Are we sharing the [Whole] Gospel? – Gospel Series Part 1

When I was young, I remember being terrified at the thought of talking to people about the Gospel.
I worried about what I would say to someone who wanted to be saved. I knew I was supposed to share the Good News, but I didn’t know what that meant exactly. I was taught to use a handful of key verses as anchors for teaching salvation. These verses pointed out the necessity of belief and repentance. Then you were supposed to say a private prayer to God inviting Jesus into your heart and baptism followed. To be fair, I was quite young when all this occurred, so there might have been more to it than that.

It almost seemed as though salvation was the last step in the process, rather than the first. Like once salvation occurred everything would come to me and all I had to do was get other people to that step.

I attempted to memorize those key verses to be ready to give them and practiced my testimony (story of how I became a Christian)…which wasn’t anything spectacular. Most interactions I had seen where someone desired to be saved, the emphasis of those teaching was on their own testimony, which is sometimes inspiring but is not necessarily helpful when discussing or explaining the Gospel in the Scriptures. It seemed implied that I would just know how to share the Good News and it seemed to me that my next step after salvation was to go about telling others right away. The message was clear: Share the Good News of Jesus! But I didn’t understand how to explain it further and what to do next. I always had the impression God would give me the words and I never felt like that happened. I still tried to live my own life as a Christian to the best of my limited knowledge, but I felt unequipped to begin to study the Bible more deeply and begin to mature in my understanding despite continuing to attend church services. When it came to other people, I avoided sharing the Gospel and hoped no one would ask me how to be saved.

If I’m honest, I avoided these kinds of discussions far into my adult life. I think one of the reasons I avoided them is because I hadn’t gone beyond the standard responses that were shown to me, though I was usually attending services and Bible study classes. I knew that everyone needed salvation, but I didn’t fully understand the details. I had no idea how to answer questions like:

  • What does the Bible say is sinful that society says is not?
  • Can I lose my salvation?
  • What laws should I obey as a Christian?
  • What is Baptism and why is it needed?
  • Why don’t we do things that people of the Old Testament used to do? Animal sacrifices, the Temple?
  • Why is the method for salvation different from some of my friends who were also Christians?
  • What is the difference between the many different churches today?

The reality is, I didn’t know much more than reciting those basic ideas for almost 15 years because I didn’t know how to go deeper in my understanding of the Bible as a whole. I should have asked someone, but I didn’t. How could I have an answer for people when I could only offer a few verses. What if they didn’t understand and needed me to explain? I couldn’t.

After changing congregations, I learned more key verses from the Scriptures that specifically outline how one is saved in response to the Good News: hear, believe, confess, repent, be baptized, and remain faithful until death. Many of you may be familiar with a version of these equations. The 6 step process seemed more complete and in alignment with the sum of the Scriptures about Salvation that I had read, so I kept those verses handy. I didn’t realize yet that clarifying the key verses wasn’t really enough. That approach doesn’t fully preach the Gospel.

In what I’m sure is an innocent attempt to model evangelism, I was taught approaches like these for sharing the Gospel. I have seen these same kind of simplified approaches many times among Christians and in many pamphlets and TV programs. You share some convincing verses and testimonies and invite the person to church. And that’s all you had to do!

As I began the hard work of studying the Bible more thoroughly with my husband guiding me, I began to see the pitfalls in that approach. While this method might help to make evangelism less intimidating, I believe it’s leaving out crucial aspects of the Gospel and might unintentionally foster a lack of emphasis on Bible study and growth in the knowledge of God’s word. In fact, it can unintentionally emphasize the person who spoke to them (maybe a particularly inspiring testimony) rather than the Bible…‬‬

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—” ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Our job as new Christians is to begin with the spiritual “milk” of the Scriptures, not necessarily teaching others. We should absolutely share our exciting news, but God’s light is best shown through our example of a changed life and at the start of that journey, we need to stay focused on learning. I love this translation which emphasizes that we might grow into salvation by longing for this understanding of more basic or elemental principles of the Bible. Learning about salvation doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it is a process. The process begins with studying scriptures, then believing them enough to commit to salvation and then, later, teaching if you have continued to study and learn (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Studying the overarching story of the Bible used to be a very foreign thing to me. I was used to topically searching for individual scriptures for application, but not sitting down to understand the meta-narrative as it is sometimes called. Sound familiar?

To be clear, searching the scriptures about our life circumstances is not wrong! In fact, it is a big part of Christianity. The Scriptures are intended to be used as the standard of our lives and we do well to assess them.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”. 2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

However, I was still missing a more complete understanding….The problem with that approach is if you are only searching the Bible for things that apply to you (worry, direction on life decisions, and knowing God are a few of mine), then you are often missing the bigger picture and any ideas that might be different than your view that you might come across when studying the Bible more holistically.

The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:160‬

As I began to dig into the Scriptures, I gained confidence in my understanding of the key verses I knew because I began to understand the deeper ideas behind them. The ”sum of God’s word is truth” and I began to see the more full and complete truth as I studied. Similar to the briefings I had to give in the military, understanding the topic 3 levels deeper than the presentation helps give you confidence in what you are speaking about. I hated being asked to brief on a topic I wasn’t familiar with and I was especially terrified of questions. I feared teaching even a children’s Bible study for the same reasons.

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭5:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is a time for “spiritual milk” of the word of God and we should embrace this time for new Christians. We don’t want to distract new believers with the weight of understanding how to teach…we want to help them embrace learning! So that they can grow into more mature things later!

Within 2 years of deeper study I became more confident in my understanding as I began to appreciate the bigger picture of the story of the Bible and the possibility of a conversation about salvation became less worrisome along the way.

So as one fear ebbed, a new fear emerged. I started to fear that I wouldn’t be able to teach others because I didn’t understand it well enough yet…expecting perfection of my knowledge and understanding. It made sense that I would become overwhelmed. I wasn’t in the practice of studying the Scriptures in this way before and it was going to take some time. But the interesting thing about the Scriptural example of milk for a child and solid food for an adult is that you can teach the basics if you were fully immersed in the basics, while working through the solid food aspects of the Bible.

I was encouraged to teach before I felt ready (do we ever feel ready?). A teacher was needed for the elementary school class in our congregation and I didn‘t feel equipped. But I had to remember that God’s words are meant to equip me (remember 2 Tim 3:16 above?!). Once you have established a practice of studying the Bible, you can be ready to teach others and continue learning at the same time!

As I taught that elementary age class, I learned so much! That is also where I became passionate about using approaches from children’s Bible classes for adults. I still use a Children’s Bible as a regular part of my own study and I love learning songs to help me memorize Bible verses and ideas. They are so helpful!

Through that experience and some good advice, I realized that I don’t have to be an expert at the whole Bible before teaching–others can join me along the path. Those children helped me to learn even more with their impressively deep questions. As I continued teaching, my understanding of the Bible timeline and where stories fit in increased rapidly. My fear that I would never get to a place of understanding was overcome faster than I could have imagined! Thanks be to God! And to those who urged me forward :).

I believe, as Christians, we have watered down (possibly innocently enough) the message of the Gospel. Don’t get me wrong, all of those salvation verses are important ideas in Scripture. But if we share the “Good News” of Christ by simply stating that Jesus saved us from sin (John 3:16) and offer a few verses and send them to services, then why would we expect that they would become a diligent student of the Bible and begin the hard work of assessing our lives by the new standard of the word of God if they don’t know how to study it?

Those Scriptures may be enough to get a few people started but they are often still in desperate need of a guide as they try to navigate the Bible (see my blog post about ignorance). That type of help is not likely to come from a sermon once a week or a general Bible study as a group where questions and explanations are not always possible. Evangelism is not a short, temporary, or easy thing all the time and that’s ok. Especially in today’s time, there is a desperate need to unravel all of Satan’s lies that are attached to people’s ideas of God, religion, the Bible, and the Gospel.

We want them to be fully convinced and understand for themselves how it is that the Bible holds the words of LIFE and how to attain it! Listen to Paul as he shares the need to proclaim the Gospel in the letter to the Roman Christians!

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?

And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?

And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

But they have not all obeyed the gospel.

For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:14-17

This is important work! But not all will choose to obey the Gospel, as these verses make very clear. Our job is simply to clearly state the whole Gospel and how to fully obey the Gospel of Christ.

If we want to better understand the full meaning of the Gospel, we first need to understand what the Gospel is. Part 2 of this blog will be posted soon to explain exactly that! And Part 3 will help tie in the full meaning of the Gospel and how to fully respond in obedience to it. I hope you will stay with me on my first Blog series!

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