The word gospel in English comes from two words "good" and "spell" that have been abbreviated into one word. "Spell" is an ancient word from the Latin that is carried over into our English. It means to form letters of the alphabet into words to tell a story or to proclaim news. So good spell means "good news" and those two words abbreviated form the word 'gospel' which means "good news."
I am amazed at the number of Christians who forget that the gospel is something you tell, not something you do. Let me illustrate via a quick test: Think of 'the gospel' as you know it --- now find a lost person and relay the gospel without asking him or her to "do" anything. Can you? To believe the gospel is to simply trust the veracity of the news one hears, so if you ask a sinner if he believes what you have proclaimed, you are not asking him to do anything. You are are calling upon him to examine his soul. For instance, a sinner can't rest in Christ until the Spirit has first made him burdened. A sinner can't believe in redemption until he first feels his bondage. A sinner can't experience freedom from the guilt of his sin until he first feels the guilt of his sin - and that is the Spirit's job. That is why to attempt to be an evangelist without prayer is the same as attempting to be a reporter without an audience. The Spirit provides for the evangelist the open hearts to believe the good news.
IF the gospel is proclaimed biblically, the proclamation of Christ as Savior and Lord will be used by the Spirit to draw people into fellowship with Christ. "If I be lifted up," Jesus said, "I will draw all men unto me." But it seems to me that the good news, proclaimed by many modern evangelicals, has been tainted. Many evangelists today try to produce the good news by calling upon hearers to do something moral, to do something religious, or to do something in terms of commitment. The job of the evangelist is to report the good news, not produce it.
So, just exactly what is the good news? The gospel is the ATONEMENT of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. The English word "atonement" is used to translate Hebrew word kaphar many times in the Old Testament but used only once to translate the Greek word katallege in the New Testament: in Romans 5:11. It is a theological word with a rather unusual etymology. Most of the terms or words used to describe scriptural doctrines in the English language are words which have been derived either from the Greek or from the Latin. But that is not true for the word "atonement." It was invented by English or Anglo-Saxon Bible translators (primarily Wycliffe) to translate the Greek (katallege) and Hebrew (kaphar) words that seemed to have no English equivalent.
In English "atonement" is a noun formed by three small words: "at" and "one" and "moment." The word "atonement" suggests, therefore, 'a moment when there is the making of one out of that which had been divided', or 'a dwelling together of two people once at odds.' The word "atonement" as a theological term treats the relationship which exists between God and man. The word suggests that there is a unity or oneness between God and sinners - where there used to be division - because of the "at-one-ment" work of Christ. This atonement moment occurred at the cross.
To believe the gospel is to trust that Christ has erased the divide and that God is interested in a relationship with you - on His terms. He is Lord. He is your Creator. He is your Father. He is your Lover. He is your Pursuer. His grace brings you to yield to Him in love and acceptance. Implied in the word "atonement" is the eventual conscious awareness within the sinner for whom Christ atoned that the evil which formerly divided has now been removed and we can come to God as 'Abba' Father.
So the good news becomes very personal. Christ died in my place and He came to draw me into a personal, eternal, powerful, and transformational relationship with God. Worship, Bible study, discipleship, etc . . . is all designed to enter into the presence of God and call upon Him for the power to live a God-united life in a God-less world. When churches and people get interested in the gospel, the demons of hell are unleashed becaue they know there is a butterfly effect people get serious about God's grace to sinners through Christ. The transformation of one sinner who finds his salvation in Christ can change the destiny of a family, a town, a country, and even the world.
My prayer is that all evangelical Christians, including Southern Baptists, will not fall into the trap of emphasizing man-made rituals or religious traditions. I pray that we will not settle for moralistic messages or serendipitous sermons on success. Rather, I pray we will stay focused on our job of reporting the good news.
In His Grace,