How Many Ways Are There to Really Share the Gospel?
- David Sanford Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 9 Mar
I wish you could have been there. A Christian university student told me, “I’ve been reading the Gospel of Luke, and I keep wincing at how Jesus comes across in story after story.”
After talking with thousands of followers of Jesus Christ, I think many, if not most, are uncomfortable with the gospels. Not because the vast majority do not believe what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote. But because of what Matthew, Mark, and the others allow Jesus to say and do when He listens to and talks with individuals and groups.
Reasons Why Christians Are Uncomfortable with the Gospels
First, many feel the way Jesus talks with the crowds is all wrong. Dumb it down, Jesus. Make things more clear. Enough with the obscure parables. Explain what you mean. Help people trust you and believe what you say. And skip the bread and fish. That just muddies everything all the more.
Second, many dislike how little we know about the three and a half years that Jesus walked, talked, and lived with the twelve disciples. Quit messing around, Jesus. Settle down, set up a seminary, enroll the guys, and take them slowly through the Hebrew Scriptures. Talk them through the forthcoming best-seller, the New Testament. Make sure they learn everything, write their doctrinal statements correctly, pass all the tests, and graduate with honors. Then head to Jerusalem, die for our sins, and rise again three days later, just as you promised.
Third, some lament the way Jesus refused to build a church, hire staff, map out a bunch of great programs, and preach to the choir and congregation Sunday after Sunday. What are you doing, Jesus? Heading into Jewish synagogues Friday night after Friday night, Saturday afternoon after Saturday afternoon. Get out there. Stick with God’s people. Avoid sinners—especially religious sinners—like the plague. And make them stop all that talking.
Worst of all, some hate the way Jesus interacts with specific individuals. You’re doing it all wrong, Jesus. Tell your story, explain the gospel as clearly as possible, and make sure each person prays the sinner’s prayer. Good grief. You were starting to get the hang of it with Nicodemus, but what a disaster when you talked with the Samaritan woman. There’s no way she was really converted. And talk about botching everything with the rich young ruler. What were you trying to do, Jesus?
The True Essence of the Gospel
The reality is, many of us are scandalized not just by the gospels, but also by the book of Acts. Most of Jesus’ apostles were known to hang out at the Jewish Temple, and some even hung around Greek and Roman altars dedicated to various gods and goddesses. The fact is, most first-century idols were found in homes and marketplaces, not in temples. And most of their attackers weren’t pagan priests, but rather merchants, sailors, soldiers, and the like. What were they thinking! Why in the world weren’t the early followers of Jesus Christ afraid of idols, altars, and shrines to false gods? And why were they completely unafraid to walk into courtyards, houses, and businesses where such things were objects of worship?
Thankfully, the core of orthodoxy, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, has never changed. Its transforming power is unabated after two millennia. Then again, the way the followers of Jesus Christ live out and exchange that life-giving power varies from place to place, and from person to person.
On the cross, Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world in general. He died for the sins of particular, specific individuals. Each person is someone Jesus knew from before the foundations of the earth. Each individual is someone Jesus not only knew, but also named, walked alongside, heard the depths of his or her soul, and invited into a relationship with Him—their Creator, Savior, and Sovereign.
Who were these individuals? For one, a thief. Dying on a cross next to Jesus, the thief recognized who Jesus was and is; he recognized his own guilt and shame and powerlessness; and he cried out to Jesus, trusted in Him, and entered paradise with Jesus that very day. That thief didn’t know much, but he embraced the essence of the gospel, surrendered to Jesus Christ, and received eternal life—just as Jesus knew he would do—in the nick of time.
The Gospel Presented in Different Ways
If you pay close attention while reading the gospels, you discover that nearly every time Jesus talks with someone, He uses a new approach. He does so for good reason.
After all, each individual starts at a different place, with different beliefs and misconceptions, with different hang-ups and sins, with different needs and circumstances, and with different kinds of relationships with God and others.
In the gospels, almost every individual “heard” and responded to Jesus and His message in different ways. Some, like Zacchaeus and Nathanael, started following Jesus almost immediately. Others, including Jesus’ own brothers, were anything but converted until after His death and resurrection.
Whether short or long, every dialogue and conversion looked and sounded different from the others. No two individuals, including brothers Peter and Andrew, had the same experience, let alone the same story.
Among other things, this gives us a tremendous amount of latitude in how we discern when someone has trusted Jesus Christ and has chosen to follow Him.
Is it when our friend or acquaintance prays a prayer?
Jesus certainly isn’t opposed to leading in a prayer of salvation. Then again, the New Testament never says that Jesus used, or liked, or preferred such an approach. The same is true of Paul and the other apostles.
Some say, “Wait! What about Romans 10:9-10?”
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (NIV).
I love these two verses. I’ve memorized and recited them many times. Thanks to Bible translation sites, I’ve read them in fifty-four English Bible translations and paraphrases.
The plain meaning of these two verses is someone (Person A) tells someone else (Person B) about their newfound faith.
Nowhere does either verse even hint of prayer, let alone a prayer of salvation. The one and only exception is The Message. That’s fifty-three to one.
105 Ways to Share the Good News
While Jesus Christ is the one and only Way (John 14:6), there isn’t a small number of ways to invite someone to follow Him.
World-renowned evangelist Luis Palau was gifted by God in five ways to do outreach and evangelism, but laments the many years he taught only those five approaches.
“In reality,” Palau says, “there are 105 ways.”
The implications of “105 ways” are staggering.
This gives us a tremendous amount of latitude in how we present the life-changing Good News with family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and others.
Worth pondering: Is Jesus truly happy about your favorite way to reach out to others?
As long as it’s authentic and truly Spirit-led, the answer is “Yes!”
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/julief514
The late David Sanford’s book and Bible projects were published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His latest book was Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s book, Life Map Devotional for Women.