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Ray L. asks: “What’s the best way to present the gospel without being too forceful or raw while at the same time not sugar coating anything?”
This is a common, yet good question among many believers today. The question is good because it brings together two very necessary realities when it comes to sharing the gospel: love for God and love for neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). Love for God in that we should eagerly desire not to “sugar coat” the gospel, but proclaim it because of the glorious God at the center of it. The question communicates love for neighbor through the desire to share the gospel in a way that is sensitive to those around us (which shows concern for them), rather than dismissive of those with whom we share (which shows concern for ourselves).
I’d like to offer four key biblical truths to help us think through this important question. Certainly more could be added, but these should serve as a good starting point:
Foundational Truth 1: The gospel is not popular. “…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles…”(1 Cor. 1:23). We need to recover a Christian world-view that understands that, in some way, the gospel will be rejected as offensive, foolish, or both to everyone who has either not been born again by the Spirit of God, or who does not have the Spirit already beginning the miracle of the new birth within them. We shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that we could share this good news in the most perfect way possible and still be rejected apart from the Spirit’s work in our sharing and in their hearts.
Foundational Truth 2: We must be dependent through prayer. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Pray. This is the next logical step that flows from the last truth. We are dependent upon our Father to change the hearts of those around us, through the work of his Spirit, from hearts that see the gospel as foolish and offensive to hearts that see the gospel as wise and precious. What might happen if we joined the Father in what he is already doing by being a people desperate in prayer everyday for those around us who desperately need Jesus?
Foundational Truth 3: We must be walking in love. “...walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Eph. 5:2). We must love the people we are engaging. This may seem obvious, but loving sacrificially is essential. If the person in front of you doesn’t feel like you care enough for them to sacrifice time, money, pride, etc., then how do you expect them to believe that Jesus cared enough to have sacrificed his own life so they could live? We are the living witnesses to the life of Christ. We model the suffering servant who sacrificially loved us, by sacrificially loving others so that our lives would affirm our mouths in sharing the gospel. Otherwise, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Without love for the person in front of you, your words are about as good a noisy gong that no one wants to listen to.
Foundational Truth 4: We must be listening. “…be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (Jas. 1:19). Because the gospel is rejected as either foolish or offensive, we sometimes get into situations where we become frustrated, which can then lead to an argument. James offers this needed admonition in our day. Listen! Listen! Listen! Did you hear that? If not, then listen some more! Speaking is obviously an essential part of sharing the gospel, but before we speak, let us first humbly listen. Ask questions that will allow the other person to do most of the talking. Being genuinely interested in someone else’s life not only shows them that you love and care for them, but it also maps out where all of the land mines are in the field of their life so that you can navigate around them to get to their heavily guarded heart with the good news. We don’t want any unnecessary casualties on the battlefield of evangelism. Remember that the gospel of Jesus is always relevant, but never relative. Knowing your audience enables you to see how the unchanging truth of the gospel is relevant to them personally.
Again, this list is not exhaustive when it comes to sharing the gospel. No one formula is going to fit every person in every situation, but these foundational truths should inform any approach to discipleship as we seek to be both loving and faithful as we share the message of the gospel.