The Use and Abuse of the Gospel Message
As seen in a large segment of Christianity, the term "gospel" has been ossified into theological technical speak for "what needs to be believed for eternal life".
It is apparent to me and others that the gospel can be believed and one remain unsaved. Such has been the matter throughout Christian history.
How is this the case? One may believe that Jesus Christ "died for our sins according to the Scriptures" and "rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4) and still not believe that Jesus is the Guarantor of eternal life to the one who merely takes Him at His word in His promise to do so. That one believes that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead does not necessarily and inevitably lead to the conclusion that He guarantees one's eternal well-being by simple faith into Him through His promise.
I submit: the gospel message (as defined by most) is not the content or object of saving faith.
Paul and John are not competitive. Paul preached the same SINGLE content to saving faith as John did.
1 Timothy 1:16
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
In other words, they preached faith alone into Jesus Christ for eternal life.
The context to which they couched this single requirement was also the same, viz., a gospel message.
What's the deal then?
The proclamation of a gospel message is what gives lost men and women the background to and support for the single term of receiving eternal life, believing Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, in other words, the Person who guarantees resurrection and eternal life to the believer in Him. It is the proclamation that shows Christ to be the authoratative and sufficient Guarantor of eternal life.
For instance, let me make an illustration:
Let us suppose that I said to you, "I have made you debt free."
I doubt that this statement alone would convince you that you were now debt free.
But let us say that I couched this assertion within this narrative:
"I am a multi-millionaire, and have become a philanthropist. I have made everyone in your church debt-free. Furthermore, here is the testimony of some members of your church who have become debt free by virtue of my dealings."
The narrative explaining the provision of your debt-free state is strong evidence given in order to convince you of the proposition, "I have made you debt free."
This narrative has served functionally the same purpose as the gospel message. The facts included in a gospel message are proclaimed so that one can be persuaded of Christ's promise and offer of eternal life to the believer in Him for it. It gives us the reasons why we can trust Christ.
Certainly much other evidence can help, too. Such as His miracles, His claims to deity, etc.
But we must not confuse the evidence (i.e. a gospel message) which supports and undergirds the promise of eternal life, with the content of saving faith itself. This would cloud the essential issue between God and men! When we ought to be pointing men and women to simple faith in Christ through His promise which unequivocally offers eternal life to the one who takes Him at His word for it, we have often made saving faith a step-by-step endeavor, leading people through the doctrines of hamartiology and Christology, subjecting them to a complexity that in the end can cause a failure to precisely present the terms of everlasting life to the lost sinner.
Our evangelism should be targeted. Anything that we say to the unsaved in the context of evangelism should be so tailored as to point to simple faith in Christ for the purpose of receiving eternal life. In the gospel of John, the author presents 7 miraculous signs that were performed by the Lord Jesus Christ to authenticate the claims of Jesus Christ, whereby He solemnly guarantees eternal life to any and all who merely trust in Him to do so. His supernatural works support His claims to be the unique dispenser of eternal life.
Let us herald far and wide Christ's divinity, His death for sins and the resurrection. Let us proclaim Jesus' miraculous wonders, sinless life, virgin birth, and absolute righteous teachings. Let us boldly declare His holiness, power, and authority.
But let these powerful and grand undercarriages perform their duty and not impose upon them that which their proclamation is not intended to do. The evidences given in our gospel messages are used in the hands of the Holy Spirit to convince the hearers of the claims of Christ in His gratuitous promise to impart eternal life to all who simply trust in Him to do so.
Preach the gospel? By all means! But use if for its intended purpose: to show the authority, ability, and sufficiency of Christ to impart irrevocable eternal life to the believer in Him for it.