There's this strange phrase that I've come to despise the more I get to thinking about evangelism. You may have heard it before.
"Have you obeyed the gospel?"
It's the language I've grown up with. It made sense at one point in my life. But not anymore.
Let's think about that phrase for a moment: "Obey the gospel"
Have you ever read a birth announcement from a couple who struggled to have kids and thought to yourself, "I need to obey the good news."
No! Tears flood your eyes. You probably utter a word of thanks to God for his answer to prayer. And you celebrate!
Have you ever prayed to God for a job after a long season of unemployment? When the long season of suffering is over and you agree to take that job, has it ever entered your mind to "obey the good news"?
No! You call your spouse and you say, "Put on something nice. We're going to celebrate at our favorite restaurant. No expenses spared. I got the job!"
The gospel is good news. And good news is not something you obey. It's something you celebrate.
You can't obey the gospel. You can respond to the gospel. You can receive the gospel. You can welcome the gospel. But it is impossible to obey the gospel.
We seek to obey the gospel when we misunderstood the gospel.
At one point in my tribe, the gospel was thought of as a 5-step process of being saved.
5) Be Baptized
It's possible to obey a process.
But those five steps are not the gospel. They might be a response to the good news. But they are not the good news. The good news is not about what we are to do. The good news is about what God has already done in Jesus Christ.
The gospel is an announcement. The gospel is the good news.
As I said in my last post, evangelism is not figuring out a way to break bad news to people. Evangelism is about getting to share good news with people who are in need of good news.
The good news will need different emphases for different people.
And that's why a packaged set of 6 Bible studies won't necessarily reconcile the world with God.
Jesus shared the good news of the kingdom of God in several different ways. At different points in his ministry, he compared the kingdom to a pearl, a treasure, and a mustard seed. He told parables about a lost coin, a lost sheep, and a lost son to reveal the good news of the kingdom.
Evangelism doesn't start with a prepackaged set of lessons.
Evangelism must begin with relationship. It is a good idea to get to know someone before you share the gospel with them.
What is his story?
What are her experiences with God?
What are her experiences with Christians?
What are his wounds?
What are his doubts?
What are her interests?
How does her culture impact the way she hears the story?
Your telling of the gospel should have some consistencies. The story is the story.
But I would imagine the emphasis of your telling of the gospel would change based on a person's answers to the questions above.
The gospel should be shared differently with a man on his deathbed and a teenager with her whole life ahead of her. The gospel should be shared differently with an American in New York City and an African who lives in the bush.
Missionaries intuitively know this kind of thing. They face cultural challenges that force them to tell the good news in ways that will make sense in the cultures they seek to reconcile to God.
Guess what? Missionaries aren't just people who leave their home country and share the gospel in a different culture.
You are a missionary.
Get to know the Bible. But while you're at it, get to know your culture. And share the gospel in relevant ways.
I am grateful for the gospel. I welcome the gospel.
The gospel doesn't need obedience. The gospel needs to be shared, heard, received and celebrated.
April 17, 2014
After the feedback of several friends about this post, I became aware of a couple of passages that directly mention "obeying" the gospel. I appreciate that feedback. That's what a blogging community is all about: Communal Discernment and Wisdom.
Paul talks about the need to "obey the gospel" in 2 Thessalonians 1:8. Peter uses the same language in 1 Peter 4:17.
Part 4 of this series, "The E Word," continues the conversation. You can read that post here.