Apologetics, Features, Pastorate, Theology
Leave a comment

The Evangelist’s Message

Author Don Whitney is excited about evangelism: “Only the sheer rapture of being lost in the worship of God is as exhilarating and intoxicating as telling someone about Jesus Christ.” 1Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life (Navpress, 2014), 119. Do you feel the same way? I’m concerned his attitude is all-too-rare in the church today. We equate sharing the gospel to flossing our teeth—very important but easily neglected.

I want to encourage you to share the gospel more. For some, it may feel like a chore. But the more we understand what the gospel is, the more we will share it freely. There are many good reasons to evangelize. We may share out of obedience, a love for neighbor, and even out of a hope of future reward.

But the gospel itself is a reason to share. The better you know and treasure the gospel, the more you will share the gospel. There is something about the evangelist’s message that propels the evangelist to be a messenger.

To unpack this, I have four questions: First, what is the gospel? Second, why is the gospel compelling? Third, how do you treasure the gospel? Fourth, what does your heart have to do with your mouth?

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?

In 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, Paul summarizes the gospel message, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The gospel is the biblical message of a crucified and risen Savior.

To call Jesus a “Savior” is to say we need to be saved. But saved from what? The answer is in verse 3, “Christ died for our sins.” Our biggest problem is our sin—our rebellion against God. God made us. We are accountable to him. The punishment we deserve for our rebellion is physical death and eternal punishment.

This is why the gospel is a message of a crucified Savior: “Christ died for or our sins.” On the cross, Christ stood in the place of every Christian, bearing the wrath of God they deserve. He paid their debt.

But that’s not all. The gospel is the biblical message of a crucified and risen Savior. Jesus is alive! He is not dead. He is coming back again. When we contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3), we aren’t merely contending for a bloody cross. We’re contending for an empty tomb: “he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:4).

And all this happened according to God’s plan. This is why Paul tells us twice the gospel was “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Throughout history God was at work preparing humanity for the coming of Christ. From Isaac whom God saved by the blood of a ram in Genesis 22 to Job who knew he would be raised from the dead in Job 19, all of the Old Testament points to Christ’s death and resurrection. The gospel is the biblical message of a crucified and risen Savior.

Many find this message of forgiveness from sins through the blood of Christ too incredible to believe. But many are believing, people all over the world. Reflecting on a Pew Forum study in 2011, author Tim Keller made this important observation about the spread of the gospel:

One of the unique things about Christianity is that it is the only truly worldwide religion. Over 90 percent of Muslims live in a band from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Northern Africa. Over 95 percent of all Hindus are in India and immediate environs. Some 88 percent of Buddhists are in East Asia. However, about 25 percent of Christians live in Europe, 25 percent in Central and South America, 22 percent in Africa, 15 percent (and growing fast) in Asia, and 12 percent in North America . . . [Christianity] is truly a world religion. 2Tim Keller, Making Sense of God (Penguin, 2018), 148.

People all over the world are putting their faith in this gospel. Clearly, the gospel is a compelling message.

WHY IS THE GOSPEL COMPELLING?

What is it about the gospel that has proved irresistible for countless people throughout the world? There are so many answers to this question, and every Christian has his or her own story to tell. But here are three, simple answers.

The gospel is a work of God

In Mark 2, Jesus is in a home, “preaching the word” (Mark 2:2). A small group intrudes, lugging their paralyzed friend. Jesus does the unthinkable; he looks at the paralyzed man and says, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5). The religious leaders are livid. They scream, “He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus pronounced forgiveness when everyone knew forgiveness is a gift only God can give. With one declaration, Jesus declared himself to be God in-the-flesh.

Deep down, we all know we have a problem too big and complex for us to fix. The stain of sin is so dark only God can remove it. If we would be forgiven for what we’ve done wrong—fully and forever forgiven—only God can do it. The gospel is compelling because at the heart of it, God is the one who forgives.

The gospel is a display of mercy

The religious leaders hated Jesus for claiming to forgive sins. But they also hated him for hanging out with sinners.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Mark 2:15–17).

The scribes considered tax collectors and sinners to be lowlifes beyond God’s reach. Jesus pursued them. He ate with them. Jesus didn’t look down on them. He called them his friends. Jesus saw everyone as a sinner in need of mercy. More than that, he targeted the deplorables and presented them the gospel.

The gospel turns the values of the world upside down. Robin Leach created the show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. He took us into homes we could never afford and showed us lives we could never have. Leach became rich and famous trading on our idolatry of fame and wealth.

Jesus was different; he spent his time with the lowly, proving the incredible mercy of God.

God has always been in the mercy business. Ever since he clothed Adam and Eve. Ever since he freed a nation of slaves from Pharaoh. Ever since he brought exiles home. God is merciful. This is another reason the gospel is so compelling.

The gospel changes lives

In the parable of the sower a man scatters seed. Some falls along the path, but where there is no soil the birds eat it up. Some seed lands on rocky ground, but where there is little soil the sun burns it up. Still more seed falls among the thorns, and there the tiny plants are choked out. However, the seed that falls on good soil works wonders. Jesus said it “produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8).

When the gospel takes root in a believer’s heart, his life changes; he bears spiritual fruit. The rate of growth may vary from person to person, but every Christian changes for the better. His life is increasingly marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 4:22–23). If you are a true believer, you can marvel at the fact that your changed life proves the gospel is compelling.

And it’s not just that your life will change if you are a Christian—it must change! “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34–35).

We can’t follow Christ and stay the same any more than Tom Brady can spend his afternoons on the couch and still play professional football. Jesus knows the idols of our heart—control, power, materialism, pride—and he demands we put them to death. In that sense, following Christ is costly.

What kind of gospel would it be if it didn’t demand change? And what kind of Savior would Christ be if he didn’t provide the change he demanded? It was Augustine who said, “Lord, command what you will and will what you command.”

God himself came to us that we might avoid his wrath and live forever. Christ will return as judge of the living and the dead. All who die without bowing the knee to Christ in this life will face everlasting torment in the next. This is nothing to dismiss casually. This is serious business. If the gospel is true, your eternal future is at stake. The future of your neighbors is at stake. This is not to be taken lightly.

We should marvel to think God is at work, sparing sinners from this devastating end. He forgives through the blood of Christ. God shows no favoritism, accepting all who come to him, and he offers unsearchable riches to the poorest of the poor. He is a God who changes us—no Christian is left the same. What’s at stake is nothing less than eternal life in the loving company of the Triune God. The gospel is compelling.

DO YOU TREASURE THE GOSPEL?

This gospel is not merely to be believed; it’s to be treasured. This is how Jesus talks about the gospel. Jesus often taught in parables, and one of his favorite topics is the kingdom of heaven. To truly believe the gospel is to have eternal life, life in God’s kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:44–46).

In these two parables, Jesus makes one simple point: you treasure the gospel when you’d give up everything to have the gospel.

For Jim Eliot, treasuring the gospel meant mission work in Ecuador. The natives killed him, but not before he wrote these words, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” These are words inspired by Matthew 13:44–46. Eliot left friends and family and safety behind, but he gained an everlasting kingdom. Eliot proved with his life the gospel shone brighter to him than anything else.

You may not be called to that kind of sacrifice. But does the gospel shine bright in your life regardless of what you lose? Does Jesus matter most to you when:

  • you lose a friend;
  • your plans fall through;
  • your child won’t believe;
  • your spouse disappoints you; and
  • life takes a turn for the worse?

The gospel should remain a shining beacon when the darkness of the world tries to eclipse it. Let me say the same thing in a similar way: you truly treasure the gospel when you see yourself as nothing in light of the gospel. A proper view of the gospel causes you to see yourself as a burning match next to the sun or a drop of water next to the ocean or as a pebble beside Mount Everest.

The apostle Paul saw himself this way. He says to the Ephesian elders, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Paul was not precious to himself, and so he devoted himself to making the gospel known. He treasured the gospel most of all.

This is how the gospel should affect us. If we treasure the gospel, we’ll give up anything and everything for the gospel. If we treasure the gospel, we’ll see ourselves as nothing in light of the gospel.

This is a heart issue. What you value, what you treasure, what’s important to you—it’s a matter of your heart. Until you actually treasure the gospel in your heart, you’ll never have a will to share the gospel. Not naturally. Not regularly. Not with a sense of urgency. Until you treasure the gospel it will never be the overflow of your heart. You may share out of duty, but you won’t share out of joy. Evangelism will always be like flossing your teeth—and who wants that?

WHAT DOES THE HEART HAVE TO DO WITH THE TONGUE?

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What’s in your heart will be on your lips. Generations earlier, Solomon made a similar point, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We must watch and keep and guard our hearts. Unless you do this most basic work, life giving, evangelistic, gospel-centered words will never flow from your lips.

To go back to Don Whitney, until our heart finds the gospel “exhilarating and intoxicating” we won’t find telling others about Jesus exhilarating and intoxicating. When it comes to evangelism, it’s your heart that matters most. Pastor Charles Bridges described the heart as a citadel, a fortress:

If the citadel be taken, the whole town must surrender. If the heart be seized, the whole man—the affections, desires, motives, pursuits—all will be yielded up . . .. [The heart is] the fountain of actions . . .. As is the fountain, so must be the streams. As is the heart, so must be the mouth. 3Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Banner of Truth, 1968), 53–54. First published in 1846.

Christian, for the sake of the Great Commission, keep your heart. Guard your heart. How can you do this? There are many ways, all of them good. But consider putting the following three points into action:

  • First, remind yourself of the gospel. The gospel is the biblical message of a crucified and risen Savior. Consider reading Greg Gilbert’s excellent book, What Is the Gospel? Pick up John Stott’s, The Cross of Christ. Carve out time to understand the gospel better so you will share it more.
  • Second, explain why you find the gospel compelling. Everyone is different. There may be something about the gospel that is especially sweet to you. Perhaps it’s God’s mercy. Perhaps it’s the fact that you have a new identity in Christ. The best teachers are excited about their subject matter. The best evangelists know why they are excited about the gospel. Identify what, exactly, it is about the gospel that you find compelling.
  • Third, pray you’d treasure the gospel more. You need God’s Spirit to help you cling tightly to the gospel of Jesus Christ. You need God’s help to love him and his work more and more. Pray nothing would matter more to you than the biblical message of a crucified and risen Savior.

References   [ + ]

1. Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life (Navpress, 2014), 119.
2. Tim Keller, Making Sense of God (Penguin, 2018), 148.
3. Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Banner of Truth, 1968), 53–54. First published in 1846.
Filed under: Apologetics, Features, Pastorate, Theology
Aaron Menikoff

Aaron Menikoff (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of Politics and Piety (Pickwick, 2014). You can follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Menikoff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *