Sharing the Gospel Simply
How many non-Christians do you converse with face-to-face on a regular basis outside of normal working hours? With how many of them do you share the gospel? In my experience it seems that many within Presbyterian and Reformed circles do not have very many acquaintances outside of the Church. Unfortunately, this negatively affects the way one shares the gospel. Before I go any further, however, you may be wondering how I know that many Christians within our circles do not have numerous unbelieving acquaintances and/or friends with whom they converse and with whom they spend time on a regular basis. While I am not implying this universally, I know this because I have asked people how and with whom they spend their time. Overwhelmingly, outside of normal day-to-day activities (e.g., employment and family time), the Christians to whom I spoke are otherwise at church activities or spending time with other Christians. In other words, they do not spend very much time with unbelievers.
I, for one, am extremely thankful that brothers and sisters in Christ spend time together. I repeatedly emphasize to the saints at our church that they need to open their homes to each other and spend time together. It presents great opportunities to get to know each other, break bread, and talk about our Triune God. If, however, the only ones with whom you spend time and to whom you talk about God are Christians, it can negatively affect your ability to share the gospel simply.
Several years ago, I took students from Westminster Seminary California (my alma mater) to the local university on a regular basis. The point was to share the gospel, invite college students to church and/or into our homes, and get to know them. On several occasions, the seminary students were shocked at just how willing the university students would converse with them about Christianity. That was the good news. The bad news was that some of the seminary students did not know how to talk about Jesus without using words like justification, imputed righteousness, consummation, the kingdom of God, or Christian cliches like, covered in the blood. In fact, some of the students admitted that they could not share the gospel simply because they had been immersed in using seminary/biblical/theological language or categories.
I am sure words like justification and consummation seem easy enough to avoid, but what about other parts of our vocabulary that we so easily use and, perhaps take for granted, that those words need to be explained? Words like God, judgment, sin, gospel, and righteousness also require explanation. What is sin? Who determines its definition? Sin against whom? God? Which god? Perchance there was a time in the United States when many of those words did not require a definition and maybe an illustration, but they do now. Walking up to someone, therefore, on a college campus or anywhere else (e.g., during a conversation with your neighbor) and saying, "Have you heard the gospel?" or any derivative thereof is not the most effective way to enter a conversation about the Lord. What is the gospel? Many, maybe most, unbelievers do not use that language, and unless they have had a religious upbringing, the word gospel means nothing to them.
If you have shared the gospel with unbelievers for any length of time, you have likely found yourself in this position (i.e., having to explain everything in relation to the gospel). Our culture, at least in my experience, demands that. If you are not, at least partly immersed in the culture, particularly as it relates to non-Christian friends, you will use the language of the Bible, without explanation, to share the gospel and you may miss your target.
The biblical and theological language that we utilize with our Christian friends is good, but please consider altering your language and explaining what you say while sharing the gospel with unbelievers. If not, you may as well be speaking in tongues to them (1 Cor. 14:20-23).
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