Every, single believer should know how to share the gospel.
That may sound like an obvious claim, but all it takes is asking around and it soon becomes clear. Many believers claim insecurity is one of the mains reasons they do not proclaim the gospel to others. Simply put, a lot of believers, and that probably means people in your local church, are not confident sharing the gospel. In fact, you may be reading this because you are not confident sharing the gospel.
My point in writing this is not to shame anyone on the issue. Unfortunately, there is a real tendency to attempt guilt as a motivator. Not only does that not work, it is simply unbiblical. The gospel itself should be the motivator for sharing the gospel. And I firmly believe, the better we understand the gospel, the quicker we are to share it with others. This is true because of a confidence in our words, and more deeply, the impact the gospel has on our hearts when we know it well. The solution to sharing the gospel more is loving the gospel more.
Practically speaking, there are two ways to consider the gospel which aid in understanding: a thematic approach and a narrative approach. You have probably heard both, but understanding both and why they are important will help you know the gospel better and explain the gospel better.
In recent years, there has been a real renewal of approaching the gospel as a story. This is a fantastic development. We live in an age of cultural transition in North America, and that is true in many places around the world as well. Seeing the gospel as a story gets to the very heart of a person’s worldview. Everyone has a story in their head that sums up all of life and attempts to make things fit together in a way that keeps them from going crazy. Think of it as the “story of everything.” This story of everything shapes people’s view of life. They act out of it, as though it is true, and it informs their lifestyle (whether they realize it or not). This story also attempts to answer life’s big questions like: Where did it all come from?, What went wrong?, and Where is it all going?
The gospel is, in fact, the true story of the whole world. It answers all of those questions above. In its fullest form, the gospel is the story of everything. But we need to be clear that everything is not the gospel. The gospel is one, specific story, demonstrated in the Bible, that is the only true explanation of existence. It tells us that we were created by God for his glory and pleasure, that we fell into sin by our own doing and brought a curse upon all of creation. This curse has wrapped its tentacles around everything, including our hearts and wills. Our hearts are darkened and tainted. We are incapable of rising out of the mess we have made. But God, in his divine wisdom, goodness, and power had a plan in place. We saw the beginning of it in Genesis 3:15 where God promises to crush evil through the coming seed. The Bible tells the story of the coming one who could make right our wrongs. As the story develops, we find out that it is Jesus, God himself in human flesh, who will pay the penalty for this curse and in doing so defeat its effects. Jesus took the wrath we were due, and in doing so, he cleared those of us who repent and believe of our eternal punishment. Our relationship with God is restored and we have the promise of worshipping him rightly again in glory in the new heavens and new earth. What a story!
For people who grew up in church, the thematic approach is most likely the one you heard as a child. In fact, if you ever went “door-knocking” during visitation nights with your church, then you most likely used a thematic approach to sharing the gospel. Most gospel tracts take this approach, as do most gospel presentations. This is the way of the Roman’s Road, the Four Spiritual Laws, and others. In fact, this is even the way those little multi-colored bead bracelets worked in Vacation Bible School. For many this approach has fallen on hard times, claiming it is not the right way to share the gospel. Perhaps though, the bad taste to thematic gospel discussions has more to do with abuses of it than the actual approach.
A thematic approach hits on topics or themes as a means to explain the good news. Thematic gospel presentations attempt to answer the question, “What does someone need to know to believe the gospel?” Man is a sinner who needs forgiveness, and Jesus has provided a means to this forgiveness through his gracious act of substitution on the cross. He paid for our sins, because he was the only one who could pay for our sins, and in so doing gives the gift of restored relationship with God, his community the church, and eternal life in the resurrection and new kingdom to all who will repent and believe. It talks about sin and forgiveness as concepts. It explains grace and why we need it. It talks about the necessity of substitution in light of God’s wrath.
We Need to Know Both
Today, the emphasis is weighted toward a narrative approach to the gospel. This has been a healthy corrective in a changing age. Simply put, a lot of people are working with different stories than we are. Talking about sin does not work if people have a different story of everything. Odds are, they define that word different than you do. The meanings of all our old gospel words are often lost in translation today, and a narrative approach provides that foundational context necessary for people to even understand what we are saying. It does us well to know the story of the Bible in this way, so that we can answer those big questions.
However, understanding the gospel thematically is important. Truthfully, it is crucial. If we are honest, most people are not walking around asking the big questions. When was the last time someone you bumped into in a coffee shop asked you about the meaning of life (without you bringing it up as some awkward way of trying to share the story of the gospel)? Most people, at least in a North American context, are content in their worldview, so they only ask those big questions when something challenges it. That is why it is important to know the gospel both as a story and a set of themes.
Sometimes, encounters with others produce an opportunity to tell the story. Other times, you may only have a chance to talk about the news, and knowing the themes of sin, evil, grace, and forgiveness allow us to wrap our minds around how the gospel impacts day-to-day life. While the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration is compelling and puts the gospel in the context of life, a thematic approach makes it real in the everyday. Equip yourself with both. Know the true story of the whole world that can only be found in the gospel, and build your life on it. But also dwell on those great, biblical themes of sin and grace, that way you can live each moment in light of both and show others, even lost people, how those themes relate to their life today.