John MacArthur has written an excellent summary of the doctrines of salvation in Christ Jesus, in his newest book titled The Gospel According to Paul. I referenced the preface of this book a few weeks ago in another post, and today I am excited to share his Biblical definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Qualifier: some of the things he mentions as mistaken gospel substitutes are not bad in and of themselves (e. g. liturgy, sacraments/ordinances, human dignity, overcoming racial division), but when they replace or eclipse the gospel they are abused and become bad, indeed, “another gospel” (cf. Gal. 1:1-12).
This quote is from chapter five in his book, a chapter on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer and the imputation of the believer’s sin to Christ on the cross as one of the many benefits of saving faith: true salvation only available by faith alone and not of works, according to God’s grace alone, with Jesus Christ as the object of that faith. MacArthur builds this chapter on Rom. 4:3, 23-25:
Paul neatly summarized the gist of the Gospel: it is a declaration about the atoning work of Christ. In the preaching of Christ and the apostles, the gospel was always punctuated by a clarion call to repentant faith. But it is not merely a summons to good behavior. It’s not a liturgy of religious ceremonies and sacraments. It’s not a plea for self-esteem and human dignity. It’s not a manifesto for culture warriors or a rallying cry for political zealots. It’s not a mandate for earthly dominion. It’s not a sophisticated moral philosophy seeking to win admiration and approval from the world’s intellectual elite, or a lecture about the evils of cultural and racial division. It’s not an appeal for “social justice.” It’s not a dissertation on gender issues or a prescription for “redeeming culture.” It’s not the kind of naive, indiscriminate congeniality that is content to sing “Kumbaya” to the rest of the world. Within the past half decade I have seen every one of those ideas touted as “the gospel” in various books, blogs, and sermons. They are all deviations or distractions from the true gospel as proclaimed by Paul. The cross of Jesus Christ is the sum and the focus of the gospel according to Paul: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23) . . . To make the gospel about anything else is to depart from biblical Christianity. Paul’s teaching is not the least bit ambiguous about this . . . Quite simply, the gospel is good news for fallen humanity regarding how sins are atoned [paid] for, how sinners are forgiven, and how believers are made right with God [and righteous in Christ].
John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2017), 75-76. Brackets mine.