I’ve heard a great many opinions on this topic, ranging from those who feel that it is important that people know that they’re going to hell and there’s nothing they can do about it to those who feel that we don’t need to share the gospel because we’re called to live it – and everything in between. So who is right?
First, we need to understand something – people are in danger of eternal separation from God, and they do need to know it – and that means we have to tell them. That’s what Jesus commands us to do in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15. Paul practices that preaching all the way through the book of Acts, particularly captured in his great oration in Acts 17:22-32. We can even get a look at the results in Acts 17:33-34.
Some have said that the only Biblical way to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a law-based Gospel. Although I don’t know that it is the ONLY way to share Christ (Paul made no references to the Law whatsoever in Acts 17), it is certainly a valid way and can be immensely effective, particularly against the “I’m a good person” crowd that seems to be all over in great numbers. Here’s a sample I have used while sharing Christ:
Me: So I have to ask – are you a good person?
Him: I think so, yeah.
Me: According to whose standard?
Him: Uh…mine, I guess. I mean, I’m better than, say, Hitler.
Me: I get that. He was definitely a terrible person – especially by God’s standard. Did you know God had a standard?
Him: Uh – you mean the ten commandments, right?
Me: Yeah, like that. How do you think you measure up?
Him: I guess I do okay.
Me: Let’s put that to the test. I’ll take a few at random and we’ll see how you do, fair?
Him: Okay, let’s do it.
Me: Have you ever told a lie?
Him: Hmmmm. If I’m being honest, yeah.
Me: So what does that make you? A liar, right?
Him: Yeah, I guess. But is that really a big deal? I mean sometimes you have to tell a white lie to protect someone’s feelings.
Me: Maybe – but have you ONLY told that kind of lie?
Him: I guess not.
Me: Okay, here’s another one – have you ever stolen anything?
Him: Um – yeah.
Me: So what does that make you?
Him: A thief. (At this point, he’s catching on to the gist of the conversation and kind of getting into it.)
Me: Okay, here’s an easy one – ever looked at a female with lust?
Him: Um…I’m a guy. (He’s kind of grinning here.)
Me: Right – did you know that Jesus said that if you did that you’ve already committed adultery in your heart?
Him: No, I didn’t. I guess that makes me an adulterer.
Me: You’re catching on. Ever committed murder?
Him: (horrified look) NO! I’d never do that!
Me: Did you know that Jesus said if you were angry with someone for no good reason that you’ve already committed murder in your heart?
Him: (pause) No. I think I’m a murderer by that definition. (About here, the guy’s eyebrows began to furrow at the realization.)
Me: Unfortunately. And it’s actually worse – by your own admissions to me, you’re a lying, thieving, murdering adulterer. If God were to judge you by the ten commandments, how do you think you would do?
Him: (long pause) Not good.
Me: Let me share a verse from the New Testament (Romans 3:23). Let me tell you – we’re all in that same boat together. Worse, there’s nothing we can do to fix the issue. That “sin” prevents us from a real relationship with God. The good news here is that God Himself became a man in the Person of Jesus Christ to pay the price for our “sins” and clear our account before God…
You get the idea. It was a real dialogue, and the gent eventually was saved, though not right away that day. However, that’s not the only way to preach the gospel.
Please, for those of you who are fans of a law-based gospel, understand that I’m one as well. However, I have heard some of my dear Christian friends say that any other gospel is easy believe-ism and will always make false converts. Respectfully, I think you’re forgetting that while the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a one-Gospel-fits-all solution, that there are people that could not ever hear that kind of Gospel and come to Christ – and I should know – I was one of those.
There are growing groups of people that need to hear about how God loves them first because they are so damaged by physical, mental, emotional, financial, or any other form of abuse that they actually can’t hear a clear message any other way. The first negative reference will shut down their reasoning faculties and make them engage their defenses at a maximum level. This is multiplied if they had an abusive male figure in their lives (father, brother, uncle, cousin, even son). I grew up with an abusive father, and that warped my view of God the Father at a young age. I had to learn (and I’m still learning) that my Heavenly Father is not like my earthly father. When I first heard the Gospel in a way that I personally could hear it, I felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world or a place to find one. I was going to school in the morning to get away from the house, and I was going home at the end of each torturous day to get away from the garbage I had to deal with at school. Where could I turn? The verse that ultimately drew me to Christ was Revelation 3:20 – God in the person of Jesus was standing at MY door and knocking on MY life wanting to be MY friend. It blew my mind. I opened the door and I let Him in! And true to His word, He came in and dined with me and I with Him – and He even brought the food! I remember the time, the date, the spot to within about 3 feet where I was when He found me. Such joy filled my heart I thought I would burst! My sin was all gone – I felt like I would float away! I was redeemed! I still repented of my sin and believed – how is it that some say I was not truly saved? You can see why I can’t agree with a law-based gospel approach solely – it wasn’t my experience at all.
There are also those that cannot hear your words because of your actions. They watch your life to see if you are the real deal or if they can dismiss you and your words because you are a hypocrite. There is such a point to make here – look at it this way – even those in the world know what a Christian is supposed to be like. If your actions drown out your words, you will never be an effective witness for Christ. You MUST walk with Him daily. I’m not saying you need to be perfect all the time – but you should at least be trying. This is what a true Disciple of Jesus does, because if you think about it, YOU are the only Bible some people will ever read. Make sure they’re reading good Gospel material.
This all leads me to one conclusion – the Gospel, although it is a perfect solution for everyone, must be applied to each individual in the particular way that will reach them loud enough that they can hear it in a meaningful way so that they can respond to it. I believe this is what the apostle Paul was speaking about in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 when he said he became all things to all people so that by all means some would be saved. We are charged with the responsibility to share Jesus Christ when God leads us (and that’s all the time according to Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15), and we need to make sure we can be heard in a way that will be effective. I do believe that in this day and age that means we will be speaking a law-based Gospel, but we need to start our conversations in such a way that people’s real need will be uncovered and we may proceed accordingly. I leave you with this verse – Paul’s final charge to his young friend Timothy:
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2) Sometimes it will be hard to do – but do it anyway – with the patience of God in Jesus Christ.