What exactly is the Gospel, and what is the best way to present the Gospel?
One Common Approach to Presenting the Gospel
A lot of people think that 1 Corinthians 15 defines the Gospel, and defines what we need to tell a person in order to have shared the full Gospel. And on the surface, it does seem that this is exactly what Paul is doing.
But what is it that Paul says? What is it that Paul teaches? What is it that Paul includes in his Gospel message? How does Paul present the gospel?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says right in verse 1, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel.”
Reading this, many people believe that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is defining exactly what a person must believe in order to receive eternal life. So when they share the Gospel with others, they take their cues from Paul and try to include the same elements that Paul used in their Gospel presentations.
If you poll most people, many say that there are at least three or four things you must tell every single person you share the Gospel with, and they must believe all of them in order to be justified (Note, of course, that not all of the following four items are found in 1 Corinthians 15. But they are found in various places in Paul’s writings.)
- First, the person must believe that they are a sinner, and that since the wages of sin is death, our sin requires death as a payment. So a person must first believe they are a sinner.
- Second, Jesus Christ came and died for our sin on the cross. He took the sin of the whole world on his own body and died for it.
- Third, after He died, he rose again from the dead, proving that his sacrifice on the cross was acceptable to God.
- Fourthly and finally, if we believe these things, then we are justified.
I have had people tell me that if we leave any of these four things out when we present the Gospel, then we are not sharing the whole Gospel.
In fact, when I was in Bible college, one of my professors gave us a pop quiz. He told us to imagine that we were walking down the street and we witnessed a hit and run. A car speeding down the street ran into a old man, and then sped off. We were to them imagine that we ran up to help the old man as he lay injured and bleeding in the middle of the road, and as we got near, it became obvious that he was only thirty seconds away from dying. He looks up at you and says, “How can I get into heaven?”
What do you say? How would you present the Gospel in this situation?
The pop quiz was to take out a piece of paper and write down what we would tell the man. It had to be sixty words or less and be able to read at a normal talking pace in thirty seconds or less.
We all wrote out what we would say and handed them in. The next class period, he informed us that out of the thirty students in the classroom, only two had shared the whole gospel. The other twenty-eight had left out vital facts that a person must believe in order to be saved. I was one of those twenty-eight, by the way. Most of us had included the fact that we were sinners, and that the wages of sin was death, but that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sin, and if we just believed in Jesus, we could receive eternal life.
He told us that unless we mentioned the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we had not shared the saving Gospel. He took us to 1 Corinthians 15:14-17 where Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is empty and our faith is also empty, and we are found to be false witnesses, and we were teaching a false (or incomplete) Gospel.
He went on to teach us that unless we include the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have not shared enough, and unless a person believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they are not justified.
So the four main elements that most people include when they witness is that we are sinners, Christ died for those sins, He rose again from the dead, and if we believe in Jesus, we can have eternal life.
Other Elements People Include in the Gospel
Others say that even those four things are not enough. Notice that nothing was said about the virgin birth of Christ, the sinless life of Christ, or deity of Christ, or how we are supposed to give up all and follow Christ after we become justified. What if a person believes they are a sinner, believe that Jesus Christ died for those sins, believes that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and believes in Jesus for eternal life, but doesn’t actually believe that Jesus Christ was God come in the flesh, and doesn’t believe that Jesus Himself lived a sinless life? Is that person justified?
So now, we’ve got about eight things a person seemingly must believe in order to receive eternal life. Of course, if Paul is really defining in 1 Corinthians 15 everything a person must believe in order to be justified, then according to Paul, we must also tell people that they need to believe that Jesus was buried, and that he was seen by Peter, the twelve apostles, and over 500 people at one time after that. That Jesus also appeared to James and to Paul. So now, with all of these various appearances, we have close to fifteen things a person must be told and must believe in order to receive eternal life.
We could go on and add several more items as well. Pretty soon, our gospel presentation fills fifteen pages of notes, takes half an hour, and comes complete with charts, diagrams, and outlines.
It’s no wonder that people get confused when try to learn how to present the Gospel. It’s no wonder that people are reluctant to witness. They don’t know how much is enough and how much is too much.
I mean, are you going to get into election and predestination when you present the Gospel? I’ve heard some people say that election and predestination are doctrines only for Christians, but many Calvinists say that unless a person believes in election and predestination, they haven’t believed the true Gospel. Where does it end?
When it comes to the Gospel, people are so confused about what to share and how to share it, they end up not sharing at all. If we don’t know what to include in our Gospel presentations, how can we present the Gospel clearly? If we can clear away the confusion, we would all have much more liberty and freedom to share the Gospel without fear of saying something wrong.
Simply defining the Gospel can clear up a lot of confusion.
I. Defining the Gospel
The Gospel simply means good news.
Any good news is Gospel. If I have been praying for someone who is sick, and I hear that they got better, that is Gospel truth. It’s good news. If I found out Bill Gates gave me a million dollars, that would be gospel truth, because it’s good news. Anything that is good news is gospel, even if it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and eternal life.
In 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul defines the Gospel he had preached and the Corinthians had believed, he is telling the good news about sin, salvation, and Christ’s sacrifice. He added some elements in his gospel that we normally do not. But he could have added many more elements as well. In fact, the entire Bible is the Gospel, because it’s all good news.
The reason Paul mentions the elements he did in 1 Corinthians 15, is because he is trying to prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul is not saying that when we witness to others, we have to tell them about Christ’s appearances to Peter and James and the apostles and 500 others and last of all to Paul himself. Paul includes all of this to persuade the Corinthians that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead.
So what is the Gospel? It is good news. Any good news.
Now, when you share with someone some good news that is hard to believe, you will often have to support it with facts and data. If you tell someone that Bill Gates gave you a million dollars, that’s good news, but most people will not believe you unless you show them the letter, show them the check, and show them the ledger balance of your savings account. Then they will be convinced and persuaded about the good news you have shared with them.
That ultimately is the goal of sharing any good news. When you share good news with someone, you not only share the good news, but you also provide supporting evidences and facts which prove the good news you are sharing. And generally, the better the news, the more support you need. If the goal of sharing good news is to persuade people, you pick and choose the evidence and facts that best support the news.
That’s why, on the rare occasion you hear good news on the Nightly news, they not only tell you the good news, but they interview people, they get the experts out to back it up, they give you the facts and data to show that what they are saying is true.
So how then can we apply this idea of sharing the good news about Jesus Christ? How best can we present the gospel to others so that they understand and believe? In my own practice, I use “The Gospel P’s.”
III. The Gospel P’s
The central truth of the Gospel is the promise of the Gospel. It is the target truth, the main idea, the central fact of the Gospel that we are trying to get a person to believe. The Gospel promise is at the center of the Gospel, and should often be talked about when we present the Gospel.
A. The Promise of the Gospel
When you present the Gospel message of how to receive eternal life, there is one thing and one thing only that must be included. You don’t have to worry about remembering fourteen things, or four spiritual laws, or twelve steps to God, or sixteen Scripture passages. There is one statement that must be included when you present the Gospel.
That statement is this: To receive eternal life, you must believe in Jesus for it.
You can state it various ways, if you like:
- Jesus gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Him for it.
- God promises to give eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus.
- Eternal life is received by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
- If you believe in Jesus, He will give you eternal life,
- Eternal life is the free gift of God to those who believe in Jesus for it.
You see? The central promise of the Gospel is that eternal life is a free gift to anyone and everyone who believes in Jesus for it. You can phrase it in various ways, but the three essential elements are (1) eternal life, (2) believe/faith, and (3) Jesus Christ.
This is the Bible’s way of presenting the promise of eternal life, and so it should be ours as well. When Jesus, Paul, Peter and the other apostles evangelized, they routinely made statements just like that (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27; Acts 16:31; Rom. 4:4-5). See this chart of the 185 times this sort of promise is made in the New Testament.
It is one statement, but it has three elements:
- A person must believe.
- Second, they must believe in Jesus. They can’t just believe anybody or anything. It’s not even believing in God. I hear lots of people say they think they are going to heaven because they believe in God. But this is not what must be believed. They must believe in Jesus.
- Third, they must believe in Jesus for eternal life.
In his book, Secure and Sure (p. 75), Bob Wilkin puts it this way:
If you don’t mention Jesus, you haven’t given enough information. How much detail you give on His substitutionary death (and His finished work) and resurrection depends on the time you have, the prior knowledge of the person you are talking with, and the flow of the conversation. However, to fail to mention Jesus is to drop the ball in evangelism.
Additionally, you must mention what it is that He promises: eternal life to all who simply believe in Him.
If you don’t mention eternal life or the equivalent (salvation that can never be lost no matter what we do or don’t do), you haven’t given enough information. Jesus doesn’t promise provisional salvation. No one is put on probation. God can’t and won’t take back eternal life once He gives it to us. Fail to make this clear and you haven’t communicated the good news.
And if you don’t mention that this eternal life is given to all who merely believe in Jesus, you haven’t given sufficient information. We must be careful not to substitute words we think have the same basic meaning as believing, but which really don’t. Asking Him into one’s life is not the same as believing in Him. Neither is committing one’s life to Him. Believing in Him for eternal life is being convinced that He guarantees eternal life to all who simply believe in Him.
Let’s say you went to an unreached people group, and they had never heard about God, the Bible, or Jesus Christ. So let us say that you told them that there was a man named Jesus who promised that anyone who believed in Him for eternal life would receive it. You told them nothing but this. After hearing you present this truth to them, let’s say they believe it. They believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Note that they don’t know who He is. They don’t know that He died on the cross. They don’t know that He rose from the dead. They don’t know that He is in heaven right now. They don’t know that He lived a sinless life. They don’t even know about the penalty for sin. They don’t know about the trinity. They’ve never heard of the Bible. The word predestination sounds like gibberish.
But they believe in this man named Jesus for eternal life. Do they receive eternal life? According to the Bible, yes they do. It is God’s promise.
The Bible makes justification simple. What must you do? Believe. Believe what? Believe in Jesus. Believe in Jesus for what? Believe in Him for eternal life. That’s it.
Now, realistically, the chances of somebody actually believing in Jesus for eternal life without knowing anything else about Jesus or the Gospel are very small. If someone came up to me and said, “Believe in me and I’ll fly you to Mars” I would only believe that they were insane. I would not believe that they could get me to Mars.
So when we just tell someone, “Believe in Jesus for eternal life” the chances are pretty good that they are not going to believe that. Why? Because they have no reason to believe it. We have given them no supporting evidences for why such an audacious claim could be true. They don’t even know why they need eternal life or that they don’t already have it. When you present the gospel, though the central promise of eternal life is the main point you want to share, it is not the only thing you probably need to share.
There is one thing and one thing only that must be presented in every witnessing event. The saving fact, the justifying truth of the Biblical Gospel is that anyone who believes in Jesus for eternal life, receives it. That is the bare bones minimum, bottom of the line way to present the Gospel. It is the central promise.
But think back now to our definition of “gospel.” It simply means “good news.” And when you share good news about anything else in life, do you share only the good news announcement? No! You also provide supporting evidence. If you got a raise at work, and you want to tell your spouse, you not only announce that you got a raise, but you also show the letter from your boss. If you got the good news that your cancer is gone, you not only tell your friends and family, but you also show the test results from your doctor.
This is the way good news announcements work. We will almost always include other facts in our presentation in order to persuade the people of the good news we have just told them. We will give supporting evidence. We will give eye-witness accounts. We will gives statistics and facts and figures.
This is the same way to present the gospel of Jesus Christ. We not only announce the promise of the Gospel, that God gives eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus for it, but we also present whatever supporting evidence is needed to help people accept and believe that Gospel promise.
For some people, we don’t need to provide much supporting evidence. Children, for example, are very easily persuaded. Others, who have a religious background and have a Bible background are also easily persuaded, although sometimes they can be the hardest. Probably the hardest of all are those who are elderly and have become set in their ways, and also those who are the educated doctors and scientists. They need someone like Ravi Zaccharias or Norman Geisler to help persuade them.
But in general, the lines of reasoning we can use to help persuade people to believe in Jesus fall into two categories. They are either preparation truths or proof truths. Preparation truths answer the question “Why?” and proof truths answer the question “How?”
Some people don’t think they need eternal life, and so when you tell them they can have it by believing in Jesus for it, they say, “Why do I need it?” This is when we give preparation truths. These truths prepare their hearts and minds to believe in Jesus. But other people, recognizing that Christ’s offer of eternal life to anyone who believes in Him for it is an audacious claim bordering on insanity, want to know how He can make such a claim and how we know He can fulfill it. Preparation truth and proof truths are an arsenal of supporting facts and evidences that help persuade a person to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Let’s look at the preparation truths first.
B. The Preparation Truths of The Gospel
Frequently, the heart and mind needs to be prepared to understand and receive the message of eternal life. Some people don’t know there is a God and what his requirements are for getting into heaven. Others don’t think they are sinners, or if they do, they think God grades on the curve, and as long as they are better than someone else, they’ll get in. One reason many people don’t believe in Jesus for eternal life is because they don’t realize they need it. Preparation truths tells them why they need it.
I’ve thought of seven, but there are probably more. And again, you don’t necessarily need to share all of these in your evangelism, but you should try to determine through prayer, through reliance upon the Holy Spirit, and through listening to the questions and objections of the person where they are at and what they need to hear.
1. There is a God
The first thing that helps a person recognize their need of salvation is the belief in a God. If a person believes that God does not exist, then they will most likely also believe that there is no such thing as heaven or hell, and therefore, this life is all there is. Such people feel no need for eternal life, because for them, eternal life does not exist.
But if we are able to show that God does exist, and that there is life after death, then this opens the door for explaining how to have eternal life with God rather than eternal separation.
Generally, most people believe there is a God, or gods, and that there is some sort of life after death. These beliefs come hard wired into our souls, and all creation points to the fact that God exists. Romans 1 is very clear about this. People have to be educated into atheism. So those who are atheists have to be reeducated out of it.
Apologetics and philosophy are helpful here, but the Bible is an excellent tool as well. When we invite atheists and agnostics to consider the truths claims of the Bible, this also opens the way for the Holy Spirit to work on them through the Word. This brings us to the second preparatory belief which helps bring a person to faith in Christ. If people come to see that there is a God, we also need to show them that the Bible is His Word.
2. The Bible is God’s Word
This is important truth to share because in our witnessing, we should be using lots of Scripture. The power in our witnessing comes through the Word, not through creative stories and illustrations. The Holy Spirit works through the Word. So an explanation that the Bible is the Word of God, and therefore contains what God says about life and death and eternal life will help the person understand why we look to Scripture for instruction, rather than the book of Mormon or the Hindu Vedas.
It is probably not necessary to get into the whole debate about the Bible being the infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God, but you may have to if the person challenges the Word of God as being inaccurate or on the same level as other writings and sayings. I once worked with a man named Govert who was a universalist and he believed the Bible was God’s Word, but he also believed that the Koran, the Vedas, the Buddhist Sutras and other religious writings were also God’s Word. I had to get into why the Bible was God’s Word and these other books weren’t in order to proceed with why only the Bible could tell us how to get eternal life.
The Bible tells us many things about us and our condition. One of the first things we encounter in the opening chapters of Genesis is that God is the creator of all things. God made us. This is the third truth to help prepare a person for the saving message.
3. God made us
If a person believes in God, and recognizes that the Bible is God’s Word, then it is an easy step from there to show that we are God’s creation. And since He made us, we belong to Him, and are accountable to Him. He tells us how we should live and what we should do. He makes the rules by which we should life. And what are his rules? The fourth truth to be impressed upon people is that God demands perfect righteousness from us in order to spend eternity with him. God requires holiness.
4. God requires holiness
Since God made us, and since God is holy, God requires us to be holy as He is holy. If we want to spend eternity with Him, we need to be like Him, for he cannot allow sin in his presence.
Some people, if they are unfamiliar with the Bible, might ask why we are sinful if a holy God made us. Few people will ask this because few people like to admit their own sin, but whether the question is asked or not, that is the direction you want to go next.
5. All have sinned
In preparing a person to believe in Jesus for eternal life, it is often necessary to talk about sin. I suppose it is possible to believe in Jesus for eternal life without recognizing that you are a sinner, but I don’t think it’s very likely. Of course, having said that, my wife’s grandmother falls into that category. She believes she has eternal life. If you ask her why, she says it’s because she has believed in Jesus Christ for it. But if you ask her if she is a sinner, she will say “No.” She does not believe she is a sinner, but she does believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Wendy’s parents have gone round and round on this with her, and it has come to the point where the grandmother will not allow anybody to talk to her any more about it. I do not know her heart, and personally, I do not see how anybody can believe they are not a sinner, but believe in Jesus for eternal life. If she is not a sinner, why does she need to get eternal life from Jesus? If she is not a sinner, she is already perfectly holy in God’s eyes, and so she doesn’t need a Savior.
Since there is a ban on talking about it with her grandmother, I have never been able to approach the subject with her. I wonder if she thinks that she used to be a sinner, but now that she has believed in Jesus for eternal life, she no longer sins. There are lots of people who believe that. It’s a heresy, but lots of people believe it, especially in the Wesleyan and Holiness Pentecostal groups.
If a person does not recognize they are sinful, they will most likely not recognize their need of a Savior, or their need of eternal life. There are many ways to get a person to recognize their sin, but all you really have to do is get them to admit that they have had one bad thought, or said one bad word, or done one bad thing in their lives.
It’s often a good idea to use yourself as an example. Give an example of one time when you got mad at your wife, or said a harsh word to your daughter, or stole something from work. Don’t glorify the sin, but admit what you did and be frank about it. Then say, “Have you ever done anything like that?” Most people will admit they have.
Another way is to use the Ten Commandments. God through them one by one and ask the person if they’ve ever broken them. Most people will say, “Well, yes, I’ve broken one or two, but nothing serious like murder.” Eventually, you will get most people to admit that they have sinned.
Then you can ask them, “How many times does a person have to murder in order to be a murderer?” The answer, of course, is one time. “How many times does a person have to steal in order to become a thief?” One time. “How many times does a person have to commit adultery in order to be an adulterer?” One time. How many times does a person have to sin in order to be a sinner?” One time. Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” A similar truth is found in James 2:10, “For whoever keep the whole law, and yet stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it.” A person only has to sin one time in order to be a sinner.
Once a person admits this, then you can show them how seriously God takes sin. There is no sliding scale with God. Everybody is either black or white, sinful or holy. And if a person is a sinner, the penalty is death.
6. The penalty for sin is death
It is here you could take them to a passage like Romans 6:23 which says that the wages of sin is death. God takes sin so serious, even one little sin like saying a bad word, that it has the effect of eternally separating us from God. We cannot be anywhere God is, because He is so holy, our sin is repulsive to Him. He punishes anybody and everybody who sins even one time.
Some people, at this point, will say that it doesn’t sound like God is very loving. I mean, we all overlook sins and forgive people all the time. Why can’t God? A loving God would love us just the way we are, and look past our sin. You could, if you had time, get into the justice of God, but probably, the best way to answer this question is by pointing people to Jesus Christ. This is the seventh preparation truth.
7. Christ died for our sin
When someone says that the death penalty for any and every sin sounds pretty harsh, you can agree with them. It does sound that way. But God is not harsh. He is gentle and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. How do we know? Because even though we are the sinners, and the wages of sin is death, He sent Jesus Christ to die for our sin on the cross. God provided a substitution for us.
We sinned, but Christ died in our place, for our sin, so that we wouldn’t have to. A harsh God would say “Tough luck. I made the rules. You got yourself in this whole sin mess. You get yourself out.” But instead, God said, “I made the rules. One sin equals death. You sinned. But I love you so much, I’m going to send Jesus Christ to die in your place so that you don’t have to.”
If you get all the way to this point, you can say, “And that is what Jesus did. He paid the penalty for our sin. Of course, we have to accept His payment for us. We have to receive it. We do that by believing in Jesus for eternal life. Only then will we be back into a right relationship with God. Only then will we be righteous as He is righteous. Only then can we spend eternity with Him.”
These are the basic answers to the why we need to believe in Jesus for eternal life. They prepare the person to believe. But at this point, people may want to know how God can make this offer. How was Jesus Christ able to pay the penalty for the sins of all people in all the world? How can we know God is really telling the truth here? How do we know this is the only way to heaven, and not just one of the many ways? How can we know the Bible is right, and not the Book of Mormon, or the writings of Confucius?
It is here that the Proof truths become useful. We’ve looked at seven preparation truths, there are also seven proof truths you can use when you present the Gospel.
C. The Proof Truths of the Gospel
If the Preparation truths of the Gospel help people understand why we need to believe in Jesus for eternal life, the proof truths help us explain to people how Jesus can offer eternal life to anyone who believes in Him for it.
1. Identity of Jesus
The first proof truth is who Jesus is. Sometimes this truth will get discussed when you are explaining what God did for us through Jesus Christ. That’s okay, because it’s all wrapped up together. The identity of Jesus Christ is crucial for why and how He was able to pay the penalty for our sin.
If a person thinks that Jesus is just a man like anyone else, and he went around telling people to believe in him, and then he died on the cross, supposedly for their sins, most people would think he’s nuts. I mean, what makes him so special that he can die for other people? Why can’t I die for a thousand people? Why can’t you? What makes Jesus’ death so special?
The identity of Jesus makes Him special, for He wasn’t just a man. He was God’s Son, which makes Him God as well. Why and how could Jesus die on the cross for all the sins of all people and satisfy the righteous requirements of God? Because He was God. You may have to explain some about the trinity, but the point to make is that Jesus wasn’t just any old man. He was God come in the flesh to die for us.
Since our sin is an eternal and infinite affront to the holiness of God, God needed an eternal and infinite payment to cover that debt. Jesus, God in the flesh, was the only way such a debt could be paid. This is so important, I doubt very much that very many people believe in Jesus for eternal life without some sort of understanding that Jesus was God and was therefore able to make the complete payment for penalty of our sin.
Children may be an exception. It is very difficult to explain to a child that Jesus was God come in the flesh. Yet millions of children have believed in Jesus for eternal life without knowing much about the identity of Jesus.
2. Life of Jesus
Related to this first proof is the second. Not only was Jesus divine, but when He came to earth, He lived a sinless life. This is almost automatically understood from the first point, but it sometimes has to be said. There are some who think that Jesus’ sacrifice for us wasn’t much of a sacrifice if Jesus didn’t face the temptations and pressures we did.
But the facts are that He did face all the temptations we face, and He defeated them. He lived a perfect, sinless, holy life. This is important to get across, because if Christ had sinned, then His sacrifice for us would not have been perfect. He would have been blemished by sin Himself. Jesus lived a sinless life so He made a perfect sacrifice.
Because of the life of Christ and the identity of Christ, and because the Bible is God’s Word, we can know that what Jesus says in the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. The words of Jesus are the third proof for eternal life being by faith alone in Christ alone.
3. Words of Jesus
Jesus Himself says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). When we say that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, people might accuse you of being narrow minded. Just tell them that they should take it up with Jesus. And while they’re at it, God also.
If it is God’s heaven, and if we are God’s creation, then He has the right to make the rules about how to get into heaven. And if He says that the only way is through faith in Christ, then that is the only way. We can argue all we want, but it won’t change the rules. Jesus says all over in Scripture, especially in the Gospel of John, that the only way to receive eternal life is to believe in Him for it.
4. Resurrection of Jesus
The fourth proof that we receive eternal life through faith in Christ is the resurrection. It is the proof truth of the Gospel that Paul was trying to lay out a case for in 1 Corinthians 15. For it is true that if Christ is not raised, then we are not saved. That is different than saying “If you don�t believe in the resurrection, you are not saved.”
The resurrection is a proof truth, and 1 Corinthians proves it. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is proof that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was full and complete. The resurrection proves that Christ’s sacrifice was acceptable to God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s stamp on the bill of sin which says, “Paid in Full.”
5. Grace and Rewards
Another proof truth is the nature of grace, and the promise of rewards. Frequently, whenever someone hears the message of God freely giving eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus for it, their immediate reaction is “What? Well then why can’t I go sin all I want?” This is a question and objection that needs to be answered to prove the truth that justification is by faith alone.
Note that if someone you are witnessing to asks this question, then this shows that you have faithfully shared the justifying message, and they have understood it. Whenever we correctly share the message of God’s free grace, this is one objection that often comes up (cf. Rom. 6).
And there are multiple ways of answering it. The Biblical ways are twofold. First, we can take people to passages like Titus 2:11-15 which shows us that when grace is truly understood, it teaches us to obey, not disobey. Initially, grace seems like a license to sin, but when fully understood, it motivates us to obey.
The second line of reasoning is the Biblical teaching on rewards. While the Bible never tells us that works will earn or prove our justification, it tells us all over the place that works will earn rewards and privileges in heaven. Justification by faith alone does not neglect the necessity and importance of works. To the contrary, it magnifies the importance of works because they become necessary and vital to become effective in our Christian service and to have responsibility in heaven.
If people wonder what the place of works are, we can teach them about rewards.
6. Prophecies Fulfilled
The last two lines of reasoning to prove the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone are more to support everything that has been said up to this point. These last two proofs, help people see that Christianity is true, that the Bible is the only reliable source of truth, and that Jesus Christ truly was Who He said He was.
The sixth proof, then, is prophecy. This is an internal proof of the accuracy of God’s Word and the identity of Jesus Christ. The thousands of prophecies in the Scripture that have been fulfilled are evidence that it is God’s Word, and the truths it contain – like justification by faith alone in Christ alone – can be trusted.
Furthermore, the prophecies prove that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, was God come in the flesh, and is able to save those who believe in Him. Prophecy is a great aid to proving the validity of the Biblical message.
The final proof is apologetics. This proof uses logic and philosophy to prove the truth of Christianity. Apologetics prove that God exists, that the Bible is true, that Jesus was God’s son, and that He died and rose again from the dead. This is a supporting evidence to shows the truth of everything you might have shared.
I should say, however, that apologetics are often more useful for the Christian than for the non-Christian. There will always be unanswered questions, especially for the unbeliever. If an unbeliever has to have all his questions answered before he believes in Jesus for eternal life, they will probably never believe.
Don’t ignore apologetics. They do have much value, and we should always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that you have. But recognize that most of the time, unbelievers only throw up these objections to avoid the issue and go off on a rabbit trail rather than confront the real issue of their unbelief.
These are the seven proofs that all we have to do to receive eternal life is believe in Jesus Christ for it. He was God. He lived a sinless life. He told us that He was the only way to heaven. He rose again from the dead proving that His sacrifice was acceptable to God. Justification by faith alone does not get rid of works, but only magnifies their eternal value. Prophecy and apologetics may also be used, if you feel the need to authenticate the claims of the Bible.
Can a person believe in Jesus Christ without knowing all this? Yes, they can. Children do it all the time. If you were saved as a child, try to remember how much you knew at that time? Chances are, you knew very little. If you witness to children, or share the saving message with children very often, try to think about what they understand and how much they know. Generally, they don’t know very much. But one thing they can know and must know, is that Jesus Christ promises them eternal life if they will just believe in him for it. For children, all the fourteen preparation and proof points are helpful, but hard to grasp. A person can believe in Jesus without knowing all of that.
But what about the other side of the question. Can a person believe all of this stuff, all these fourteen points, without believing in Jesus for eternal life? Yes, cults and pseudo-Christians do it all the time. Catholics, Mormans and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, believe in God, believe that the Bible is God’s Word, believe that God made us, believed that we are all sinners, and that sin deserves death, and that Christ died for that sin. They believe all the preparation truths.
Further, they believe all the proof truths as well. They believe that Jesus is divine, that He is God’s Son. They believe that Jesus lived a sinless life and that after death, He rose again from the dead. They believe in eternal rewards for a life of Godliness, they believe in the prophecies of the Bible and they are some of the best apologists for all of these beliefs.
They believe all of this, but most of them have not believed in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. Most of them put eternal life under the category of a reward for a life lived in obedience to Christ. They don’t believe Christ simply and freely gives eternal life to anyone who believes in Him for it. Instead, they say that God graciously gives eternal life to those who are enabled by God to live obediently for Him.
They believe all the surrounding truths, all the preparation truth, all the proof truths, but they do not believe the central, single justifying truth that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ for eternal life gets it. They will talk lots about the Gospel and all the elements we are in agreement on, but remember that it is not the areas of agreement that are important as much as the areas of disagreement.
And on the central issue of how to receive eternal life, the divide is very wide between us. What is the Gospel? The Gospel is good news – any good news. But the best good news is that Jesus guarantees eternal life to anyone who believes in Him for it. Never waver; never compromise on that Gospel truth.
How to Present the Gospel
Though all the points made above are part of the biblical gospel, note that when you present the Gospel, you do not need to present all the truths.
There is no checklist or magic rules to remember when you present the gospel to others. Just remember to reiterate time and time again that eternal life is the free gift of God to anyone who believes in Jesus for it.
Then, based on how people respond to that central promise of the Gospel, feel free to include any of the other truths of the Gospel that you think might be necessary to get a person to believe the promise. If the person you are talking to seems to believe that they don’t need to believe in Jesus because they are good enough people on their own, you might want to present some of the preparation truths about the holiness of God and our own human sinfulness.
If the person doesn’t know much about Jesus, who He was, and what He did, so that he is confused about how Jesus can make such an offer, you might want to present some truths about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Just let the conversation flow naturally, let the Spirit guide your words, and remember that very rarely will the task of presenting the Gospel be accomplished in one conversation. You might need five, ten, or a hundred conversations. Just be patient, be clear, be consistent, and always be loving.
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