One thing that has always been difficult for me to reconcile, as a Christian, is the way we try to “win” converts and the way that Jesus actually taught. Traditionally we go to unbelievers with a list of things they’re doing wrong, tell them that they’re going to end up in hell because of it and that by believing in Jesus and what He did on the cross, they can be forgiven and get into heaven. When people do accept that message and convert, we tell them to just read their bible, go to church, pray and tithe and Jesus will take care of the rest. Then we call it the Gospel, or Good News. While that’s mostly true and I know that the heart behind it, for a majority of people, is good, it’s kind of a poor “selling” technique and really it isn’t at the heart of what Jesus was getting at.
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If we take serious this command to teach all nations to observe all that He commanded, we have to look at what Jesus actually taught and commanded. As we look through scripture we see a majority of Jesus’ teaching points to things like the meek inheriting the earth, that we’re the salt and light of the earth, that we ought to love our enemy, that lust is the same as adultery, and hate is the same as murder, that we should treat others like we want to be treated and that we need to give to the needy. If you want to see what Jesus was all about, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a great place to begin learning Him.
When we start considering that teaching “all that [He] has commanded,” really starts with that kind of stuff, it’s then that we’re able to put into action His commission to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as yourself. When we look at “sharing” the Gospel, it ought to start there. It has to start with the way WE obey His command to love God and others, to which He provided us a whole sermon about what that should look like in practical terms. To be clear, it isn’t a checklist. You can’t simply print off Matthew 5-7 and run down it checking off your good deeds, though many of us might benefit from that approach. Instead it’s the outworking of seeking Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us into doers of His word. It’s a process that lasts a lifetime.
Going to people, who don’t believe in Jesus, with a list of all the ways they’re living their life wrong and how they’re offending God, might seem like the same message that Jesus taught, but it’s actually not. Did Jesus talk about hell? Yes. In Matthew 13:41-42 he said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But this was an explanation to His disciples, in private, after He taught a parable to the larger crowd. He didn’t sugar coat the fact that humanity was fallen, broken and would be eternally separated from God, if not for Him, but He also didn’t open with that. The Gospel message was never a set of rules. Instead, it was the story of God forgiving us and inviting us in.
I’ve said it before, numerous times, in John 16:9 Jesus points out that “The world’s sin is unbelief in [Him].” That should clue us into the fact that Jesus was telling us that we needed to break through that barrier first. It’s a far harder thing to convince people that they need Jesus when you open with, “you’re a drunk, so you’re headed to hell.” Instead, we see Jesus teaching truths about what it looks like to live as a citizen of the Kingdom, which looks a lot like serving and loving those that at first glance you would say didn’t deserve it. The only criteria He sets for entry into the Kingdom is that you believe in and follow Him. He invites the sinner (which FYI is you) to dine with Him and learn from Him. It’s in that process that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of their sin of unbelief, again it’s not us. Once they’re “in,” it’s the Holy Spirit that deals with the person’s righteousness.
Let’s gain some perspective here. We act like the best way to get people to follow Jesus is speaking to their specific sin acts. Then if they accept that we load them down with a list of things they shouldn’t do anymore. Then, when they leave we wonder why we can’t keep them. Could it be because they don’t actually see the genuine love of Jesus acted out by His people? Thomas spent three years WITH Jesus, in His company, and still doubted that He was who He said He was. Why do we just expect people to take our word for it and not understand when they don’t?
The gospel is not about calling out sin. It’s about pointing to Jesus, in word and deed, telling others how He sacrificed for the collective sins of the world, showing how His redemptive love transforms, allowing the Holy Spirit to move and convict, so others acknowledge their own sinfulness and surrender to their need for a savior. It’s about preaching Jesus as God, Him crucified for mercy sake, resurrected for grace sake and His return for love sake.
Paul resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Maybe it’s time that we refocus and resolve the same thing. We can present the cross in one of two ways. As a showcase for others’ sin or as a declaration of His love. They seem similar, but they’re worlds apart.