How to Share the Heart of the Gospel (in 5 Hashtags)
- Daniel Rice Founder of #Gospel
- 2018 9 Feb
Five to ten seconds.
After that, the filter kicks in.
In our day and age, five to ten seconds is usually all the time we’re given to persuade someone that what we have to say is worthy of their time. As our ways of communication and comprehension evolve, our presentation of the gospel needs to be adapted as well. If we want to effectively communicate truth, we must learn to do it in a way that can bypass the spam filters of the modern mind.
A hashtag (#) is a symbol used on social media to mark and group messages related to a specific topic. Since these messages are by nature open for everyone to see, hash-tagging invites others to join an open conversation in our modern-day global exchange of ideas.
This is the heart of #Gospel, and here are 5 hashtags that dig deeper into what the gospel is all about.
Welcome to the conversation.
Let’s start with the world’s best cup of coffee. We aren’t simply talking about good coffee; this is the stuff of legend. We combine the perfect beans, exquisite brewing to create a cup worthy of the most discriminating connoisseur. On the other hand, we have the worst excuse for coffee imaginable from an old dirty gas station. This pot has been sitting out for so long that when poured into the crusty paper cup on hand, it has the murky consistency of old motor oil. It tastes like the bottom of a zookeeper’s boot. As polar opposite as these two samples are, one drop of the deadly poison cyanide renders them both equally undrinkable. This is the story of Romans 1 in distilled form. In these first few verses, Paul outlines a similar picture of the human condition. No matter who you are, great or small, man or woman, famous or infamous, all of us have been born with a deadly contaminant: sin. Sin is our failure to hit the mark of perfection. No matter how noble a person’s actions are, no matter how much he or she works toward the greater good, no matter how spectacular his or her “coffee” offering, nothing can eliminate the toxin of sin. The playing field is leveled. All sin is lethal, and no one escapes its deadly effect. Everyone starts from precisely the same place. Your skin color, social status, and sexual orientation have no bearing here. There are no classes or tiered ranks of acceptability. This is the foundation for the Gospel.
The word Gospel literally means “good news.” In 2014, there was a particularly virulent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in a few countries in Africa. A few brave medical doctors were courageous enough to travel to the heart of the outbreak to treat the victims. Soon enough, some of them were infected, and one soon died. Two of the infected were Americans named Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly. Nine days after Brantly was infected, his condition had deteriorated rapidly. Kent called his wife and two young children in the United States to say good-bye. One can only imagine the agony his wife experienced as she listened to her husband’s labored breathing over the phone. In that moment of desperation, something remarkable happened. An experimental serum was flown in by a small pharmaceutical company based in San Diego. The serum offered the very thing Kent needed: hope. He was snatched from the jaws of death, and within hours of administration, the vaccine had completely reversed the course of the disease ravaging Kent’s body. The phone call home to his wife with this “good news” must have been breathtaking to hear. Rescued from certain death, both doctors had been given a new chance at life. Hope when all seems lost. Good news in an impossible situation. From death to life—this is the story of the Gospel.
There's a story in the Bible of a strange wonder in the desert, a bush that is engulfed in flame without being consumed. In that miracle, God reveals Himself to a man called Moses. This name, I AM, means that God is eternal, that He has no beginning and no ending, that He has always been and will always be present. Later in the Bible, in one of the most controversial scenes in the life of Jesus, Jesus says to a crowd of devout Jews, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was, I Am." This Jesus, the same Jesus who would eventually die on the cross to forgive our sins and reconcile us back to God says, "You want to know who I am?" "I am God." "I am eternal." “In every event that was and is to come, I am present.” The name I Am means that when Jesus went to the cross on our behalf, He did so not naively, but with eyes wide open. He saw every ounce of sin and brokenness in humanity, past, present, and in future. He knows the cost and He chooses to love us anyway. There is no sin or mistake that will ever surprise I Am. He is and will always be present, and that presence means that we can have freedom from believing that our sin is somehow greater than His love and forgiveness.
A simple conversation was all he wanted, just a few minutes with the man behind the movement. The news of His arrival had swept through the city like a wildfire. This man, a simple carpenter by trade, spoke with authority unlike any that had come before Him. The Wildman in the Wilderness had proclaimed Him to be the Messiah, the saving One that all of Israel had been waiting for. There had been other self-proclaimed Messiahs but none that performed signs and miracles like Jesus, none that spoke with His certainty and conviction. His kindness and compassion for the poor and vulnerable were a refreshing summer breeze though the stale, choking haze of religious regulation and ritual that Nicodemus had become so accustomed to over the years. This Man was out to impress no one. He wasn’t playing by the rules of politics and power mongering that everyone else was. He spoke openly of repentance and forgiveness. He spoke of the kingdom of God. He spent time with the “untouchables” of His day—outcasts and misfits that society and the religious elite refused to even acknowledge. He was different. Nicodemus was determined to speak with Him, but it was far too risky to be associated with such a radical in the light of day.
The sun had set when they finally got a chance to meet. Glad for the cover of darkness, Nicodemus slipped away to secretly go to the place Jesus was staying. His mind was brimming with questions, but he thought it wise to start with a compliment: “We all know God has sent you to teach us. Your miracles are proof enough that God is with you.” The Messiah’s response caught him by surprise and cut through his carefully manicured façade of religiosity.
“Unless you are born again, you can never see the kingdom of God.”
What!? What on earth was He talking about? Maybe this man was more than a little crazy. Did He honestly expect a full-grown man to crawl back inside the womb of his mother? Jesus had pierced through the thin veneer of this law-abiding Pharisee, straight to the heart of the matter. Nicodemus’ culture was obsessed with self-righteousness. He believed that if he could be good enough and follow the laws, do the right things, and give to the right causes, he might somehow earn God’s favor and fix the rift between God and humankind that had existed since the garden. Nicodemus had fallen for the big lie. This is the Gospel of humanity—that given enough time and effort, man can somehow atone for his own sin. He can repair the break in the relationship himself. In the next few words, Jesus obliterated that false Gospel like a Louisville Slugger through a crystal vase, and sent the shards of Nicodemus’s theology spinning into the crisp night air.
Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” -John 3:5,16-17
It was never about what humanity could do. All the hard work and rule following in the world could never accomplish what Jesus came to do. After years spent enslaved to ritual and religion, Nicodemus came to the slow realization that pride had been at the root of it all. As Nicodemus struggled to comprehend this new idea, his mind reeled with the claims of the Man sitting across from him. He called Himself God. He spoke not only of judgment but of redemption. The Messiah had come not to rescue him from others but to save him from himself.
The promise of a fresh start is the driving force behind billions of dollars of advertising in our society each year. From health clubs to nicotine patches, closet organizers to coffee, our days are constantly bombarded with products that pledge to give our lives a much-needed reset—or even just a clean start to a new day. Often, the people in these ads are smiling from ear to ear as they pedal away pounds at their local gym or laugh boisterously with their friends as they enjoy their new cigarette-free life. Carefree and contented, the hardest part of change for these people seems to have been the decision itself. Sadly, that is seldom the case. Most serious attempts at a fresh start end up more like the old adage “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
It can seem that way with the Gospel as well. Christ had come. The rescue plan was a success. The final sacrifice was made once for all, and now redemption is freely available. God’s righteous wrath against the destructive forces of sin and selfishness has been satisfied. Those who trust in the promised Messiah have been given new life in Him. The old self is gone. Everything should now be smooth sailing, right? Not exactly. Paul communicates this problem clearly in Romans 7.
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.
These frustrations aren’t coming from just anyone struggling with their inner demons. This is the apostle Paul, leader of the early church, author of an enormous part of the New Testament, opening up about the real battle against sin in his own life, a fight that had gotten the better of him time and time again. God may have given us new life through the finished work of Christ, but nothing changed about our physical bodies. The desire to give in to sin and selfishness is still overwhelming. So here is the great question: if Paul fared so poorly against this overpowering wave of selfishness, what chance do we stand?
Many of us fall into that same trap. We feel like the Christian life consists of following an endless list of rules and regulations. Religion says if we don’t measure up, we deserve to be punished. The Gospel says no one measures up despite our best efforts, so God sent His Son to take the consequences we deserve, and to be measured in our place so we are seen by God as perfect. This is sanctification. It is not dutifully following a list of rules. It is not a Herculean feat of self-discipline. It is not a checklist of spiritual merit badges. It is complete and total dependence on the One who is working in us until the day of His return. There is no room for prideful arrogance in the Gospel. Our growth is not a result of our own ability and work. It is Christ, through the Holy Spirit, working in us.
So, what will you do now? Will your understanding of the Gospel recalibrate your way of life, or will it be relegated to the intellectual scrap heap of self-help books and good advice untaken? Will you continue to try to make your own way, or will you let the good news of the Gospel lead you into the abundant life that Christ offers? Make no mistake, this is no one-time push of all your chips to the center of the table of life. It is a daily struggle to repent, submit, and depend on the finished work of our Savior.
This is the #Gospel.
Daniel Rice is the founder of #Gospel, an organization created to bring the gospel to the current generation in a way that syncs with their culture and uniqueness. Before #Gospel, Daniel spent 10 years on staff with Calvary Church in Lancaster, Penn., working with small groups, young adults, and students. He and his wife Melissa have five children.
In the new book #Gospel: Life, Hope and Truth for Generation Now (Shiloh Run Press, Dec. 1, 2017), author, founder of #Gospel Daniel Rice invites generation now into perhaps the most important conversation of their life. Through personal and pop culture stories and corresponding video shorts (available at HashtagGospel.com), Rice breaks down Paul’s explanation of the Gospel as given in Romans in a way that is both accessible and engaging for Christians and non-Christians alike.