Looking at Romans from 1:18-3:23 we see that salvation is from the wrath of God (cf. Isaiah 53:10-12 / Galatians 3:13 / 1 Peter 2:24). Jesus Christ is the answer to sin, and His death appeases the wrath of God. Many other things presented as “gospel” do not require God to become incarnate, live a sinless life, die on a cross and rise again. Is it necessary for Christ to have been crucified? That is one good criterion for understanding if a message is about the true gospel. Some add Christ into the mix but their messages are just like they would be without Him, motivational talks, moral exhortations, feel good seminars. If you took out the biblical references or even added them it wouldn’t make any difference to the content of the teaching.
What kind of savior do we really need? The bible defines that need. We are saved from God by God. The Law had to be fulfilled by humanity. Only God could save us; only a human being should save us. God can’t die, so the Son of God entered into humanity so that He could die and pay for our sins. Until that broken Law was fulfilled by humanity we were still dead in our sins. We needed a new federal head, a second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45 / Romans 5:12-19). To redeem a people He had to be fully God, so as to give the atonement an infinite value, and He had to be fully man to perfectly satisfy the requirements of God’s Law, thus becoming an acceptable substitute for sinners (1 Timothy 2:5 – the man Christ Jesus) . It is not how many bad things you have done, not how many sins you have committed, but actually how bad sin itself really is. God’s glory was demonstrated at the cross by showing that God’s Law really did require a penalty for transgressions against it (Romans 3:25-26).
The missing ingredient in many gospels or gospel presentations is the fact that we are bound by sin, dead in sin, and slaves to sin. Salvation is from sin and to the Savior. The great problem of humanity is sin, not a lack of knowledge, not a lack of power, but a lack of purity. No amount of power and no amount of knowledge can erase that. Only the blood of Christ can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus can make me whole again. The only way we can have peace with God is if our sins are forgiven, and in Christ they are (Romans 5:1).
Some use the world’s methods of marketing to “sell” the gospel, being more concerned with numbers than with presenting the true gospel. Some water it down so there is no call for repentance from sin. This may produce large numbers of “converts,” but very few genuine believers. The message isn’t healing, helping needs or even simply that Jesus is the Messiah; it is the cross and the resurrection. We do not change it, modify it, grow it, shrink it or do anything to make it better. Our task is simply to take it the way it has been given to us and to believe in its power to affect lives. The fact that so many try to make the gospel into something else shows the nature of it as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:18-24, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16).