Not the Gospel
Sharing the gospel is uncomfortable, and we have a tendency to justify ourselves for not doing it. In Luke 10, an expert in the law attempted to justify himself by asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” in response to the command that he was to love his neighbor. We do the same by asking, “What is ‘sharing the gospel’?” We often do something more comfortable than sharing the gospel and identify it as a gospel share to justify ourselves. Because there are many misconceptions surrounding what it means to share the gospel, I decided to put together a list of some common ways we side-step doing it. Much of this list comes from my own excuses I have used in the past.
1) “Sharing the love of Christ” – This is a phrase we often use to describe our activities at school, work, or on a mission trip. It is largely undefined. Is it opening the door for someone? Is it encouraging someone? Is it buying groceries for someone? No one can be sure, but using a broad category like this allows us to sweep our lack of gospel sharing under the rug. I found this phrase in an old testimony I had written in high school. In this testimony, I wrote that my goal in life was to “share the love of Christ with others”. I remember thinking that if I said “tell others about Jesus” was my goal, then it would require a change in my life beyond my comfort zone. “Sharing the love of Christ” allowed me to carry on as is and still feel like I was sharing the gospel.
2) Reflecting Christ – If your life does not reflect Christ, then your gospel message loses its effect. But simply reflecting Christ is not a substitute for sharing the gospel (side note: Jesus shared the gospel, so truly reflecting him involves doing that too). It is common to hear the quote about sharing the gospel and using words if necessary, but how can someone share a story of good news without words? Here is a little experiment: Next time you are given a gift, do not tell anyone about it for a week. Instead, be overly nice to everyone and go out of your way to help others. If the gift is cash, buy something for someone. Throughout the week, write down the names of everyone who comes to the conclusion (without you telling them) that you were given a gift. Put a star next to each person who also figures out the name of the gift giver. How can we expect anyone to come to such a conclusion? In the same way, how can we expect anyone to come to the conclusion that we were given the gift of salvation from God through Jesus Christ unless we tell them?
3) Apparel/Websites – I have seen numerous ads on social media that say, “Share Jesus boldly with this t-shirt!” Or bracelet. Or journal. Or backpack. Most of the apparel that is advertised simply says something like “Jesus loves you” or “WWJD”. This can be valuable to start conversations about Jesus, but these are not substitutes for sharing the gospel. I have also had numerous conversations in the harvest with church leaders in which I have asked them how they share the gospel with others as a church. On multiple occasions, I have been told that the church website is the primary way they reach out to others. When pressed, they explain that there is a link on the page that people can click on to find out more about Jesus. They’re essentially just hoping that someone comes seeking and stumbles upon the link. Instead of “go seek the lost”, it’s “wait and see if the lost find this link”. Having a link available on your web page could get you into some conversations, but the mere presence of a link is in no way the equivalent of actually communicating the gospel.
4) Winning an apologetics argument – Knowing your apologetics is a good thing. Being able to have a conversation with someone in which you explain why you believe what you believe is of great value. But frankly, a lot of time gets wasted – especially online – trying to outlast other “keyboard warriors” in an argument about where the dinosaurs came from or how old the planet is. This is not the same as sharing the gospel with someone. We all want to stand up for truth in some way, and we feel that rush we crave when we win an argument. But does convincing someone that a certain fossil isn’t truly 5 million years old lead that person to repentance? How could it unless you give them the gospel? Sure, apologetics can be used as a supplement to the gospel to help people better understand the truth. But what better way is there to stand up for truth than to share it? Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Share the truth (Jesus) by sharing with others how they can be reconciled to God through him.
5) “All glory to God” – After a hard-fought win or a after receiving an award, an athlete or other celebrity will often say something like, “First of all I want to give all the glory to God.” This is awesome. It is always refreshing to see someone acknowledge their Creator on a big stage. But why do we collectively pee our pants in excitement as if they have just preached the gospel to the entire world? We post and share and retweet and write news stories about their interview. We spend the entirety of the next day gushing over what an amazing role model they are because they said “God” in front of millions of people. We look at what they did as the standard and falsely believe that we will never have a gospel opportunity like they do. We teach our kids to follow their example, but we don’t teach our kids to share the gospel. What results is a generation of believers pursuing after the world and its desires, just waiting for the day when they gain the whole world and can acknowledge God for it. Do not misunderstand – when someone acknowledges God on a big stage, that is fantastic. However, I’d venture to say that many celebrities who have done so would tell you that the mere acknowledgement of God was not their way of “sharing the gospel”. I’d certainly hope not, at least. What they do when they are off camera to share the gospel with others hopefully has a much greater impact! Let’s be clear about what our intention is here. We all should be living for the same mission no matter what stage we are on. Is the standard only to say, “all glory to God”? Or is it to intentionally share the message of the gospel with others? Both are good, but let’s be intentional for the mission!
6) Gospel Tracts – I hesitated to put this one on the list because it is technically still sharing the gospel. It is a valuable thing to hand someone a gospel tract since you have just handed someone the message of salvation! I have included this on the list, however, because it can still be something we use to avoid sharing the gospel. If you ask someone why they prefer to hand out tracts instead of speaking the gospel to someone, the answer is usually not strategic in nature. Preference for a tract is usually because it takes less effort, is more comfortable, and requires less dependence on the Holy Spirit to give us the right words to say. A gospel tract does two things to make us more comfortable: a) It takes the fear element out of the equation since we can just hand it to someone and leave b) It outsources our own articulation of the gospel to someone we think can more eloquently explain it. Both of these are roles of the Holy Spirit! It is the Spirit that gives us boldness in the midst of fear, and it is the Spirit that convicts hearts with the gospel no matter how much eloquence we lack.
7) Inviting someone to church – Are you leading people to the church, or are you leading people to the Savior? Are you building up your church, or are you building up God’s kingdom? Did your church change your life, or did Jesus change your life? Ideally, you have a church family that would welcome anyone in, and any visitor that walks in would have a chance to hear the gospel. Remember your calling, though. You were never called to invite people to church. You were called to go and make disciples. You have the authority to make disciples because Jesus gave it to you. You do not have to bring people to a professional for them to hear the gospel. In fact, the kingdom of God has historically been advanced by ordinary people who were committed to God’s mission. Do not turn down the authority you have been given. Could you see fruit from inviting people to church? Absolutely, but God wants to use you! What a privilege! Don’t pass that up. You may spend years inviting someone to church and they still won’t know that Jesus died to save them from their sin and is alive today. Share the gospel with them and worry about the church conversation later. Otherwise, they may never hear the gospel. In addition, what example are you giving them for when they start following Jesus? Is healthy discipleship sustainable and reproducible if the only model they know (from what you did with them) is to invite people back to you and your church? Inviting people to church is often a crutch we use when we are afraid to share. Step out in boldness and speak the gospel!
8) Planting the seed - “Sharing the gospel” is not just bringing up something spiritual to someone. For example, talking with a nonbeliever about how you are trusting God to provide for you is not “sharing the gospel”. Such a conversation can be used as a transition to the gospel and should absolutely be discussed as a way to testify about all the Lord has done, but do not confuse it with the message of salvation. It is common in Christian culture to refer to this as “planting the seed”, but the seed described in the parables is the gospel. We often think of the seed as a thought planted in someone’s brain. We think we have planted the seed when we say anything spiritual in front of someone. But in Matthew 13:19, Jesus makes it clear that the seed is the “message about the kingdom”. This is far more than just any spiritual thought or idea planted in someone’s mind. Why then, do we often refer to any and every spiritual conversation with a nonbeliever as “planting the seed” or “watering the seed”? It is likely because we have set our sights too low and do not understand what the fully developed crop represents in the analogy. We think it represents someone who has repeatedly heard spiritual ideas and finally has grown into a place where they are ready to receive the message of the kingdom. This is not so, so do not use this idea to hold out on sharing the gospel with someone! While people do sometimes get pushed closer and closer to God’s kingdom throughout their lives, our end goal is not just to bring someone to conversion. The fully developed crop represents someone who is mature in Christ! Jesus illustrates this in Matthew 13:23: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Therefore, our goal is to present others mature in Christ – bearing fruit and multiplying. Planting the seed is sharing the gospel, watering the seed is discipling those who receive the gospel, and the fully developed crop is the disciple who is mature in faith, bearing fruit and increasing.
Just to reiterate, none of the items on the list above are inherently bad. Many of them represent genuine attempts to bring God glory. That should always be celebrated. The danger we must guard against, however, is letting these things replace the proclamation of the gospel. Let us lift high the good news of the kingdom and its King, Jesus!