Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rethinking How We Present the Gospel

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

In Rethinking the Gospel, I shared briefly on the content of the gospel . . . as envisioned in the New Testament.

However, I believe the way that the gospel is presented should differ depending on the people with whom we share it.

This requires sensitivity to the Spirit and attention to the person’s heart. Jesus Christ didn’t present Himself the same way to everyone.

To some, He warned. To others, He rebuked. To some, He showed compassion and mercy. To some, He asked questions or told parables, etc.

Just examine the way He interacted with various people, and you’ll see monumental differences. In a much overlooked text, Jude describes it like this:

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 22-23, NKJV).

You have the same thing in Paul.

Sometimes Paul says things like “it’s the kindness and mercy of God that leads us to repentance.” In other places he says things like “knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men.”

Forgive the personal reference, but as I think back on all the times I’ve shared Christ in one-on-one settings over the years (which includes many miserable failures at trying), I’ve noticed a few interesting things.

With some, I never mentioned the afterlife and focused only on the mercy and love of God for the moment. And I watched people repent and believe on Christ.

With others, I talked about the consequences of their actions and the reality of divine judgment and the suffering of our Lord to deliver us from such. And I watched people repent and believe on Christ.

With still others, I talked about how life only makes sense with Jesus. Without Him, it’s an elegant mixture of vanity and meaningless. And I watched people repent and believe on Christ.

To some (those sick or hurting), I’ve shared Christ as Healer. To others (those in present rebellion against God), I’ve shared Him as Judge. To some (those wracked with guilt), I’ve shared Him as Forgiver. To others (artists), I’ve shared Him as Beauty incarnate.

You get the idea.

Perhaps your experience is different, but most of the people I’ve shared the Lord with didn’t come to Him . . . immediately at least. But they were certainly nudged in His direction.

Some of them surrendered to Christ years later. Others still haven’t trusted in Him. Others, well, I have no idea as I’ve lost touch with them.

All told: I’ve learned that while the message of the gospel is always the same and changeth not, how Christ is presented should differ from person to person. I could be wrong of course, but that’s how it seems to me. And this principle has shaped the way I talk with non-followers about the Lord.

That said, here are several things I personally keep in view when speaking to a non Christian about Jesus:

Try to listen intently to the person and ask them questions. Listen outwardly.

Try to be sensitive to the Spirit while talking to them. Seek to discover what God has already done and is doing in their heart. Listen inwardly.

Look for an opportunity to allow the love of Christ to bleed through in their circumstances. Embody the gospel.

Never view an individual as a project, but as a person. A fellow human being. No more or less deserving than myself. The attitude is that of one beggar telling another where to find bread.

The goal is never to “close the deal.” (As a young believer, I thought that was the name of the game and did some damage as a result.) The goal is to be obedient to the Lord in the moment. The results are with Him. And sometimes they don’t show up for years. In fact, you may never end up seeing them in this life.

Keep in mind also that one of the greatest testimonies to the world that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed who He claimed to be is when His people love one another visibly (John 17).

Like the pagan of old once said upon observing the Christians, “Behold how they love one another.”

May it be so again . . .

Share some things you’ve learned about sharing Christ with those who don’t yet know Him from either your failures or successes.

P.S. In the introduction to this talk, I tell a tale of two people who share the gospel with their waitresses. You might find it of interest as it goes along with this post.

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