Written Word

Evangelism – Part 3: The Right Message

Sometimes, what is taught as gospel bears no resemblance to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I recall once attending a “gospel meeting”. The preaching lasted an hour, with much emphasis placed on what people need to do to be saved. We were never told why the Son of God had to die or how his death obtained the forgiveness of our sins. Nothing was mentioned about how the justice of a holy and righteous God was satisfied through Jesus’ atoning death. We were presented with a message that did not proclaim the gospel.

On other occasions giving good advice becomes the gospel. I’m in favour of good advice: people need advice about marriage, rearing children, choosing a career, resolving a conflict, confronting a problem, etc. But advice, valuable though it be, is not the gospel. When we talk to people about religious matters we mustn’t assume we have shared the gospel with them.

God guided the Apostle Paul to Corinth. There he preached the gospel and many came to believe that God’s Lamb took away their sins and they were baptised (Acts 18:8). Later Paul wrote to these saints and said: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). His words “first importance” require our attention because they direct us to how we are saved – through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is of “first importance” is also expressed emphatically in the earlier part of his letter. He said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul taught other truths in Corinth but they were of secondary importance, whereas, the gospel, which saves sinners, is of “first importance.” Talking to someone who is not forgiven of their sin about interesting details in the Old Testament, or the journeys of Paul in the New Testament may make for interesting conversation, but it certainly will not save anyone. Neither will talking to the lost about the church bring about their salvation. The church is important, but it’s not the gospel. The church is the saved, the redeemed. Jesus is the Saviour, the Redeemer. Our first task is to teach the lost how to be saved, then to teach the saved how to live.

Clarity on what constitutes the gospel is essential; those who are not clear about the gospel will proclaim a form of Christian legalism – rules and regulations to be observed and obeyed. People will be told that they should strive to be good, to live an upright life and practice some form of spiritual discipline. There is nothing innately sinful in what is being advocated. In fact, this is good advice and Christians should practice these things. But it is not the gospel, and it will not save. Salvation by morality is heresy. The cross of Christ confronts us with how sinful we are and exposes us to our inability to alter our situation. In a crucified Christ we see we are lost and unable to save ourselves. When the message of the cross is explained, no one, and I do mean no one, feels compelled to embark upon a course of action to save themselves; instead, they see that the message of the cross is God inviting sinners to look to Jesus and be saved. That’s the gospel!