Paul the apostle is possibly one of the best examples we have from scripture of someone who knew how to preach the gospel clearly, regardless of the audience or context. Yet even he refers to the gospel as ‘a mystery’ and asks for prayer to help him communicate it well to others. Any attempt to simplify the gospel story will inevitably fall short. But having a framework from which to understand the gospel is a good starting point for ensuring we are communicating as best we can. What is essential to a right and proper explanation of the gospel message that will help us frame what we say and how we say it?
Spend a few minutes as a group or in smaller groups coming up with your own list of essential elements that you think should be included when sharing the gospel with others. Try to bullet point them. Compare across groups or if the list is long, ask people what would they cut if they had to? Do certain elements take a higher priority than others?
(The aim is not necessarily to come up with a definitive list but to simply start the conversation and to help show how complex a process it can be).
The following list, though not exhaustive, is a good summary of what a full gospel message should include:
- Good news
- Jesus centred
- Life, death AND resurrection
- Acknowledge sin
- Offer a clear choice
- About surrendering to Christ
This list is meant to be a framework. Something that helps you remember what to include, but how you include it is up to you. We do not want to memorise a script but instead we want to be able to unpack and unpick each element as the situation requires. Let’s take a little time to explore what each of these means.
At its core the gospel is a message of hope, a message of life, and a message of restoration. Let’s make sure to represent Jesus in a way so that others do not feel condemned, guilty or looked down on.
Any conversation about faith or the Bible is good. To present the gospel however, it must centre around Jesus. Secondly, I would encourage you to not use generic terms to talk about ‘faith’, ‘God’ or ‘religion’. These can all have a different implication to what you mean to say. So, refer specifically to Jesus and name Jesus. This is a sure-fire way to make it explicitly clear who and what you are talking about.
- Life, death and resurrection
It is essential that when we share the gospel we do not exclude any of these fundamental elements. His life is the only example we have of what it is like to be fully human and in right relationship with God. His death on the cross is essential for our understanding of sin and our need of a saviour. His resurrection is the evidence that Jesus was the son of God and did have the authority to defeat death and sin. A gospel lacking in any of these three things is a deficient gospel.
Perhaps the least popular part to talk about. Without a recognition of sin, Jesus dying on the cross has no value or purpose. As uncomfortable as it may be to talk about sin, it is essential if we are to get to a place of recognising that we need a saviour. It is a very dangerous precedent to set where we encourage people to accept Jesus into their lives without first acknowledging the sin in our lives.
The gospel requires a response. Sometimes that can be as simple as asking people an open question that invites them to share what they think. If and when you do get a chance to share the gospel with someone, be prepared to ask the question, ‘would you like to ask Jesus into your heart?’ or ‘what’s stopping you from giving your life to God right now?’
Jesus cannot just ‘take the driving seat in our lives’ as if this somehow solves all our problems and dissolves us from any responsibility. We surrender to him and as a result become slaves to Christ, submissive to his will and the embodiment of his kingdom here on earth. We are given a responsibility to steward his world, to be his herald, and to be an ambassador for the message of reconciliation. We do not simply add Jesus into our lives, as if it were akin to joining a new club. We do not promise people a better, happier, healthier life, which ignores the fact that we are promised suffering and persecution in this world for his sake. The invitation we offer to people should never be cheap or easy or without counting the cost. A correct response to a correctly explained gospel message involves total surrender to Christ and nothing less.
Go through the six points above and discuss the merits of each point. What do you see as relevant to each point? What are the difficulties of talking about each area? What examples can you share of how you have communicated each point in a way someone has found helpful?