Last night we continued our study in Practical Spirituality, this time considering how to share the gospel:
Why does it matter? Because Jesus commanded us to preach the gospel. Mark 16:15-16
What should we say?
First, see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. When Paul summarizes the message he says this: the “Christ” has come. This means that “the King God promised, who will fix all the problems with the world” has come. And that King died, on our behalf, as a sacrifice for our sins, and he rose again. There were witnesses. It’s real. The message of Jesus, the gospel, always includes the essential elements of Jesus’ death on our behalf and his resurrection. It’s basically saying: “Good news, God took care of everything that separates you and him when Jesus died, and Jesus rose again to prove it.”
So this is the first key. When we obey Jesus’ command to tell the world the good news, what we’re doing is telling people about Jesus. Specifically, we’re telling people who he was, what he did, and why it matters.
Now, what does this mean? Well right off the bat, it means that we have to know some things about Jesus, at least some basic truths. You have to know that he was a real, historical man. That he did some amazing things, that he was killed, and that when he died he didn’t deserve to die, because he never sinned. He died in our place. And you have to know that he came back to life again—he rose, and so he’s still alive. You have to know these things to understand why faith in him would be a big deal—so you can communicate that to others.
So, if you know those things, and Jesus has changed your life—tell people. God will do the rest. He loves the people you’re talking to. Don’t worry about knowing everything. It’s better to get the basics out there, and let people grapple with it, then to not say anything at all.
In that sense—every believer is someone who should be sharing the gospel.
Should we “tell our story”?
A lot of times when we’re trying to encourage each other to be spreading the message, Christians tell each other things like: “if you don’t know what to say, just tell your story.” Of course, there’s going to be times when it might be better to say something rather than nothing. And, in our culture people might really benefit from hearing your story about how you came to know Jesus, or things about your personal experience with Jesus—especially because it lets them know that you’re authentic, in other words, this isn’t just some religious marketing program with some lines you’re getting paid to say or something. So that’s a strength to telling our stories.
But… I think we need to remember that our stories are simply stories about how powerful and beautiful Jesus and His message are. But our stories are not the message. Not to belabor this, but my story is not the story Jesus commanded his followers, even me, to share. If I never told my story, I could still be a totally faithful follower of Jesus spreading the message he told me to spread. I don’t necessarily ever need to talk about myself to spread the gospel—because the gospel is about Jesus. So our stories are great if they actually are helpful in getting a certain person to listen to or think about the message of Jesus.
There’s two reasons I think this can be good to remember. First: because as a culture we are each taught to assume that we are the center of our own stories. And the Gospel is all about learning that Jesus is the center of the story. If we’re not careful, we’ll never really get around to telling people all the great things about him, and we’ll kind of miss the main point.
Second, in our culture, when you tell people your story, even though that can earn you cred for being authentic, it’ll also mean that they’ll hear something that applies to you, but not to them. That’s like a cardinal rule in our culture, think about it—experience makes something real for the person who experienced it, but not for anybody else. So if they hear you talk about how good your experience with Jesus is, there’s a real danger today that they’ll hear it as being authentic, and so not intrinsically negative (which is good), but subjective.
Let me say that again. They’ll hear you saying something authentic, but subjective. They’ll hear it as being real, but only real “for you.” Our culture thinks truth is something that each person has for themselves, we don’t tend to think of truth as being anything that would have to do with everyone. I think sometimes, Christians, we get frustrated trying tell people about Jesus at just this point.
What’s the solution? It’s fact that Jesus’ message is universal. It’s for everyone, everywhere. People don’t see that right away, but it’s true. I might think I don’t have to file my tax return, but April 15th is coming either way.
But since that’s like the hardest thing to actually communicate to people today, one of the things we need to do as Christians is be constantly learning—we want to be learning more about who Jesus is and what he did. We want to get clear on what was happening in his life and death. We want to work out issues that might be confusing.
Here’s the awesome secret—The message of Jesus is as simple to learn as the basic sentence, “Jesus died for your sins and rose again so you can be forgiven,” and simultaneously as huge and complex as everything He is and everything he does. A little kid can know it, and the world’s smartest people can’t exhaust it. So basically, the more we know about it, the better sharers we’ll be.
Four aspects of the Gospel, from the Four Gospels…
Luke 4:14-21, 24:44-48
Here in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, at the beginning and end of his public ministry, we have passages we could sum up as saying something like this: “You have sin. You need forgiveness. Jesus is the one who provides it.” Or we could hear Jesus as saying, “You have sin. I have good news: release from what makes you poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, oppressed.” The Message?: You need forgiveness, Jesus is the one who gives it. Whether you know it or not, you have an issue. This issue robs you of what you were meant to be—spiritually rich, whole, free, able to see. The issue is what Jesus calls sin. He is the one who provides forgiveness.
John 1:1-4, 3:3-6, 20:30-31
John brings out this aspect of Jesus’ message: You don’t have life. Jesus is the one who gives new eternal life. And it’s significant that this is how he spoke to someone who probably wouldn’t have seen his need for Jesus’ message, if the message had been framed in terms of sin, or of needing to be helped or fixed.
Matthew 4:17, 28:18-20
Matthew highlighted the fact that Jesus is the true king. His kingdom is in the process of coming to rule the whole earth. We might paraphrase the message from this perspective as something like, “You are in opposition to this kingdom, and must completely reorient yourself by bringing yourself under Jesus’ authority, and trusting and obeying him alone as your king.”
In this passage in Mark’s account of the teaching of Jesus we see the part of the message that proclaims: “You are under the power of a spiritual strongman. You need someone stronger to rescue you. Jesus is the Son of God–so he can do it.”
…and that’s just the beginning. There’s so many benefits to committing to being a lifelong learner in this area. For instance, the more we learn, the more we’ll be able share the gospel with all different kinds of people. We’ll be able to reach people who aren’t like us, because we won’t have to rely on having things in common—we’ll just be able to talk about Jesus. We’ll be able to answer questions. The more aspects and different angles we see, the more approaches we’ll be able to use. We’ll be able to go into all different situations and pray for God to guide us and the Holy Spirit will be bringing all these different things to our memory that we spent time learning.
Some Practical Points from 1 Peter 3:8-17
We are to share the message of Jesus…
v.8-9 …from within a loving community.
v.13-14 …without fear (of people)
v.16 …with a clean conscience
v.17 …wanting to do God’s will
…with a willingness to suffer
v.15 …with God is His rightful place in our hearts
…with “readiness” (Preparation and Eagerness)
…in ways they people can understand (“reason”)
…with meekness and fear of God