This is a great question, and there is really only one right answer. Everything else…well, it’s not quite right at a minimum. Further, the answer to this question will tell you almost everything you need to know about the message of the person telling you.
So – what IS this “Gospel”?
The word Gospel is a middle-English word meaning good or great news. The word translated as Gospel in the New Testament is evangeleo, and it means the very same thing. We get our word Evangelical from it, which in the strictest sense should mean those who are dedicated to the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ and His redemption of humankind. Sadly, it has picked up other negative connotations (just like the word Preach) and has come to mean things other than this, so I must necessarily confine my discussion to this classical definition.
In sharing the good news, we must generally take people through three very easy-to-understand areas, and I will try to do so below.
- Humankind’s separation from God by sin
- Jesus’ substitution for us on the cross at Calvary
- Our repentance and trust in Jesus’ substitution
Humankind’s separation from God by sin
The best way I have experienced presenting this is in the context of God’s love for us in providing a solution to the problem we have as humans – our separation from God wrongs we have done, spoken, or even thought. (I often start with John 3:16, referencing how often it appears at sporting events.) Depending on how that statement is received, I will reference more or less of the law-based Gospel. (If you want to know more about some different ways of presenting the gospel and why, please refer to this article.) Almost inevitably, the comment will come up, “…but I’m a pretty good person…” to which I will reply, “According to whose standard?” I will at that time reference God’s standard, the 10 commandments, and walk through a few of them if need be. However, my point is always to show the person their need – redemption from the sin they were born into, and then grew into. I will always end with a question like, “so how will you deal with this need to be redeemed? Even your own conscience is telling you that what I’m saying is accurate at the very least. And what happens if you should die in that state?” (You should know I sell life insurance as a living. I can tell you with absolute certainty that mortality rates have reached 100% and that 1 out of one dies.)
Think of it like this: Other world religions have different ways of doing this, but every religious system with the stark exception of real Christianity (as opposed to what I have begun to call Churchianity) essentially needs you to DO something to EARN your redemption from this sin that separates us from God or whatever they claim is the moral centre of the universe. This is like trying to build a bridge over a bottomless chasm. That chasm is the need we all feel in our heart. Some people try to get over this need by ignoring it entirely and saying there is NO God, but that’s an ancient form of religion that really hasn’t changed much over time from my research. Others try sports. Some try drugs or alcohol to numb the need they have. Others try sex and/or relationships. None of it works because they are building on the wrong side of the chasm – the only solid anchor is on the other side, and only God can use it…so He did. That brings me to the second point.
Jesus’ substitution for us on the cross at Calvary
Because God loves us (remember, I usually start with John 3:16), He does not WANT this separation for us. At this point, I quote a few other scripture references. Romans 6:23 is a great one here:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB)
I like that verse for several reasons. First, it shows that we deserve that separation from God. “The wages of sin is death.” Personally, I think that’s a self-explanatory statement. He have all worked at sin. And it pays us its reward – death. (Very occasionally, I find it useful to define death for people as a state of separation. When we die, we are separated from our bodies, our loved ones, and so on. In talking about spiritual and eternal matters, when we die we are separated from the source of ALL life permanently. I’ve never come across anyone who has challenged that point, so I can’t help if that happens for you. Besides, it depends on the actual objection you have encountered and the attitude of the listener.) Second, it shows that the gift of God is free. “…but the free gift of God…” How do you receive a gift? In my experience, you take it when it is offered. Third, that gift is eternal life in Jesus Christ. I will turn then to Romans 3:23-25:
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed…”
One of my fun questions is if people understand what the word Propitiation means in modern language. It means reconciliation, for all you folks out there that know the Greek word is hilastērion. How is it that Jesus became our “reconciliation?” Remember, this is the noun form of the word, not the verb. He became our sacrifice for sins. He Himself was the price of our reconciliation. What I find interesting here is the word Reconciliation itself. Did you know it is actually an accounting term? We still use it when we reconcile our books. Jesus Himself was displayed as the object that paid our price in full.
Consider that for a moment. Let it sink in. God loved us so much that he could not sit still while we all went to hell (the place of separation, and another topic completely). No, instead He became a Man Himself in the person of Jesus, God the Son, and paid the price for our reconciliation in full. When I think of that, the words of David come to mind from Psalm 8:3-9, especially verse 4: “What is man that You [God] take thought of him, and the Son of Man [possibly one of Jesus’ titles] that You care for him?” Truly, as the hymn writer said, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned unclean?” It gets even deeper – there is not one thing anyone can do to earn his favour and redemption – He paid it all – on a hill far away, on an old rugged cross. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility here, and that’s the third idea to discuss when sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our repentance and trust in Jesus’ substitution
What is that responsibility? I can give it in three words: Repent and Believe. The Word of God itself talks about this very idea starting in Romans 10:8. “But what does it say?” (Great place to start, right?) Romans 10:9-13 hits the highlights of the rest, but what it basically says is that to be saved one must believe in one’s heart, and that will bring about a change of behaviour and a hunger for spiritual things. That means leaving the old life that they lived behind and moving forward with Christ. That can be defined by the word Repent – to change one’s thinking and direction by 180 degrees. Then one confesses with their mouth after that, and with no actual work done by us, We are redeemed from sin and the world just like that. (For my friends that are reading this who are “reformed,” this is regardless of Calvinist thought; it applies on either side of that divide in my opinion. I am NOT trying to pick a fight, I’m trying to avoid one.)
I know, I know, there are a lot of people that will accuse me of easy-believeism here, but I think that is misplaced here. There is a general failure on the part of many to separate redemption (justification) with holiness of life (sanctification). Redemption from sin is full and free. Learning to walk with Christ daily required discipline, and has reward or lack of reward later (see 1 Corintians 3:11-15 on your own time – hint: you can hover the mouse over the reference and the scripture will pop up). The penalty for lack of sanctification in the life of a believer is loss of reward. The penalty for lack of justification (redemption, salvation)in a life is far worse: an eternity in Hell, separated from God and anything good for starters. That’s why we need to share Christ to begin with: To give lost souls a chance to escape that.
This has been a bit of rambling I know, but you can hardly blame me – I’ve had a bug of some kind over the last week and a half and I still have it. And before you get all over me about how I don’t have enough faith, and I need to claim my deliverance from all sickness, I suggest you take a look around this site and find out why I don’t agree with you. Besides, God told me years ago in no uncertain terms that my poor health is my very own “thorn in the flesh” like Paul to keep my humble and dependent on the Lord instead of proud and Pharisaical. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…