Do you know the gospel? Ok, great! Let’s hear it. Right now, in under a minute. What if you had three minutes to explain the gospel to someone in a way that was understandable, biblical, and compelling? Could you do that?
Christians talk about the gospel a lot, but I think most of us are unprepared to actually share the gospel with people. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’d be surprised. Here are three things that I am absolutely convinced need to be in any presentation of the gospel (whether you’re talking with a friend or preaching from a pulpit).
1. Sin & Judgment
Without talking about sin, there’s simply no need for a savior. If I’m fine and can handle life on my own by being better than the next guy, then I don’t really need God.
But if sin is real and judgment is coming, then sin is a big deal. We shouldn’t talk about judgment in a way that we are the ones doing the judging, but simply to ask the question, “What if there is a God and you’re called to stand before him to answer for your sin? What would you have to say for yourself?” Because, as much as we may argue against Christ, I think most people know that they’re more sinful than they would admit.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23-24
The reality is we will all need to answer before God. The bad news is that we’re all guilty; the good news is Jesus came to declare us innocent.
2. Jesus’s Death and Resurrection
If Jesus is the doorway through which we enter, the cross and the empty tomb are the hinges. Much to my frustration, I have heard many “gospel presentations” at large evangelistic youth events where the cross and resurrection have been either completely absent or so briefly mentioned they merely got a head-nod.
Read through the book of Acts and see how the Apostles preached the gospel. They always emphasized the Person of Christ (who Jesus is) and the Work of Christ (what he did: especially on the cross and through the resurrection).
The gospel is not shared by merely asking, “Do you want to be a child of God” or “Do you want to be forgiven?” Those are great questions, and they may pave the road towards sharing the good news about who Jesus is and what he did, but they are not the gospel.
Our faith needs to be placed in Jesus Christ, for he alone is the giver of good news (which is what the word “gospel” means… “good news”). The gospel is the message of what Jesus did: he died as our substitute on the cross, taking upon himself the judgment that we deserve, and we claim his resurrection victory as our own by faith. Because of Jesus we have been reconciled, redeemed, and reunited with God. The rift that was torn between God and humanity has been restored. The wrath of God, which we earned because of our sinful rebellion against his sovereign reign, has been quenched by the cross. The sting of death has been defeated and given the death-sentence because of the resurrection.
The message of the gospel completely hinges upon who Jesus is (the Son of God) and what he did (took away the sin of the world through his death and resurrection). If you do not focus on Jesus you simply are not talking about the gospel.
The only appropriate response to the gospel is repentance. When we recognize our sin, we see our need for a savior. When we believe in Jesus and place our faith in what he has done for us, we proclaim that our eternal destiny is completely dependent on him. If those two things are true of us, we need to understand repentance. Again, we look at the Apostles’ preaching to see the necessity of repentance,
“I… declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Acts 26:20
Technically, to “repent” means “to change your mind,” or “to turn around.” I like to explain it as doing an about-face. For more about repentance you can go here.
There are two main steps to repentance:
- Confessing that you are a sinner. Not just in a general sense, but to actually name your sins before God. “God, I’m proud. I want people to think I’m important and impressive and I tend to care more about their opinion than I care about your opinion.” Naming your sins before God doesn’t surprise him. Confession weakens your sin by staring it straight in the eye instead of playing pretend that you don’t have issues. If you can’t confess your sin, you cannot repent.
- Professing that God is better than your sin… and living like it. If you confess your pride but continue to live in it, then have you really admitted that it was wrong or did you simply pay lip-service to what you think was the “right thing” to pray? Confession leads to profession… saying that the joy of following God is greater than the happiness offered by sin. Simply put, this second step of repentance is “living it!” So you want to stop sinning? Great. Will you live differently?
Without repentance, faith is hollow and empty. We can claim to be Christians, and we can say that we believe in Jesus, but we are saying by our lives that we want eternal life with God but we want our independence right now.
Reminder: Jesus Wants to Make You New
If you are sharing the gospel with someone, be sure they realize that Jesus wants to make them new. New hope. New faith. New destiny. New freedom. New life.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Forgiveness is “free” in the sense that we can’t earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it. Becoming a Christian will cost you something. Obviously, we don’t give up all our sinful habits in the moment we give ourselves to Jesus. The Christian life is a lifelong habit of repentance because we’re always finding something new to confess and because we routinely slip into our old habits of believing that sin can bring more joy than Jesus.
I love to remind people that Jesus wants to make them new. Not new in a way that is completely different from the old; but new in a way that is more complete than what was there before.
A Final Encouragement: Remember the Holy Spirit
Remember that you are not alone. God cares more about the lost than you do, the Holy Spirit is actively working in that persons life. Salvation is never the result of human effort, it is always the work of God. He will use you to accomplish that work, but do not go about it in a way that puts the results in your own hands. If the person believes, then praise God for his faithfulness! If the person still doubts, then pray that God would continue to work in his or her life in such a way that they would come to see the joy and hope and newness of life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.