I first read John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus in 1990 shortly after it was published. It is not an over-exaggeration when I say the book completely revolutionized my understanding of the message of the good news as proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospels. John MacArthur is one of the greatest influences on my Christian life and ministry. As a very young man and Christian I learned from John MacArthur what the true Gospel is, and I also learned to love the Word of God. Later, in my teaching and pastoral ministry I followed (and still do) his example of expository preaching through the biblical text. John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus is definitely a contemporary classic and is just as relevant and important today as it was when it first appeared almost 30 years ago.
John MacArthur is the Bible-teacher on the internationally broadcast radio program Grace to You. He is also the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church and president of the Master’s College and Seminary all in Southern California. He is a prolific author and has written on many subjects in the fields of biblical studies, theology, practical ministry, as well as The MacArthur Study Bible and his massive New Testament commentary series. In 2008 a revised and expanded anniversary edition of The Gospel According to Jesus was released. It is this edition of the book that I will be reviewing in this post. Upon reading The Gospel According to Jesus again after all of those years it still had a profound impact on me and really helped in so many ways, especially given the present assault of the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The exclusion of the lordship of Jesus Christ from the contemporary Gospel message was the primary catalyst for MacArthur’s writing The Gospel According to Jesus. The message of Jesus in the Gospels was clear in that He called sinners to “a repentant, submissive surrender to the truth—including the truth of His lordship” (p. 11). Some erroneously charged MacArthur with teaching a works-based salvation because of his insistence that the Bible declared obedience to Christ as Lord. However, this false accusation was easily refuted and MacArthur very carefully and correctly shows what the true Gospel entails over and against the unbiblical view of “carnal Christianity” and “easy-believism.” MacArthur begins by asking the question “What is the Gospel?” He then examines the biblical accounts and presents a powerful portrait of the true Gospel as proclaimed by Jesus in contrast to the weak, popular, and false gospel taught by so many today. His goal is to present a “clear and precise understanding of the eternal gospel” (p. 22) and in my estimation he succeeds exceedingly well.
The Gospel According to Jesus is divided into six parts including three appendixes (Part 6). In part one MacArthur explains what it means to follow Jesus as Lord and as slaves of Christ. He then goes on to show how Jesus’ Gospel has been abandoned and gives a historical overview of exactly how it happened. An outstanding presentation of the biblical doctrine of salvation is also provided in this section. In part two the Gospel is shown to be a call for a “new birth” and this necessary regeneration is the only means by which a person can be saved. MacArthur gives an excellent exposition of John 4 and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Genuinely converted people will necessarily worship God according to “spirit and truth” (cf. John 4: 24). Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and MacArthur powerfully demonstrates that God saves his elect so that they may in turn repent, exercise faith, submit, and bear fruit. This is indeed taking upon the “yoke of rest” (see chapter 10). Salvation from beginning to end is entirely a work of the triune God.
In part three, the illustrations used by Jesus in his parables to explain the Gospel are explored. MacArthur really brings out the riches of the parables: “the soils” (chapter 11), the wheat and tares (chapter 12), “the treasures of the kingdom” (chapter 13), “the first and the last” (chapter 14), “the lost and found” (chapter 15), and “the vine and branches” (chapter 16). When I first read this book it was this section that really helped me understand the Gospel in a concrete manner and lead me to truly commit myself to the Lordship of Christ. The parables that Jesus taught are just amazing stories that vividly clarify the content of the Gospel and our response to it. In part four MacArthur writes about the critical essence and requirement of repentance as well as the nature of true faith. MacArthur’s section on justification (chapter 19) is crucial to a proper understanding of the Gospel. And, with all the current controversy over the nature of justification this chapter really needs to read and heeded today. The chapter (22) on the “Cost of Discipleship” is a superb and sobering reminder of what it means to authentically “take up the cross” in following the Lord Jesus Christ. In part five it is Jesus who fulfills the Gospel. There is only one chapter in part five but it is a very powerful section because it deals with the death of Jesus and what his death accomplished on our behalf. And, in the end it is the resurrection of Christ that gives us the great hope of salvation for all of eternity.
Part six offers three appendixes. In Appendix 1 the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed is shown to be the same Gospel the apostles would also preach. This was the subject of MacArthur’s subsequent work entitled The Gospel According to the Apostles in which he expands and offers a more detailed account of the Gospel message of the apostles. Appendix 2 gives a brief but solid overview of the Gospel in church history. Appendix 3 provides MacArthur’s answers to questions raised in response to The Gospel According to Jesus.
This book is a much needed corrective to the prevalent weak and corrupted gospel that is being proclaimed in many churches today. MacArthur provides us with a clear and compelling presentation of the Gospel as proclaimed by Jesus Christ. It is my hope and prayer that this book would be read widely and that the Gospel according to Jesus would be believed, obeyed, and taught, all for the glory of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.