Many (if not most) Christians, even when convicted that they ought to share their faith, do not do so. Some Christians come to evangelism or discipleship classes, but leave if there is a chance they would be asked to share their faith outside the group. There are basically two reasons for this that go to the heart of effective gospel communication: People don’t know what to say and don’t know exactly how to go about communicating the gospel with others. If contemporary Christians are to overcome the decline of Christian faith, disciple-makers must address both the “what” and the “how” of disciple-making. Fortunately, the best way to share faith with another person is also that way that comes most naturally to the person sharing their faith.
Some years ago, a close business associate and friend, not a Christian, asked me out of the clear blue sky if I felt he was going to go to hell. He knew I was a serious Christian and wanted to know the answer. I had never given the question of my friend’s eternal destiny one moment of thought. I was shocked and did not know what to say. I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, and then gave a halting answer affirming our friendship. I have never felt good about my answer, because I do not think I came close to addressing what was really on his mind. What was most deeply wrong with my answer was that I did not communicate my faith or my testimony to God’s love in a way that my dear friend could hear, understand, or accept. I made a mess of the opportunity. I feel my friend is fine, but I do not feel good about my answer to his deep question.
Jesus and the Gospel
When Jesus began his ministry, he shared the gospel with other people. Mark begins his gospel noting that he is recording the “beginning of gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God” (Mark 1:1). In Mark, Jesus is immediately portrayed as proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand, so people should repent and believe (Mark 1:15). Sharing the Good News was important to Jesus, and it ought to be important to us as well.
Jesus began his public ministry communicating personally and verbally that the Kingdom of God was present, and therefore, the people of God should repent and believe the Good News (Gospel). In other words, Jesus was a proclaimer of the gospel, and Jesus is the its content. A longer account in Luke gives us additional information about the gospel Jesus proclaimed. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins his career in Nazareth quoting Isaiah as follows:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:16-21).
This passage communicates a good deal about what Jesus means by Good News. First, the gospel is the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel for a Messiah. The Jewish people lived in a condition of subservience for most of their history. During that entire time, they dreamt of release from captivity. As a conquered people, the Jews were poor compared to their Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman captors. They were oppressed and subject to arbitrary imprisonment.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw that God would come to rescue his people (Isaiah 61:1-2). In quoting Isaiah. Jesus is saying that he is the long-expected salvation of Israel. The good news is that Jesus has come to rescue his people. Surprisingly, this salvation is not for the wealthy, the powerful, the religiously active, the best followers of the law, or the saintly in the eyes of the world. Instead, it is for the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, sinners, tax collectors, and a host of others no one expected that God cared about. In other words, the gospel is for everyone.
The First Disciples and the Gospel
The disciples, as they went out into the world to share the gospel, developed a way to explain to people the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul, who was perhaps the most effective of the early missionaries, at different times and in different ways, described the gospel as he delivered it to his hearers. Near the end of his ministry, writing to Timothy, his beloved helper, he said: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy 1:15). Embedded in this little sentence is a basic form of the gospel:
- The way to salvation is Jesus Christ, who came to save; and
- We all need salvation.
- I found salvation in Christ.
A longer version of Paul’s gospel occurs in First Corinthians where he writes:
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (I Corinthians 15:1-8).
In this passage, Paul outlines the gospel in narrative form answering the historical question, “What happened in Christ that we believe to be Good News?” He begins by stating the importance of the gospel: It is the source of salvation and renewed relationship with God. Having established the importance of the gospel, he tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The good news is embedded in the story of the life death and resurrection of Jesus.
First Corinthians was one of Paul’s earliest letters. Second Timothy was one of the last. In Second Timothy, Paul speaks of the gospel in these words:
So, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (3 Timothy 1:8-10).
Although the context and wording are different, the Gospel is the same. God’s appointed savior, Jesus the Christ, came to the human race and was manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This Gospel provides a means of salvation for everyone who believe in Christ and accept the gift of the forgiveness of sins and new life God offers them. It is a matter of God’s grace, not human achievement. It is important to recognize the Paul not only shares the content of the Gospel, but its personal application to him and its importance for his life. The gospel is not good news unless and until it is good news to a person.
The various ways that Paul expresses the content of the gospel ought to relieve us from the false idea that there is only one way to describe the Gospel There is not. Good communication involves a communicator, a message, and a recipient of the message. A good communicator is careful to communicate the message of the gospel in different ways to different people in different circumstances depending on the person or persons to which we are communicating.
What is the gospel today? We often hear people say, “If it was good enough for Jesus and Paul, it is good enough for me.” This is true, but it does no good to speak words to other people that they do not, cannot, or will not understand. Therefore, we need to communicate the gospel to people in ways that those we are communicating with can hear and understand.
Good News from God
In the Greek, the word we translate Gospel means “good news.” Before recent times, there were few or no newspapers or electronic or other forms of mass communication. When an emperor, king, or person in authority wanted to communicate something important, the communicator used heralds who read and proclaimed what was to be communicated. These proclamations were good news from their leader. Imagine then, how important good news would be if it were good news from God. Paul believes that he and the other apostles have been commissioned to transmit to those with whom they come into contact the most important good news there can be: Good news from God. That is why Jesus, the apostles, and the church ever since has used the term “good news” to describe what God is communicating to the human race in Jesus. The most powerful being in the universe has sent his heralds to proclaim the best news possible! You can have a life changing relationship with me now and forever. In the meantime, you can be released from your self-centered captivity to sin and brokenness.
Good News for Captives
People in our day and time continue to be captives, needing the liberating power of God. In some areas of the world, people are living in physical captivities not much different from the captivities of the ancient Jews. In the West, there is often a different kind of captivity. People are captive to our cultural brokenness and the personal and social brokenness that captivity creates. Because people are inclined to believe that there is nothing beyond this material universe, and the activities, possessions and pleasures of this world are the only hope for meaning and purpose, many people are captive to an eternal search for money, possessions, power, and pleasure. Into this situation, God has sent us to proclaim good news to the entire world.
The false gods worshiped in our day are not set up a temple at the center of our cities. The modern temples are in office buildings, school rooms, and other places. Their prophets are usually not odd figures running around half-naked and half-mad. Instead, the modern prophets, priests and priestesses of false religions speak to us through the media, cell phones, mass entertainment, popular music, and often education. We do not worship the false gods of our day in temples, but in the fabric of day-to-day life. To be raised and educated in the West today is to be raised in a kind of captivity to a false and damaging world-view that breaks and hurts nearly everyone. In order to escape this captivity to the false God’s of our society, people need to see and have a relationship with people who have escaped and found freedom, wholeness and blessing in Christ.
Explaining the Gospel to Post Modern People
Some years ago, I was in my office on a Friday. I got a call from the front desk because a disturbed individual was asking for help. I went up and brought the person to my office. Without going into detail, this person was in a sinful lifestyle, selling her body to men, taking mind-altering drugs, and in a relationship of physical and moral abuse. She was not highly intelligent, and she had been drinking. I knew that whatever I said to her had to be simple. The only thing I knew to do was share the gospel in a short form. I took out a piece of paper, drew a little diagram, and shared the basic elements of the gospel. My guest had been raised in a poor, minority church. She knew the story. As I shared the gospel with her, her eyes were filled with tears, and she cried. She prayed for forgiveness. We spoke of other, more urgent things, and our congregation helped her with a physical need. In the end, this short sharing of the Gospel was exactly what this person needed.
I did not set out that morning to bring someone to Christ. In particular, I didn’t set out to have a relationship with the kind of person who came to my office that day. Yet, I knew enough to help this woman at a moment of distress. I shared a form of the gospel with her. Our gospel help did not end with words: Our church shared with this woman some physical resources she needed. This example is a reminder that the gospel is best shared by words and deeds. As we share God’s love with others, we reveal to them that God is love. As we explained to them how they can experience that love, we give them the opportunity to commit their life to that God of love. That commitment is the beginning of a life of discipleship.
There are many gospel presentations. One of the most famous portrays sin as a great chasm that separates us from God, and the cross of Christ as a bridge allowing us to cross over and be reunited with God as we accept God’s grace and believe in the gospel. This presentation emphasizes our sinfulness and need for the cross. Another famous Gospel presentation contains three pictures, one with me on the throne of my life, one with me on the throne of my life but God involved, and one with God on the throne of my life. This presentation emphasizes our human pride and desire for self-sufficiency.
When Kathy and I were writing a book about sharing the gospel called “Salt & Light,” we prepared another little graphic that can have importance to postmodern people. One characteristic of postmodern people is that they do not have a fully developed sense of sin. Because there is no God and no ultimate truth, there is no place in their thought world to believe that we human beings are in a state of rebellion against God.  Interestingly, people do have a sense of brokenness. In fact, our society is characterized by pervasive brokenness and anxiety. Emotional fragility and neurosis are at an all-time high. This situation opens up the door for a new and different way to present the Gospel to people—by focusing on God’s love as a healing agent for the fragmentation, anxiety, and loneliness people feel in our culture. 
The graphic begins with the actual situation of people who do not believe in God: People almost always consider themselves far from God’s love if they do not believe in God or that God is love, as Christians do. Most non-Christians can get that far. The second image of the graphic shows what happens when people draw near to God, even occasionally: Such people are now in contact with God’s love. Again, a lot of people who do not believe in God or have not really established a relationship with God often have had some experience of calling out to God and being touched by God in some way. People who do not believe in God or have little or no relationship with God still call out to God on a battlefield, when a loved one is ill, or when they or someone they know are in danger. Finally, the last panel shows the person inside of the love of God with a relationship with God.
The third image shows a person surrounded by God’s love. One of Paul’s favorite images is that of believers being “in Christ.”  One of my favorite verses is, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has gone the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This “in Christness” of believers is both spiritual and physical, as believers accept Christ and live in Christ and enter the body of Christ, which is the church. The graphic above emphasizes the new life and new way of life that people receive as they become “in Christ.”
Paul clearly says that our position in Christ leads us to becoming new creations, with different ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, and the like. Paul also believes that this new life we receive in Christ puts us into a new place regarding the laws of God and the teachings of God: We have been freed from our innate inability to achieve holiness, and now can live the new life in freedom.
A Gospel Summary
If we put together all the biblical evidence, the gospel might be described something like the following:
- Because God loves the world and everyone in the world, and wants to have an eternal relationship of love with the world and everyone in it, God has always been acting in history to show his love to others.
- The story of Christ is the story of the good news God was and is providing for the human race. That story continues to this day.
- God’s transforming love became present with power in Jesus Christ, through which the extent of God’s love was revealed by Christ on the cross, to provide for us a forgiveness for our sins and a release from out guilt, shame, and brokenness.
- By believing the promise and trusting in Christ, we enter a new, life transforming relationship with God through Christ.
- This new relationship frees us to become the people God intends us to be and live a life characterized by faith, hope, and love for others through which we experience the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- Christ will continue to be with us by the power of the Holy Spirit beyond the moment we accept Christ as he makes us into a new, Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered person.
Beyond Gospel Presentations
Some Christians misunderstand the place gospel presentations have in the Christian life. Accepting Christ is like being born. It’s just the beginning of a new life. Just as a mother would not desert her newborn baby, we must not think that our job is over when a gospel testimony has been shared. Sharing is not the end. It is the beginning. Every time we share Christ, we move into a discipleship relationship with the person with whom we share. We are now like a midwife helping a woman deliver a child or a mentor helping a young business person find success. We can’t desert our charge, because the need us.
One benefit of this approach is that we do not need to feel compelled to share everything we know about the gospel with another person in a single setting. As we “teach a new disciple to obey all that God has commanded,” we have plenty of time to share aspects of the gospel that we had neither the time nor the ability to share at the moment they invited Christ to be the center of their life. In fact, it is impossible to share all that God means by” good news” in one sitting or at one time. The riches of Christ are too vast for that to be possible.
Putting it All Together
As indicated above, the New Testament is littered with examples of gospel presentations and descriptions. These various presentations give us an idea about what a good explanation of the Gospel needs to say:
- First, any gospel presentation needs to center on Jesus: on his life, his death, his resurrection, and his continuing work in the people of God who believe he is the true revelation of the mercy of God.
- Second, a good gospel presentation includes some notion of the human need for God—the fact that we are separated from God. We are finite, mortal, and do things we know to be wrong and misguided. For this we need forgiveness and new life.
- Third, to be good news, a presentation of the Gospel needs to assure hearers that a wise and loving God has provided us a way to fellowship with him, forgiveness of sins, and a kind of life we can only imagine.
If I were to write out a short gospel presentation, it would go something like this:
Everyone I know, including myself, often feels alienated from God. We have done things that we know are wrongheaded. We do not necessarily sense the love of God in our lives. The people I know who have tried to overcome their sinful nature by hard work have failed. Some gave up entirely, and some became hypocrites trying to appear better than they were. What I needed and what most people want is inner transformation. God loves us enough to send Jesus to provide us a way to experience that transformation as we become his disciples. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to show us what a truly wholesome life would be like, to teach us God’s ways, and to die for our sins, showing us the extent of God’s amazing grace. God raised this Jesus from the dead, and then he promised to send his Holy Spirit to us when we believe, forgiving us and changing us from the inside out.
This testimony says who Jesus is, who we are, and what God has done for us in Christ. It centers expresses our need to accept Christ by faith.
One thing is certain: We should not allow ourselves to be unprepared for that moment during which we have an opportunity to share the gospel. Every Christian should think about what they will say when the opportunity comes. It will come. If we pray for the opportunity to share with our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others, God will give us that opportunity.
Copyright 2019, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 This is why the “Who is on the throne of your life?” presentation of the gospel is often more meaningful to postmodern people. On the other hand, I used the chasm drawing with the young woman in our church I spoke of above, just as I have used other presentations over the years. This is consistent with the notion that we need to adapt our presentation of the Gospel to the needs of those with whom we are trying to communicate.
 This graphic is found in our book, Salt and Light, Everyday Discipleship (Collierville, TN: Innovo, 2016).
 See, Romans 8:1; 1 Cor. 15:22, 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:9). The spherical use of the phrase indicates that the person who is in Christ is within the sphere of his love and activity. The image is literally one of location: in Christ.