I don’t know if you’ve tried sharing the gospel with anyone recently, particularly anyone under the age of 35?
If the answer is yes you may well have found that you didn’t have much success. A few years ago, I had a memorable experience with a good friend who, despite going to a Christian school, was very unfamiliar with what I believed as a Christian and I had the opportunity to share a little of my testimony with him and the good news of Christ.
I explained how God loved and created us, how we had all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, I explained how God loved us so much he sent Jesus to save us from eternal punishment, and I explained that this meant we could have a relationship with him today. This guy is one of my best friends; he knows the impact my faith has on my life – he sees it on a weekly basis and he knows the difference Jesus has made to me. But, despite my best efforts, he still didn’t get it.
He responded to my gospel presentation by saying, "But why do I need saving from sin? I am a good person."
I reasoned with him, I tried using analogies and passages of scripture - I even tried pointing out some of his mistakes - but it just didn’t wash. He didn’t feel like a sinner and so he doesn’t see his need for a saviour. To him the Gospel I told was irrelevant.
Re-telling the gospel
This is something I see more and more. We live in a hedonistic, materialistic, individualistic society where the mantra that many unconsciously live by is that the most important thing is that we are free to do the things that please us. In a society so focused on individual pleasure very little is seen as sinful. Most of us consider ourselves good people so why would we need a saviour? What in the world do we need saving from?
The gospel that we often tell in our churches relies on themes such as loving creation by God, the fall of man, Jesus arrival and crucifixion for our sins, and the consequential opportunity that we have to be forgiven, receive the gift of eternal life and enter a relationship with God. These are all biblical principles but, certainly in my experience, so often our friends and neighbours hear this story and don’t feel a need to respond.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting we reinvent the gospel or in any way change it. But I am suggesting we look at how Jesus preached the gospel.
The Jesus gospel
Here's Mark 1:14-15: "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'"
When Jesus preached the good news he did not say that it was all about the forgiveness of sin. The good news that Jesus preached is that the kingdom of God had arrived in his person; the forgiveness of sins is a necessary consequence of that but it is not the good news itself.
That may seem like a subtle distinction but it has profound consequences, which I explore further in The Selfish Gospel.
The good news is not only that God wants to save us from sin and give us a ticket to heaven; the good news is that God wants to restore earth in line with his perfect will. The good news is that God is bringing heaven to earth in the person of Jesus here and now, that he wants to restore and transformation each of us, and, through the power of His Holy Spirit, enable us to restore our broken world. God wants the church to build heaven on earth - and that is seriously good news! But, tragically, so often it is missing from our gospel presentations.
We must never preach the gospel without preaching the necessity of repentance from sin and the gift of forgiveness, but if that is the sole focus of our gospel then we are stopping the story short; we're missing out the best bit!
And as we tell our friends and neighbours what Jesus has done, explaining the good news of the arrival of the kingdom will surely gain traction. Many in our culture may not feel sinful or in need of a saviour but so often we feel broken and in need of love. We might not want saving from sin but many of us long to be restored. As we seek to tell our 21st century culture of the gospel, I truly believe that it is as we share the story that Jesus himself preached that people will listen to the good news and enter God’s kingdom.
Freddie Pimm is a regular speaker at Soul Survivor and the author of The Selfish Gospel (SPCK)