I’ll be 40 this year. I’ve been a Christian for about 3 ½ of those decades during which I’ve had the weighty privilege of sharing the good news of the gospel with a number of people. Unfortunately, I also believe I have been a part of numerous spiritual still-births. This fact is a great regret for me as I think back on a number of people that, after having been presented the gospel, made a profession, and yet were still dead in the their sins… they were spiritual still-births.
As I think back to those experiences, I see a number of red flags. These issues are either related to the content of the gospel that I was sharing or my desired impact on the unbeliever as I shared the gospel message.
In former days, the focus of the message, in large part, centered on the benefits of salvation. If someone was to turn to Christ they would be graced with justification, redemption, adoption into the family of God, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, etc etc. These are all unbelievable blessings and true to the core of Christianity, but I have come to learn that they are secondary to the essence of the good news. They are all results of faith; they are the aftermath benefits of becoming a new creation in Christ. While these characteristics of faith are all “good news”, they are not the foundation of the gospel… instead the core of the gospel, found in Roman 3:21-26, is what makes them possible. What, then, according that passage, is the essential doctrine of the “Good News”?
It is this:
That God is a righteous judge and must punish us for the sin we commit (when we break His law). God, however, made a way for us to avoid this righteous punishment when He put forth Christ to be punished on our behalf. Christ stood in our place and took upon Himself the righteous wrath that we each deserved. By doing so God remains a just judge, punishing for sin, while also remaining a loving, forgiving God extending an offer of salvation to all that would turn to Him in faith.
Propitiation, the substitutionary atonement of Christ on our behalf, is the essence of the good news, without which no other aspect of salvation is possible.
Therefore the content of what I share today reflects not just the benefits of salvation (although I do discuss those beautiful truths), but I labor now to drive home the reality of sin and the gravity of the “bad news”. Its only AFTER a person “gets” sin and impending punishment that I talk about the cross. Without an appreciation for the seriousness of breaking God’s law, the cross makes no sense and holds no weight.
It’s to that “appreciation” that we turn to next.
By and large, the biggest difference between how I shared the gospel the majority of my life and how I feel led to share it today can be summed up in how I want the unbeliever to feel as I walk through the gospel with them.
In the past I would go out of my way to soften the bad news. I would focus as little time as possible on the reality of sin. I didn’t want to make the person feel bad… I wanted to be an encouragement to them. I didn’t want the person to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to run the risk they would leave the conversation or get mad at me for saying things that are hard to hear.
“If I offend them, I may not be able to share the good news with them…”
It was in that vein that little time was spent on sin and much time was spent on the potential benefits should they believe on Christ for salvation. It was also in that vein that I very carefully chose the language I would use.
I resisted (in large measure, I flat out rejected) the use of the word “you”. When talking about the reality of sin I would focus on OUR (collective mankind’s) sin nature… the sin that we were born with. Is this true? Absolutely! But, when kept at that general level, its very easy to disassociate oneself with the problem of mankind. The gravity of personal sin and its ramifications are not felt.
Likewise, I would use words like “us” and “we” to soften the impact… the reality… of the individual’s personal sin problem. My goal was to get them to agree that “we” have a sin problem… to encourage them that they are not alone but that I’m a sinner too and therefore, they shouldn’t feel as bad about it. Do I, as the one sharing the gospel, still sin? You better believe I do… so the “shared problem” is a legitimate reality, but if my intent is to “lessen the blow” of sin by generalizing with “we” and “us”… I do the unbeliever a GREAT dis-service.
Sin is an intensely personal issue. “We” will indeed stand before God together, but “we” will answer, individually, for the sins we each commit. I know now that it is utterly imperative that the unbeliever sees THEIR sin and the gravity of it.
There is no “I” in “we”.
A person MUST own their sin… their personal affronts before a holy and righteous judge… before they can grasp the weight and the beauty of the cross!
Do I ever identify with the unbeliever and affirm, in our conversation, that I, too, sin? Absolutely! But I only do so after they have affirmed their own personal guilt. Starting with “shared guilt” runs the risk of short-changing the bad news. Affirming my personal guilt after they have admitted to their own allows me to come alongside them without watering down the reality of sin.
It’s to that end, for the glory of God and for the sake of the unbeliever, that I no longer avoid the uncomfortable issue of personal sin, even though I know it will not be a happy experience for them. Sin is ugly, the punishment for sin is real. People do not want to talk about it and they certainly don’t want to own their sin personally… which is all the more confirmation that it must be dealt with before moving on to the cross.
Short-changing the bad news to get to the Good News
Therefore, as we endeavor to share the Good News with the lost, don’t forsake… don’t short-change… the bad news because it uncomfortable to talk about. Fight the urge to generalize the reality of sin. Fight the urge to soften the blow of impending punishment should the lost reject the offer of salvation. In love, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, do all you can to bring the person to a place where they personally own their sin. It’s only in that place… where the weight of God’s righteous judgement is a reality to them personally… that the cross, Christ’s propitiation on their behalf, will be seen as not only necessary but unspeakably beautiful.