On the surface it may seem a strange statement: how can one spread the good news of Jesus Christ dying for the sins of the world wrong? Well, obviously you could start sprouting heresy and that would be a problem but let’s say that what you’re saying is theologically correct then is it still possible to be going about things the wrong way?
My answer would be yes and sadly I would have to go further and say that the church today, as a general rule, has lost the plot when it comes to spreading the gospel. I realized this the other year at the CU carol service after I regretted bringing my non-Christian friend along because while what he heard was technically speaking completely true he didn’t hear what he needed to hear because the speaker didn’t tell him what he should have told him. My friend heard a lot about Jesus and how he died for us and how much Jesus loved him and how much Jesus wanted him to be saved which is all good and right and true and also entirely useless.
My friend currently thinks he does not need to be saved because his family religion and general good works will save him. This, I imagine, puts him into a similar situation to a lot of people today. So telling him about how much Jesus loved him only served to reinforce his self-righteousness. What my friend needed to hear because he is unwilling to admit it is how much of a wretched, miserable, filthy, vile, corrupted sinner he is standing before a perfect holy God. He needed to be told of Hell, judgement and the dangers of not repenting, he needed to be told that his desperate need was for Jesus.
This example serves well to illustrate the failure of a lot of modern evangelism:
Does not aim for conviction of sin
So much of modern evangelism skirts the issue of sin, Hell and the wrath of God being set against wickedness. This is madness. Worse, it’s lying by omission and preaching a gospel not found in Scripture. We should follow the example of Jesus Christ who regularly warned his listeners of the eternal consequence of their disobedience. After all Paul explains that:
“ The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Romans 1v18-19) So bearing that in mind then it’s not as if we’re saying anything unbelievers don’t already know.
The first sermon Jesus preached was: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4v17) Notice the following: this is above all else a warning with the implication being that lack of repentance is a bad thing. Repentance means to turn away from sin which means that there is sin to be turned away from. It’s also good to note that in the many sermons recorded in Acts then the preachers do a similar thing. Peter regularly reminded the Jews that they are guilty for the blood of Christ.
Scared to give offence
By this I do not mean that the gospel should be preached in a way that is rude or obnoxious (rather it should be preached out of love and with grace) but the church today seems to have forgotten that our gospel is offensive. Of course it is! It is our business to tell people that they need to be reconciled to the very God they are actively in rebellion against. The offence of the cross falls heavy on the backs of unbelievers. After one of Jesus’ sermons the following happened:
“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” Luke 4 v 28 – 30
Was there ever a more loving and gracious preacher than our Lord Jesus? And yet his listeners were so angry they tried to murder him. Our gospel creates this kind of response so we should stop pretending it doesn’t.
In a hand wringing bid to give no offence at all then the church today waters down the truth of the gospel and seeks to present a gospel that could not possibly offend leaving out sin and the awful anger of God against it. If Jesus can’t do that then why do we even try? Let us embrace the offence of the cross and declare it far and wide!
Lifestyle choice not command
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Acts 4 v 12.
All too often salvation is presented as a lifestyle option, just add Jesus to your life and it will be worth it, in the same way you might always buy the Telegraph then buy brand Jesus. What drivel. As Peter says in one of his sermons there is only one name by which we must be saved. Salvation is a command not an option, extra or pretty good thing. One does not ‘give Jesus a try’. Either you come to him in repentance and faith or you do not come to him at all.
Assumes neutrality and rationality
All the above errors are connected and a lot of them have the root in the assumption that an unbeliever is a rational individual who is basically neutral to the gospel and that is how they will receive the gospel message.
Well, once again the Bible paints a different picture. Let’s take the example of Festus who in his ‘rationality’ and ‘neutrality’ said about Paul: “At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defence. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane." (Acts 26v24). This is the reaction of the unconverted man to the gospel message. Perhaps Paul had Festus in mind when he wrote:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they [spiritual things] are discerned only through the Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 2 v 14.
The simple fact of the matter is that people are by their nature opposed to God and the truth of the gospel. They are in rebellion against truth and righteousness and are neither neutral or rational. They assume that the gospel is foolishness, without the Holy Spirit then no one would understand the gospel message!
Assumes man can get to God
At the risk of repeating myself the greatest mistaken of a lot of evangelism today is that it has forgotten that it is God alone who saves. Only the work of the Holy Spirit within an individual can enable a person to see the truth, turn and be saved. On his own then the natural man neither seeks God or understands the gospel message. Man can’t find God. And we need to stop preaching as though he can. We need to start preaching as though entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit and that involves preaching the full message of the gospel, aiming for conviction of sin and then moving onto the salvation to be found in Christ.
If you still have doubts about all that I’ve said then I present myself as an example of the stubborn blindness of man. For all my life I’ve gone to church and heard the gospel preached, I’ve known that Jesus died for my sins for as long as I can remember and yet I remained unconverted for eighteen of those years. I could agree others were sinful but not me; others needed Christ, I didn’t; my own righteousness would save me for I was blind to the truth and it was all foolishness to me.
It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came and took the question: are you living a distinctive life for Christ? and opened my eyes to the truth that I wasn’t and that I had to be, that I became converted and gave my life to Christ.
“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. “
2 Corinthians 2 v 15 - 16