The one thing I wish I knew when I started sharing my faith is… the gospel!
Growing up in a Christian home I made an initial decision to follow Jesus at the age of ten, but then spent the next seven years working out what that actually meant for my life whilst wanting to pursue all my youthful interests. My life didn’t look all that different to my non-Christian friends much of the time, but here and there the ‘following Jesus’ thing clicked and life took on a holier expression (usually around my church’s mission weekend!).
Whether I was in a holy phase or not, I always enjoyed talking about faith. Conversation came easily to me with my peers and adults. I got involved in the Christian Union at school. I was happy to invite friends to my church youth group. I went on a few summer mission trips. I enjoyed thinking about and trying to answer the questions my friends had. I loved going to the movies and making connection points from pop culture to my faith.
As I reflect on those things I can see some brilliant building blocks for being an evangelist, and yet there was something crucial missing. I didn’t really understand the gospel. I was following Jesus – or so I thought – by going in his general direction, but I wasn’t submitted to him as Lord. I’m not sure I could have even told you what that meant.
I went to church. I prayed. I knew a bunch of bible stories. I was happy to be open about being a Christian with those around me, but I didn’t really understand the cross beyond Jesus ‘taking my place’. I didn’t understand sin beyond doing ‘bad stuff’. I didn’t understand that God is King beyond his ‘all powerful’ status, or what that might mean for me getting off the throne of my life.
Paul writes to the Corinthians,
“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:1-2)
I love how Paul expresses keeping the main thing the main thing here. The story of Jesus and his crucifixion (assuming the life before and the resurrection that follows, as revealed in the rest of Paul’s writing) is the message we live in and speak out.
The gospel is not a set of precepts or facts to be learned, nor merely an interesting person to go on a life journey with. It is the truth about the King of the universe, our rebellion against him, his loving action to win us back and glorify himself, and the life we can have if we respond to him as Lord of all.
I wish I had known the gospel in my heart, understanding earlier that Jesus is not merely to be followed as a wise guru in the hope of receiving enlightenment, but submitted to as Lord in the assurance of receiving his Spirit.
I wish I had known the gospel in my head so that I could have explained with simplicity and clarity the full story of Jesus – life, ministry, death, resurrection, return – to all who needed to hear not simply a ‘better way’, but the truth that sets people free.
To know the gospel in these ways is to move beyond merely following an inspirational person, beyond a powerful life philosophy or moral framework, beyond a simplified assurance of what comes after death. It is, as Paul goes on to say in his letter:
“… a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (v4-5)
This power comes as we submit to Jesus as Lord and proclaim His story (more fully: creation to consummation) to the world with our lips and our lives in the blessed assurance of the coming Kingdom.
1. How deep is your understanding of the gospel?
2. Where does this understanding come from – The Bible? Preaching? Church? Tradition?
3. What does it truly mean to know the gospel, and how does this impact your witness into the world?