While the English word “gospel” comes from the older English word “god-spell” which means “good news” or “glad tidings” (which in turn comes from the Greek word euangelion (which means “good message”), the biblical gospel in fact is a combination of bad news and good news.
Indeed, without the bad news of the gospel, there can be no good news. The bad news is an integral part of the gospel, and without it the entire message of the New Testament makes no sense at all. So what is the bad news? Quite simply, we are all sinners living in rebellion against God, under the wrath of God and meriting eternal punishment.
We are sinners who deserve the just judgment of God, and hell is a reality which all sinners must reckon with. That is the bad news of the gospel. The good news of the gospel is that God has not abandoned us in that terrible place. Jesus Christ came to deal with the sin question.
By living a perfect life, dying on the cross as our substitute, taking the punishment that we deserve upon himself, and then rising from the dead and returning to the Father, he makes a way for us to escape our fate. By turning to Christ and turning from sin in faith and repentance, we can experience the forgiveness of God, enter into a new life with the indwelling Holy Spirit, and move from death to life, including eternal life.
Now that is good news indeed, but it only makes sense against the backdrop of the bad news. Without the bad news, the good news is just a nice story. Yet tragically in countless churches throughout the West today we only hear the second half of the gospel. And even that half is usually mangled beyond recognition.
Thus we hear from so many pulpits that we should come to Jesus to be happy, to be fulfilled, to have a nice self-image, to get rich, to have it all, and to have “your best life now”. Not only does this anaemic message contain nothing of the bad news of the gospel, but it does not even come close to presenting what the good news is all about.
Because sin, wrath, judgment and hell are never proclaimed, the reason Jesus came to earth no longer makes any sense. He is now just a nifty moral teacher, or a self-help guru, or an inspiration figure, or a motivational speaker. These of course are false Christs based on a false gospel.
Thus it is utterly imperative that we proclaim the whole gospel message, which means we first proclaim the bad news before we offer the good news. We must preach law before we can offer grace. We must impress upon our listeners the lostness and utter desperation of their condition, and their absolute need for a saviour.
While so many preachers and teachers have abandoned the gospel for feel good sermons and New Age mumbo jumbo, thankfully many great Christian leaders still proclaim the full gospel. Over the years I have been collecting quotes from these folks on the need to proclaim the bad news before the good news.
I have got quite a few terrific quotes, so let me share some of them with you now (in rough order of when they were given):
“The first duty of the gospel preacher is to declare God’s Law and show the nature of sin.” Martin Luther
“In order to impress more deeply on our hearts the benefit of the death of Christ, he shows how necessary is that healing which he formerly mentioned. If we do not perceive our wretchedness and poverty, we shall never know how desirable is that remedy which Christ has brought to us, or approach him with due ardor of affection. As soon as we know that we are ruined, then, aware of our wretchedness, we eagerly run to avail ourselves of the remedy, which otherwise would be held by us in no estimation. In order, therefore, that Christ may be appreciated by us, let every one consider and examine himself, so as to acknowledge that he is ruined till he is redeemed by Christ.” John Calvin
“Let no man think to understand the gospel, who knoweth nothing of the law.” John Owen
“The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Saviour.” John Bunyan
“Never does a person see any beauty in Christ as a Savior, until they discover that they are a lost and ruined sinner.” J.C. Ryle
“Christ is never fully valued, until sin is clearly seen. We must know the depth and malignity of our disease, in order to appreciate the great Physician.” J.C. Ryle
“Before I preach love, mercy, and grace, I must preach sin, law, and judgment.” John Wesley
“Lower the law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt; this is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than a gain; for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary [its most powerful weapon] when you have set aside the Law. You have taken away from it the schoolmaster that is to bring men to Christ.” Charles Spurgeon
?”I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart unless you first send the needle of the law to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel that they are sinners. And if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. There is no healing a man till the law has wounded him, no making him alive till the law has slain him.” C.H. Spurgeon
“A new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. . . . So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail.” J. Gresham Machen
“It is only when one submits to the law that one can speak of grace . . . I don’t think it is Christian to want to get to the New Testament too soon and too directly.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“We have a gospel hardened generation of sinners because we have told them how to be saved before they have any understanding why they need to be saved.” Paris Reidhead
“The call to repentance must come first in evangelism.” R.B. Kuiper
“We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.” C. S. Lewis
“We must present both the law and the gospel; we ought not end with only the judgement of the law. Even though we may spend most of our time on the judgement of law, love dictates that at some point we get to the gospel.” Francis Schaeffer
“If I had one hour with every man, I would spend the first 45 minutes talking to them about God’s law, and the last 15 minutes talking about His great salvation.” Francis Schaeffer
“There is plenty of good news in the Bible, but there is never any flattery or back scratching. Seen one way, the Bible is a book of doom. It condemns all men as sinners and declares that the soul that sinneth shall die. Always it pronounces sentence against society before it offers mercy; and if we will not own the validity of the sentence we cannot admit the need for mercy.” A.W. Tozer
“The effort of liberal and borderline modernists to woo men to God by presenting the soft side of religion in an unqualified evil because it ignores the very reason for our alienation from God in the first place. Until a man had gotten into trouble with his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God.” A.W. Tozer
“The character of God leads to the Law of God – God’s whole relationship to the world and to man. All this designed to bring people to conviction of sin, and to lead them to repentance. And that in turn should lead them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the One and only Saviour. That is the message of salvation, that is called evangelistic preaching.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“The trouble with people who are not seeking a Savior, and for salvation, is that they do not understand the nature of sin. It is the peculiar function of the Law to bring such an understanding to a man’s mind and conscience. That is why great evangelical preachers 300 years ago in the time of the Puritans, and 200 years ago in the time of Whitfield and others, always engaged in what they called a preliminary law work.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“Formulas don’t convert people; slick slogans and cute phrases are no substitute for hard spiritual truth. In our well intentioned effort to reach unsaved masses, we often make the gospel message itself sound easy, nonthreatening, a painless answer to all of life’s ills. We portray a loving God who forgives all and asks nothing in return. Now, that may tickle the ears of this pleasure seeking generation however this is nothing less than heresy. We must challenge presuppositions, not only of society as a whole but of the evangelical subculture as well. The gospel of Jesus Christ must be the bad news of the conviction of sin before it can be the Good News of redemption. The truth is revealed in God’s Holy Word; life can be lived only in absolute and disciplined submission to its authority.” Charles Colson
“We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses, to be condemned.” John Stott
“Men have more need to know unwelcome truths than welcome truths; that is why the prophets more often mention unwelcome ones.” Peter Kreeft
As hardened sinners we of course only want to hear good things. We want to hear that we are OK, that everything is just fine. But what we need to hear is the hard truth that we are not OK, but under God’s wrath. Unless we repent and turn from our sins, we remain enemies of God, and under sentence of death.
May God raise up preachers and teachers today who deliver the whole gospel for the whole man.