You don’t have to believe the entire gospel to receive eternal life. And even if you believed in the gospel, you might not be saved.
Do such statements shock you?
They should—especially if you hold to one of the traditional (yet not so biblical) definitions for the words “gospel” and “saved.”
When most people today hear the sentence “You must believe the gospel to be saved” what actually goes through their mind is this: “Here are the things you must believe in order to go to heaven when you die” (And of course, everyone has a different idea about what we must believe).
So people are often shocked to learn that the biblical word “gospel” (Gk., euangelion) means way more than what a person need to believe to receive eternal life. Similarly, the biblical word for “salvation” (Gk., sōteria) has very little to do with going to heaven when you die.
To see what each word means, we will look at the word “gospel” in the next couple posts, and the word “salvation” in a few posts after that.
The Definition of “Gospel”
The word “gospel” means “good news.”
And although “gospel” almost universally today refers to good news about forgiveness of sin and the offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ, the word itself carries no such connotations.
In ancient and biblical times, the word is often used regarding things like children who recovered from sickness, a battle which was won, or a successful trading voyage (See my article on the gospel where I document this in more detail).
Just as the words “good news” can refer to almost any sort of happy event or positive outcome today, so also, the words “good news” or “gospel” could refer to almost anything good in biblical times as well.
In the New Testament itself, though, the phrase “good news” or “gospel” has a more focused meaning.
Though it can sometimes refer simply to an encouraging message (1 Thess 3:6), and Jesus often used the term to describe the coming of the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt 4:23; 9:35), Paul is the one who used the word in his writings, and he uses the word most often in reference to describe the complete chain of events regarding what God has done for sinful humanity through Jesus Christ to provide eternal life for them.
And when I write “the complete chain of events” I mean the complete chain, beginning with God eternal love for humanity, including the creation of mankind and their subsequent fall, and going through God’s calling of Israel, His work through them during their checkered history, the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and looking forward to the return of Jesus and the new heavens, the new earth, and our eternal existence with God. The biblical “gospel” includes all of this. Every bit.
While the term gospel is a non-technical term for any good news, the NT usage seems to define it as good news for everybody, whether Jew or Gentile, believer or unbeliever, regarding the benefits and blessings which come to us from the person and work of Jesus Christ. It includes everything from “the eschatological expectation, the proclamation of the [kingdom of God] … the introduction of the Gentiles into salvation history, [and] the rejection of the ordinary religion of cult and Law.” This gospel contains everything related to the person and work of Jesus Christ, including all of the events leading up to His birth, and all the ramifications from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for unbelievers and believers. (see p. 50 of my article on the gospel).
So what is the gospel? It is everything about Jesus.
So do you see why you don’t have to believe “the gospel” to receive eternal life? The reason is because you cannot believe everything about Jesus. It’s impossible to know everything about Jesus, let alone believe everything (we will talk about Mark 1:15 in a later post). To receive eternal life, you simply believe in Jesus for it (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47, etc.). This is a truth within the gospel, but is not itself “the gospel.”
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