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Reflections on the Reformation: What is the Gospel?

Perhaps no six words have ever gripped the mind and heart of a man more than when Martin Luther read in Romans 1:17, “The righteous shall live by faith.” These words prompted a revival movement towards the recovery of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Of his time teaching theology in Wittenberg (1515), Luther said, “Night and day I pondered…until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”[1] What an incredible description of a life that has been set free from the bondage of sin! On the 506th anniversary of Luther’s denouncement of justification by works, look again at the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing as important as the gospel of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 says: "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures," The gospel is the only hope for a broken world and broken lives. To proclaim the gospel clearly one must first understand what the gospel is. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 simplifies the gospel for the reader into three key events: Christ died for our sins, Christ was buried, and Christ rose again on the third day. CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS The first event of the gospel is Jesus’s substitutionary death for our sins. 1 Corinthians 15:3 says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” There is no gospel that does not present all mankind as sinners and Jesus as the only solution for sin. It does not matter if that sin is racism, greed, hatred, jealousy, strife, or lying. There is only one solution for man’s sin problem, and that is the substitutionary death of Jesus. Romans 5:8 explains the substitutionary death of Jesus: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Mark Ballard, president of Northeastern Baptist College, in his recent book Words Matter: What is the Gospel? put it this way: “Without a redeemer, a savior, a justifier, a life-giver, the human dilemma was hopeless. And that is why Jesus came and died for us.”[2] To speak of the gospel, you must talk about sin and a Savior. CHRIST WAS BURIED The second key event of the gospel is the physical death of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15:4 says, “that he was buried.” It was important to explain the physical death and burial of Jesus. Why is the death of Jesus important? Romans 6:23 gives the answer: “For the wages of sin is death.” The fact that Jesus died demonstrates that he fully paid the “wage” for our sin. There is no remaining balance for sin upon those who believe the gospel. CHRIST WAS RAISED ON THE THIRD DAY The final event of the gospel is that Jesus rose from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:4 says, “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” By the resurrection, Jesus defeated man’s two greatest foes: sin and death. Every Christian’s victory anthem is in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57: "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Martin Luther came to Christ through the reading of the Scriptures. He put his faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ as being sufficient to save, and he put away reliance on works for justification. His faith eventually led him to turn the world upside down in the Reformation as he stood resolutely for the gospel of Jesus and the Scriptures as being the only foundation for life and practice. The Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of his church making a public proclamation of his faith and reliance on Scripture alone. May the anniversary of this event spur every Christian to meditate on the power that comes through faith in the gospel. Remember, your victory over sin comes from Jesus. No politician, political party, or legislation can give you victory over your sin. No good work, action, or possession can free you from sin and justify you in the eyes on the one and only living God who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5). The only triumph one will ever have from the devastation of sin is to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and remember, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17. [1] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 285. [2] Mark Ballard, Words-Matter: What is the Gospel?, 33. This article was originally published on


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