Do We Tell Students the Wrong Gospel?

Maybe we don’t share the gospel because we don’t know the gospel. Or, maybe we share the gospel wrong. I don’t know–I’m a long ways from being an expert on evangelism. But here’s what I have noticed–we seem to spend a lot of time and effort trying to motivate and teach people to share the gospel. And, in the process, we assume they–and we–know the gospel. But I’m not sure we do . . .

I’ve noticed that our versions of the gospel don’t seem to match the gospel that the apostles shared in the book of Acts. We emphasize different things. We leave stuff out that they say. We say stuff that they leave out. In fact, our versions of the gospel often don’t even match the gospel that Jesus tells.

I’m sure I don’t have it completely right either–it’s a work in process. But here’s my attempt at telling the gospel in a way that more closely matches the gospel told by the church’s first messengers–the apostles. Tell me what you think!

Tonight, I want to tell you a story. It’s a story of good news and bad news, of villains and heroes, of deep questions and haunting answers. It’s a story of pain and heartache, and of final victory. It’s a story of battle and romance, of war and love. It’s an epic story, one that many have heard and few truly understand. I think it’s the greatest and most powerful story I’ve ever known. In a way, it’s your story and my story. And it’s the story of the universe.

The story starts with God. Before there was an earth, a moon, stars, and a solar system, before there were fish and bugs and dogs and people, it was just God, the one true God. Have you ever thought of this? Have you ever thought of the universe before there was a universe? When there was nothing? It kind of hurts your brain to think about. Only God existed. You’d think God would be lonely. And He would have been, except that it wasn’t just Him. God the Father also had a son, named Jesus. They lived in perfect relationship forever, joined by the Holy Spirit. Together, God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are One God, expressed in three persons. It was perfect relationship.

Then, they decided to create a universe. They created this world, and you and I, so that they could share their perfect friendship with us. Like an artist who simply must share their gift with the world, or an athlete who simply must compete, God is so full of love that He created us, just so He could love us. This is part of your story.

If you’ve ever wondered what your purpose is in life, if you’ve ever wondered why you are on this earth, if you’ve ever wondered if you have real meaning and value, then this is the answer. You have a designer. You were made for a purpose. Just as an eagle is made to soar in the sky, or a horse is made to run, or a lion is made to hunt, you were made to love and be loved by God.

To be clear, God’s love is no Hollywood romance, or cheesy Valentine’s Day card. This is the type of love that sweeps us into a story far bigger and greater than we can ever dream. It’s the type of love that demands all of who we are. It’s the type of love that exists between soldiers who protect each other’s lives in battle. It’s the type of love that exists between brothers who stand shoulder to shoulder to defend their country. It’s the type of love that a man and a woman share when they’ve been happily married for 50 years. It’s the type of love that demands more than we could ever offer and gives us more than we could ever imagine. It’s the type of love that when you experience it, you think, “This is what I am made for.” That’s what God made us for. (pause)

But then, Bad News entered the story. Adam and Eve, the first people who ever lived, chose to reject God and His love. God, the creator of the whole universe, offered them perfect friendship with Him, and they chose to love themselves instead. They chose to try to live without God. This choice broke their relationship with God. Like a friendship breaks when you choose yourself over your friend, or a sports team falls apart when one player is selfish, their relationship with God was broken.

And this brought more bad news. After that one act of selfishness—of sin—even more sin poured into the world. Lying, murder, dishonesty, rape, anger, and death soon followed. The world that God created to show His love and goodness became a place of darkness and death. And ever since, every human ever born has been full of selfishness–of sin.

But of course, I don’t have to tell you this. You’ve felt the bad news. You’ve experienced the loneliness, the emptiness, the false hope that this world holds. You’ve lived with parents that fight, or siblings that are selfish, or friends that turn on you. And you’ve seen it on the news. People fighting for power. Women horribly mistreated so some man can get sex. Modern day slaves being brutally oppressed. Shootings, civil wars …

But the bad news gets even worse. Just as sin kills our relationship with God, and with others, it also poisons our very soul. The Bible tells us that there is only one solution for sin. Only one payment. Only one satisfactory response. That solution is death. The Bible says that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.” It also says that “the wages of sin is death.”

But God–Jesus–wasn’t ok with this as an ending. He created us so He could love us. And so, even though we were the ones who messed it up, even though we are the ones who sin, Jesus left heaven and came to this earth to fix the problem.

The Bible tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave us His only son.” (Jn 3:16) Jesus–God–became a human. He lived on this earth for 33 years. And, to be honest, it didn’t go well. More bad news. He walked in our dirt. He experienced our hurt. He told people about the God who loves them. He told people how they could have a relationship with God. But people mocked Him. They laughed at Him. They called Him crazy. And then, they killed Him. Jesus–God–was dead. All of heaven waited in silence. The whole universe paused. This seemed like the worst news of all. (pause)

But, in reality, this was when the story began to turn. This was actually Good News. The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross on purpose. It also says that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) We’re guilty, we deserve to die, but Jesus died in our place. Because Jesus lived on this earth without ever sinning–without ever doing anything wrong–He could die so that we don’t have to. When He died on the cross 2000 years ago, He carried with Him every sin that you and I will ever do. He died so that we can live. His death paid the price for our sin. It was a total payment, once and for all. He took your sin, and my sin, with Him to the cross, and left it there. The Bible says, “He Himself bore our sin, in His body, on the cross … by His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) Christ died to pay for our sin, so that our relationship with God could be healed.

And then, three days later, He came back to life. He rose from the dead. This is one of the most documented facts of history. And really, it’s no surprise. Jesus is God–of course He can come back from the dead! And when He did, He conquered death. By rising from the dead, He made it so that we don’t have to die. We can join Him in living forever. Sure, all of us will physically die, someday. There’s a 100% chance of that! But those of you who respond to God’s love and welcome Jesus into your life will never really die. Your soul–the real inner you–will go and spend eternity in heaven, with God … the God who loves you. And he’ll give a new body that will never wear out and never die, while you live with Him in His Kingdom.

This is the real Good News. By dying on the cross, and rising from the dead, Jesus paid the price for sin, and made it so that we can have relationship with God, free of guilt and shame. God loves you so much that He sent His son–Jesus–to die so that you can be a friend of God. More than anything else, God wants you to experience His love and let it change your life.

When you trust Jesus, and his death on the Cross in your place, He takes your sin, and you gain His righteousness (or right-standing before God). Christ, who is perfect, takes your nastiness. And you get to take His perfection. Instead of being covered with sin and guilt, you become covered with the life of Christ–His perfect life. Like a poor prostitute who marries a rich prince and gains all of his riches and status, when you respond to Jesus you gain His status and riches. God’s Spirit comes and lives inside of you, and begins to change you from the inside out. You begin to love and live differently. You experience peace and joy in a whole new way. He begins to change your desires, your habits, and your actions. You become enlisted in His mission, His purpose on this earth. It’s what you were made for. It’s why you’re here.

So, how do you get that? How do you get a relationship with God, even today? It’s so simple, it’s hard to believe. God is pursuing you. He loves you. All you have to do is respond to His love. All you have to do is receive Him into your life. The Bible tells us that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) In other words, if you believe Jesus is who He says He is–God, and that Jesus did what He said He did–died on the cross and rose again for your sin, you will be saved. In another place, it says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9) This means that we can’t do anything by ourselves to fix our sin problem. Trying to be good won’t fix it. Doing religious things won’t fix it. Only Jesus can fix your sin. Only through Jesus can we have a relationship with God, again. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6)

So, what does this mean for you? It means that God has offered you His love through Jesus, and He wants you to respond to His love. If you feel Him prompting you to respond to His love tonight, that’s His Spirit calling to you. He’s inviting you into a relationship with Him, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. If you say, “yes,” to His call, He will come into your life, forgive your sin, and actually live inside you. This is what you were made for—relationship with God. You can trust Him, wherever He leads you, because He always has the best for you.

I want to invite you to respond to God’s call tonight. If God is stirring your heart, listen to Him. Agree with Him that your sin has broken your relationship with God, and that you need Jesus. Thank Him for sending Jesus to die on the cross. Personally receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and payment for your sins. Receive Him into your life as God–the one who loves you and leads you. The Bible says it this way, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) This is the ultimate Good News.

Remember our phrase from before? “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you want to respond to God’s invitation, and start a relationship with God today, I encourage you to ‘confess with your mouth.’ Find someone to talk to about Jesus that already knows Jesus. Ask them to pray with you. Tell Jesus–and them–that you believe these things tonight. Jesus wants to come into your life, forgive your sin, and lead you and love you.

 

  • Ed Ross

    Well presented. I think its fair to add that this relationship with God will change us in ways we can’t anticipate as God sets us apart for Him. This is holiness/sanctification that the New Testament also talks about. Otherwise I applaud this presentation.

    • Thanks Ed, for the feedback. That’s often the hardest part for me to nuance. I was trying to include that when I say, “God’s Spirit comes and lives inside of you, and begins to change you from the inside out. You begin to love and live differently. You experience peace and joy in a whole new way. He begins to change your desires, your habits, and your actions. You become enlisted in His mission, His purpose on this earth. It’s what you were made for. It’s why you’re here.” But I agree, I think this would be stronger if that element was a bit clearer. Thanks for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it. Any suggestions on how you would include it?

      • Ed Ross

        I have used the concept of marriage and the changes that happen from that close a relationship. Not a connection with teens, I suppose. Even the idea of you have a new BFF and your life now rotates around him and his desires for your relationship.

        • Ed, that’s one of my favorite illustrations, as well. In fact, I just used it in a different gospel presentation I wrote!
          Here’s an interesting thought: I recently read, from someone who has studied the harmony of the gospels extensively, that Jesus didn’t start talking to his disciples about a changed life until after he had spent at least a year with them. So, the claim is, Jesus first helped them get to know who He is, and then started talking about how that would change their lives. Any thoughts? I just read that this last week, and it has me pondering . . .

  • Chris Walker

    Well said. I like gospel presentations that start with God’s love and then move to the problem of sin. I minister in developing nations and starting with God’s wrath already adds to the self-loathing, self-hatred and oppression I see in much of the poverty stricken areas.

    • Thanks Chris. I feel strongly about that, as well. And, it’s the way the true gospel story moves, starting in Genesis. Where do you minister?

      • Chris Walker

        I provide teaching and training for pastors, mission organizations, parachurch groups who want to reach their communities. I do this from Alaska to Chile as my focus area, and teach in both Spanish and English.

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