It is biblical to speak of “obeying the gospel,” although I’m sad to say that the way I’ve most often used that phrase is not very biblical. I’ve often said, when someone was baptized, “He obeyed the gospel,” as if obeying the gospel was something that was accomplished by being baptized. That is not a very biblical way to speak of someone “obeying the gospel.” It is so much more than being baptized, because a person is never finished obeying the gospel.
What is the Gospel?
People often say the gospel is “the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 is often cited to prove this point. But pay attention to what Paul actually says in that passage:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For 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.”
The word “gospel” means “good tidings” or “good news.” Paul is reminding the Corinthians about the Good News he preached to them. He does not say the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, but that these are “of first importance” to the gospel message. The death, burial, and resurrection are certainly at the heart of the gospel, but it’s not accurate to say “the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.” That is an oversimplification (of which I too am guilty).
There is a stone in Priene, Turkey on which there is an inscription that dates back to 9 B.C. The inscription speaks of the birth of Augustus Caesar. It says Augustus is a god and the savior of the world. It says his birthday signaled “the beginning of good news for the world.” The word used in this inscription for “good news” is the same word the New Testament uses about Jesus (euangelion).
If you really want a summary of the gospel, you might consider a passage like Colossians 1:15-20. This is the Good News:
“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
The gospel is the Good News that the Son of God came into the world. While in the world, He made peace by the blood of His cross. He was raised from the dead and now He rules over all things. The gospel is that Jesus is the victorious Messiah, the Anointed One.
Yes, the death, burial, and resurrection are at the core of that message, but the message is more than just those three things.
Obeying the Gospel
This brings us back to our question, “What does it mean to obey the gospel?” There are three passages that speak of obeying the gospel. Interestingly, all three passages use this phrase in a negative sense. They all speak of the Lord punishing those who “do not obey the gospel” (see Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17).
Let’s consider one of those passages. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul is writing to the suffering church in Thessalonica. He himself had witnessed the resistance to the gospel in that city (see Acts 17:1-9). On his second missionary journey, Paul had gone to the synagogue in Thessalonica and reasoned with the Jews, saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:3). But the Jews stirred up a mob and drug some of the disciples before the city officials.
So when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he said, “We ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). He assured them Jesus would settle the score when He returned. Saying, He will return “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Paul mentions two groups who will be punished. The first, “those who do not know God.” This has reference to, “the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:5). And then he mentions, “those who do not obey the gospel our Lord Jesus.” This especially refers to the Jews. They were the ones who knew God, in a sense, but were refusing to submit themselves to the Good News of Jesus’ kingship.
In fact, the word “obey” here is a present tense verb in the Greek, which indicates ongoing action. Young’s Literal Translation reads, “those not obeying the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Keep Obeying the Gospel
Obeying the gospel means accepting the fact that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. It means becoming His disciple. It means being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It means observing all that He has commanded (see Matthew 28:18-20). This was the Good News message the apostles proclaimed to the world.
Obeying the gospel is not something you ever finish doing. The gospel is something you are either being obedient to – right now – or you are not. The question isn’t, “Have you obeyed the gospel?” But rather, “Are you living in obedience to the gospel?”
I love you and God loves you,