrection is an integral part of the gospel. Note that Paul described this as “of first importance”—a phrase that stresses priority, not time. The stress is on the centrality of these truths to the gospel message.
Actually, the central ingredient of the gospel message is a two-fold confession:
(1) Christ died for our sins and (2) He was raised on the third day. The reality of these two elements can be verified by the Scriptures (cf. Ps. 16:10; Isa. 53:8-10) and by such awesome historical evidence as the empty tomb and the eye witnesses. Thus, the other two elements mentioned here accomplish two important facts regarding the gospel. The fact that He was buried verified His death, and the fact that He appeared to others verified His resurrection.
In summary, what is the gospel? It is the message of the good news of salvation, the word of truth offered to mankind by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a message not only of eternal life, but one that encompasses the total plan of God to redeem people from the ravages of sin, death, Satan, and the curse that now covers the earth.
The world is blinded to the gospel by Satan who wants to keep people from seeing the glorious nature of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-4), but the Christian should never be ashamed of the gospel nor reticent to share it because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes for the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17).
Furthermore, the gospel does not come simply in words. “For our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (in much assurance) (1 Thess. 1:5).
Of course, the gospel is a message of words since words are basic to the intelligent communication of God’s truth. As a message, the gospel is a witness to the historical work of God in the person and work of Christ for which the right words are crucial. However, this message is not merely a message of words. Words can be very eloquent, persuasive, and entertaining and they may move people emotionally and intellectually, but such can not save them and bring them into the family of God (see 1 Cor. 2:1ff). Thus, the apostle added, the gospel came “also in power.”
In contrast to mere words, the gospel came “with power.” Some would like to relate this to miraculous works as authenticating signs, but normally, the plural, “powers,” would be used if that were meant (see Matt. 13:54; 14:2; 1 Cor. 12:10; Gal. 3:5; Heb. 2:4; 6:5). Others would relate it to the inward power in the messengers as a result of the filling of the Spirit, but this important characteristic is brought out by the next prepositional phrase mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “with” or “by the Spirit.” Rather, could it not refer simply to the inherent power of the gospel as the “Word of God which is alive and powerful” (Heb. 4:12)? It is not just a message of words, but a message which is living, active, powerful and able to bring people into a saving relationship with the living God for one simple reason: It is God’s Word and it is truth. It is the true revelation of God’s activity in Jesus Christ. See also the apostle’s comment in 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
But Paul quickly adds, “and in the Holy Spirit.” This takes us to the second of the positive elements that gave these missionaries their boldness in presenting the gospel. Paul and his associates knew they were indwelt by the Spirit as their helper or enabler for ministry (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7f; Acts 1:8). The Spirit of God, as the third person of the Trinity, is called “the Spirit of Truth” because of His role in taking the truth of the Word and revealing it to men (see John 14:17; 15;26; 16:8-13; 1 John 4:6; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 2:6-16). Because of the blindness and hardness of men’s heart, they are powerless to even desire, much less grasp the life-giving truth of the gospel (cf. Rom. 3:11), but by the powerful pre-salvation ministry of the Spirit who led the missionaries (see Acts 16:6-10), who prepares hearts (Acts 16:14), and who convicts and draws men to God (Rom. 2:4; John 12:32; 16:8f), some will listen, grasp, and believe the gospel and experience its saving power (see also 2 Thess. 2:13).
Thus, the apostle added a third positive element concerning the gospel which they brought to the Thessalonians—“and with full conviction.” This point us to the faith and confidence of the missionaries. It was not in their looks, in their beaming personalities, in their eloquence or oratorical skill, nor in their methodology that they trusted. They preached the gospel with conviction resting in the fact they were preaching the powerful, life-giving truth of God fortified by the powerful ministry of the Spirit of God who worked both in the missionaries and in their hearers.
May we realize with Paul that the gospel is a sacred trust (1 Tim. 1:11). Thus, may we with the apostle be under divine compulsion to proclaim it (1 Cor. 9:16), and seek the prayer of others that we may carry out the task of sharing the gospel with boldness (Eph. 6:19). This will often involve us in opposition (1 Thess. 2:2) and affliction (2 Tim. 1:8), but the gospel of salvation is “the word of truth” (Eph. 1:13).