As a new believer, I remember being electrified in telling people about Jesus. In my youthful ignorance and zeal, I never expected anyone to reject the gospel. “Why would anyone” I thought to myself, “refuse to repent of their sin, place their faith in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and resurrected from the dead, to be saved from the wrath of God, and receive the free gift of eternal life?” It never dawned on me that I wasn’t interested in the gospel for many years myself. It seemed that as soon as I was transformed by God’s grace, I had forgotten what it was like to think like an unbeliever. As I grew in my knowledge of the Scriptures, I started to understand why I had so few converts at my feeble attempts to get everyone saved! These are some of the things I learned:
- God is the only one who sovereignly saves sinners (Isa. 43:11; Acts 4:12; Rom. 9:15-16).
- I cannot argue, coerce, shame, persuade, or do anything to cause someone to be born again (Jn. 3:5).
- There will be no one in hell that God desired to save, but somehow could not (Jn. 6:37).
- I am responsible to live and preach the gospel, not save people (Mt. 28:19-20; I Pet. 2:12).
- Everyone who doesn’t know Christ is, so to speak, “out of their minds.” All unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18); they are futile in their speculations and their foolish heart is darkened (Rom. 1:21); they do not come to the light (Jn. 3:19-20); they are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3); Satan blinds of the unbelieving (II Cor. 4:4); and they can’t understand the Word of God because they don’t have the Holy Spirit to assist them (I Cor. 2:14).
- Christians are to pray for the lost, as well as live and share the gospel because preaching the gospel is the only means by which God has sovereignly chosen to save His elect (I Cor. 1:21; Eph. 6:18-19; Col. 4:3-4).
- In order for someone to be saved, they need to hear the gospel, for the gospel is the power of God for all who believe (Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 1:18). This may seem obvious, but keep reading and you will discover why I said this.
- Many have been saved and born again through very imperfect and truncated gospel presentations, like the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. . . (Acts 16:31).”
- Many who call themselves Christians heard the gospel of grace, but were afterwards asked to do some work in order to be saved. They did what they were told to do and are currently trusting in their works for salvation without realizing it.
- People aren’t saved by any human work or merit, therefore anyone who preaches a so-called “gospel” that includes grace plus works is, according to the Apostle Paul, doubly accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).
I could go on, but these are some of the bigger truths that I either didn’t understand in my youth or didn’t understand with enough depth and clarity.
I have known Christ for almost 40 years now and have encountered various evangelistic programs designed to equip people to evangelize the lost. Some of the programs were like grueling college courses, full of reading, memorizing Scripture, learning about the cults, required lots of time sitting in class, and engaging in door to door or street evangelism. Some programs were better than others, but they all had a subtle effect on the congregation and implied, “You can’t share the gospel with someone or lead someone to Christ unless you are highly trained in evangelism.” Though that was never explicitly stated, it was implied, for why have classes on sharing your faith, if you didn’t need them? Why go through all the work, reading, studying, and memorizing a truckload of Scriptures, if it isn’t necessary? The existence of evangelistic training courses implies in the minds of most that they are necessary, but may I posit that they are not necessary, they are merely helpful. It never dawned on me that the Church had survived for 2,000 years without them!
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against programs like “Way of the Master,” that help train people to share their faith, as long as the program doesn’t discourage others who don’t go through the program from sharing their faith. The fact is, there is no single “way” that our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, shared the gospel. There are a variety of ways the gospel is shared in the New Testament by Jesus, the apostles, and others.
What about you? Would you like to be the instrument God uses to bring someone to salvation in Christ Jesus? If you are born again, you will have that desire. You will want others to experience the forgiveness of sins, a relationship with God, and know what it means to be a new creature in Christ. If that’s you, then let’s first quickly cover the basics so you can be encouraged and know that you are able to lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ. Again, this doesn’t mean further evangelistic training is not useful, it is, but any Christian can be used by God to preach the gospel, even without a lot of training. Let’s consider five helpful categories of truth you need to know in order to share the gospel. I am going to spend the most time on the first section, but don’t let it discourage you, I merely want to explain the gospel more clearly, as understanding the gospel is the most important part of evangelism.
Understand the Gospel
What is the gospel? Yes, I am asking you. Answer that question in your mind right now. Summarize the good news that saves sinners. Okay, do you have your answer? Usually, when sharing the gospel, you have precious little time to communicate the good news, therefore you must be quick and succinct with your message. And this requires a good understanding of what the gospel is and is not.
Let’s see how you did. I will first give you a detailed summary of the gospel, then move on to more concise examples. The gospel means good news. You cannot understand the good news until you understand the bad news. God being holy and just, must punish every sin to its fullest degree. “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 37:4). Everyone is sinner. We all fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). All of us like sheep have gone astray (Isa. 53:6). Since God is infinitely holy, every sin we commit is an infinite offence to Him, and carries with it an infinite punishment. This is the bad news!
The good news is that God isn’t exclusively holy and just. He is all of His attributes all the time, including being loving, merciful, gracious, kind, etc. God, motivated by love, devised a plan to rescue sinners from His own holy justice. He would become a man in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus would be born of a virgin and therefore be fully God, having God as His Father, and be fully human, having Mary as His mother.
Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, willingly gave Himself into the hands of sinners, who falsely tried, tortured, and crucified Him, so that He died. While on the cross, the Father laid upon Jesus the sins of the world, pouring out His holy and just wrath upon His only begotten Son whom He loved. Jesus became a human sacrifice for us, dying in our place on the cross, suffering the death, judgment, and wrath that we earned by our own sins. He was buried and rose again from the dead on the third day proving that He had conquered death, and then ascended into heaven, where He rules and reigns until the day He comes back in glory. That is a more detailed summary of “the gospel.” Did that definition of the gospel sound anything like your definition? Probably not, but that is okay as you usually don’t have the time to give all those details.
Now before we look at some more condensed versions of the gospel, I want to address an issue that often confuses people. How is a sinner to appropriate the gospel or receive the benefits of the gospel? Hearing the facts about the gospel is not enough to receive its benefits. Someone may hand you a beautifully wrapped gift. You have the gift, but that is not enough, you must unwrap it to get at the gift inside. Preaching the gospel is offering someone the wrapped gift, but how does a sinner receive the benefits of the gospel? This is what I want to consider, as it is an important part of evangelism that is often never discussed.
When the Bible is preached, let’s say in the book of Acts, sinners are usually called upon to repent or believe in Jesus. What is the difference between repent and believe? Think of those two terms like two different sides of the same coin. Repentance is to have a change of mind that results in a change of life direction. Saving faith, believing, is to trust in, rely upon something. Saving faith not only agrees with the facts of the gospel intellectually, but willingly trusts in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross alone for salvation. Repentance is the turning away from whatever or whoever it is we are living for before coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the laying hold of, trusting in Jesus Christ. Think of it this way. If I said, “You need to leave Louisville, KY and fly to Los Angeles, CA.” That sounds like two different requests, doesn’t it? But really it’s only one request for you cannot arrive in Los Angeles unless you leave Louisville. The same is true when appropriating the gospel, you must repent, turn from your sin, from your former way of life, and believe in, trust in, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This is why the Bible sometimes tells sinners to “repent,” other times to “believe,” and still other times to “repent and believe.” Now back to more concise summaries of the gospel.
Here is a summary of the gospel that you might be able to communicate in about 15 seconds: “Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for your sins, who was buried, and rose again from the dead on the third day to show He conquered death and sin. Repent. Turn from your sins and believe in Jesus alone to save you from the judgment you deserve and He will forgive you and give you the free gift of eternal life.” Did that version match up to what you answered in your mind previously? Again, that was still a fairly detailed summary, but your definition should have had some similarities.
Now let’s look at some biblical examples that describe how someone can appropriate the gospel.
- “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mk. 1:14–15, emphasis mine)
- “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (Jn. 1:12, emphasis mine)
- “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. . .” (Rom. 10:8–9, emphasis mine)
- “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. . .” (1 Cor. 15:1–4, emphasis mine)
- “They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” (Acts 16:31, emphasis mine)
- “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn. 5:13, emphasis mine)
There you have it! Some short biblical examples of how to appropriate the gospel. Did any of those answers match up to your definition of the gospel? Did you think to yourself something like, “Jesus died on the cross for my sins, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, and if you repent and believe in Him you will receive the free gift of eternal life?” If your mind went blank or if you thought about what you have done, for example, being a good person (a work), trying to read your Bible, give, and serve at church (works), going forward at an altar call (a work), praying the sinner’s prayer (a work), asking Jesus in your heart (a work), etc., then it’s quite possible you do not know the Lord in a saving way. You may be one of the millions who have heard the gospel of grace and then been asked to do some man-made work in order to be saved.
If that is the case, I would encourage you to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and resurrected for sinners, right now! Do not delay, for today, right now, is the day of salvation. Trust in no work you have done, or work that you have been told to do. Do what the Bible says, repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.
However, if what came to your mind is something like “Jesus died for me,” or “Jesus shed His blood for me and rose again from the dead,” or something about Jesus, His death on the cross and resurrection, then most likely you are a born-again believer. If you are not truly saved, you don’t need to learn to share the gospel, you need to repent of your sins and believe in the gospel and become a Christian. Why do I bring this up? Because you need to be sure about the condition of your own soul before becoming a witness for Jesus Christ. From here on out, I am assuming that you have repented of your sin and believed in the gospel of God’s grace, and that the Holy Spirit has caused you to be born again. Now let’s look at our next helpful bit of biblical truth that will help you share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Understand Your Responsibility and Limitations
Remember, only God saves people. You never save anyone. Never beat yourself up because you did your best and the person you are sharing with didn’t repent and believe. Never think that people will be in hell because you didn’t share the gospel with them. Salvation is the Holy Spirit’s territory and the Holy Spirit uses the gospel proclaimed by faithful Christians to save sinners. Think of yourself as a messenger. If the person you deliver the gospel message to doesn’t like it, then that is between them and the One who sent you to deliver the gospel message to them. But your responsibility is not to save, but to deliver the gospel message. Make sure you are living in obedience to the Word of God yourself so that your life doesn’t give unbelievers further excuses to reject Christ (I Pet. 2:12). Live and speak the gospel.
Understand the Spiritual Barriers Surrounding the Unbeliever
It is helpful to consider the barriers, obstacles, or hurdles between you, the gospel, and an unbeliever coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
- Unbelievers are spiritually dead and can’t understand the Word of God (I Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-3).
- Unbelievers are unable to please God, in fact, they are at enmity with and hostile to God (Rom. 5:10; 8:5-8).
- Unbelievers don’t naturally come to the light of the gospel, but instead flee from it (Jn. 3:19-20; Eph. 5:11-12).
- Unbelievers don’t think straight or reason correctly because sin has affected every part of their being, thoughts, emotions, and reasoning (Rom. 1:22).
- Satan works against unbelievers to keep them from being saved (II Cor. 4:4). He snatches away the gospel after it is sown, persecutes or threatens to persecute those who follow Christ, and chokes out the Word of God in their heart with the temptations of the world (Mt. 13:18-22).
Why point these things out? To impress upon you one important fact, there is nothing you possess, in yourself, that can overcome these spiritual barriers working against the unbeliever to keep them from being born again. No power of man can overcome the spiritual barriers that surround every unbeliever.
Understand Where the Power is to Overcome the Spiritual Barriers
Let’s quickly summarize what we have learned before moving on:
- We can’t save anyone.
- All men are sinners deserving judgment.
- All men are in need of salvation from a holy and just God who must punish sinners.
- The gospel is that God, out of love for sinners, sent Jesus to die for us, in our place, on the cross, bearing our sin, suffering our judgment, and then was buried, and rose again from the dead to show He conquered sin and death.
- We appropriate the gospel by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.
- There are spiritual barriers working against the unbeliever and we don’t have the power in ourselves to overcome those barriers.
If we don’t possess anything in ourselves that can overcome the spiritual barriers working against unbelievers, what can we do? The answer is simple, rely upon the Holy Spirit working through the gospel message to save sinners. Paul says in Rom. 1:16 and I Cor. 1:18 that “the gospel is the power of God for all who believe.” Think about that! How powerful is God? He is all powerful! What this means is when you clearly present the gospel to someone, anyone, it doesn’t matter who they are, how scary they look, how lost you think they might be, the very power of God Almighty is contained in that simple gospel message! This means the gospel is a spiritual atomic bomb! It can blow down, crash through, and sweep away all the barriers and obstacles working against unbelievers to keep them blind and perishing. The gospel, energized by the Holy Spirit, is the only thing powerful enough to bring an unbeliever to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Does that seem a bit foolish or simplistic? Yes, it does. You might be thinking to yourself, “How could a simple message about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, rising again on the third day, and a calling sinners to repent and believe in Him convert the hardened sinner, the well-educated atheist, or the rich man who trusts in his riches?” It can, does, and has for millennia because it is the power of God for all who believe. Paul, in I Cor. 1:21, said to believers entrenched in a skeptical Greek culture, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Yes, intellectuals, the rich, the powerful, those who are unwilling to humble themselves and believe what the Bible says, often see the gospel as foolishness, but it is the power of God for all who believe. When the Holy Spirit intervenes, the gospel causes hardened sinners to be born again and becomes the most precious message they have ever heard!
Drop the Bomb!
Now we come to our part in the salvation equation of God. You are the messenger, the evangelist, the witness, the proclaimer, or preacher of the gospel. It is your job to drop the gospel bomb on people. And just like literal bombs, the power of blowing things up isn’t in the person who drops the bomb, but within the bomb itself. However, bombs need delivered to their target. Grenades are thrown, larger bombs are dropped from planes, and missiles are launched at their targets. In order for things to work right, someone needs to pull the trigger, push the button, or heave the grenade—that is your part in leading others to Christ. You deliver the gospel bomb by how you live and what you say. The power isn’t in you, the power is in the gospel message itself, empowered by the Holy Spirit. To bless you, God allows you to participate in His plan to save unworthy sinners. He doesn’t let you save them, but He lets you push the button or pull the trigger, to drop the gospel bomb, then the Holy Spirit takes it from there.
Let’s get practical. You want to drop the gospel bomb on someone. Tell them Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for their sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day and if they repent and believe in Him, they will receive the free gift of eternal life. There it is! That one sentence takes about 15 seconds to share if you say it slowly. But remember the invisible spiritual barriers! You need God’s help, so pray, pray, pray for the blessing of God before, during, and after sharing the gospel. Sometimes the gospel bomb is dropped and appears to be a dud. Nothing happens for days, months, or even years. However, the Holy Spirit may cause the gospel to detonate in someone’s heart years later so that they repent, believe, and are born again.
Beware of almost dropping the bomb. Often, I have heard people say things like, “I got to share the gospel with someone today.” But when you ask them about what the actually said, you discover that no bomb was dropped. They talked about being a Christian, going to church, how much they like the people at church, the music, the programs, how much it has helped them, but no bomb was dropped. You must drop the gospel bomb! You must tell people Jesus died on the cross for their sins, was buried, and rose again from the dead, and then call them to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. If you don’t tell them that, you haven’t dropped the bomb. You haven’t given them the one thing that can save their souls from God’s holy wrath. They must hear about Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead and be called to repent and believe in Him.
I spoke to a man years ago who told me that he was into apologetics. He loved to engage intellectuals, argue with them about creationism, science, philosophy, and things like that. After hearing me say what I did in the paragraph above, he came up to me and said, “I have been arguing with people about Jesus for over 10 years and no one has ever come to the Lord. I just realized why—I never share the gospel with them!” It can happen to you too, so don’t get distracted, don’t get led into other topics, open the bay doors of your mouth and drop the gospel bomb!
When sharing the gospel be prepared for people to run from the light, to not understand, to not want to talk about their sin, judgment, heaven, and hell. Expect them to change subjects. The Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin, they won’t like it. They will try to change subjects by saying things like, “There are so many religions in the world, how do you know your religion is the right one.” Or, “There are so many translations and transliterations of the Bible, how do you know if the Bible is true.” Or, “What about the natives in Africa.” Or, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Or, “Christians are hypocrites.” Satan supplies unbelievers with many tools to derail gospel preachers from dropping the gospel bomb. What is the solution? Drop the bomb anyway! If They ask you any question, or put up any argument, begin your answer with, “Yes, that is a common question or objection, and the answer begins with understanding that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried and rose again on the third day to show He conquered sin and death. He calls you to repent of your sins and believe in Him. Will you do that?” That is how you answer every deflecting question or argument.
You remember when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:7-38? Jews and Samaritans had a long history of feuding and were hostile to one another. Jewish men never spoke to women in public, let alone Samaritan women! But Jesus did. He exposed the Samaritan woman’s sin and her need for a Savior. He told her she had five husbands and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Jesus wanted her to see the “bad news,” that she was a sinner, so He could then deliver the good news. And do you remember what the Samaritan woman did when Jesus exposed her sin? She changed the subject! Imagine that!
She said in Jn. 4:19-20, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” It is true, Jesus was a prophet. Jesus knew things about her that He shouldn’t have known. But what does the place of worship have to do with her adultery, multiple divorces, and immorality? Nothing! She was convicted of her sin and quickly changed the subject. Expect people to do this very thing when you talk about their sin and guilt before God, but it’s okay. It is uncomfortable to have your heart searched out by the Word of God and to be convicted by the Holy Spirit. One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin and judgment (Jn. 16:8). Once they are convicted, even if they change subjects, they are ready to receive the good news.
Listen to what the author of Hebrews says, speaking of evangelism and God’s power to save sinners through the gospel in Heb. 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Did you see that last part? The Word of God enters into the very center of man’s being and judges the thoughts and intentions of people’s hearts. This is why they go on the attack, try to distract you from preaching the gospel, or change subjects. The Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, exposes their sin and guilt before God. They then fear judgment from God, but as soon as you are convinced they are convicted of their sin, tell them the good news of Jesus Christ, then see what the Holy Spirit does.
You want to be used by God to lead people to Christ? Live for the Lord. Pray for the Lord’s assistance and strength, and carpet bomb the world for Jesus Christ. Don’t trust in yourself, your eloquence, your deep theological knowledge, or how many Bible verses you have memorized. Trust in the foolishness of the gospel preached to save those who believe. Be faithful to drop the gospel bomb and trust in the Holy Spirit to save whomever He will.