I’ve been enjoying Tim Keller’s book King’s Cross, a study of the Gospel of Mark. Here is the opening of the second chapter, “The Call,” in which he defines and explains the word “gospel.”
“The first time we hear Jesus’s voice in Mark’s gospel, he says, ‘Repent and believe the good news!’ The word repent here means ‘to reverse course,’ or ‘to turn away from something.’ In the Bible it refers specifically to turning away from the things that Jesus hates to the things he loves. Euangelion in Greek, which is translated as ‘good news or ‘gospel,’ combines angelos, the word for one announcing news, and the prefix eu-, which means ‘joyful.’ Gospel means ‘news that brings joy.’ This word had currency when Mark used it, but it wasn’t religious currency. It means history-making, life-shaping news, as opposed to just daily news.
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A gospel is an announcement of something that has happened in history, something that’s been done for you that changes your status forever.
Right there you can see the difference between Christianity and all other religions, including no religion. The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say, ‘This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.’ But the gospel says, ‘This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.’ Christianity is completely different. It’s joyful news.”