My wife and I often speak in a sort of code. If we’re discussing, say, whether or not to crack open a watermelon after dinner, we will describe the melon, or spell the word. But we never say the word “watermelon.” That’s because our two-year-old is listening, and we don’t want her to understand enough to get excited before we’ve actualyactually decided if we’ll eat the thing. When we’re familiar with the gospel, it’s all too easy to use similar code language—by accident. We can easily speak around the gospel without ever actually articulating it. But unlike our family’s watermelon, the gospel is something we always want people to understand. Do you say enough for someone to be saved?
Do You Say Enough for Someone to Be Saved?
There’s always more you can say about the gospel. We have 66 books of the Bible that all contribute to our understanding of and confidence in the gospel. But this is the question I try to ask of every sermon I preach: Was there enough in there for someone to be saved if this was their first time hearing a Christian talk? Or have I just talked around the gospel in such a way that only those who already know it would have any idea what I’m talking about?
In terms of simplicity and clarity, it’s difficult to improve on the summary of the gospel as God, Man, Christ, and Response. To this day, in personal conversation, I will count out these categories on my knuckles to make sure I don’t forget to cover each one. God is holy, man has sinned against him, but Christ came to die for our sins on the cross so that whoever Responds by believing in him will not perish but receive eternal life.
Below I want to consider three aspects of the gospel message that Christians tend to forget. I hope that in drawing attention to them, and briefly stating why they are important, I will help you communicate the gospel to those around you more clearly.
The Weight of the Problem: Sin
The Bible’s testimony about humanity is not good. Because of Adam’s sin, we are now born “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). The only inheritance we deserve is God’s judging anger. We are born dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1).“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12).
The problem we face is our wicked rebellion against the Lord. For that, all of humanity deserves eternal damnation. And we cannot help ourselves out of the situation.
The thing is, it’s not good manners to bring that sort of thing up at a dinner party. So instead, in conversation, it’s easy to downplay the problem of sin out of a vague sense of politeness. We speak vaguely about “getting right with God,” or we focus on the positive message of “having a relationship with God.” Neither of which are wholly wrong—they just leave the impression that our biggest problem is a lack of friends, not a lack of righteousness. When we downplay the problem, we also downplay the solution. And in our faith, the solution isn’t simply a clear answer—it’s our all-sufficient, gracious Savior whom we tend to downplay.
The Need to Respond: Faith
Similar to speaking about sin, I’ve seen Christians unintentionally glide around the need for a response. I don’t think Christians leave it out because they think it’s unimportant. Rather, in conversation, many of us function like water—we choose the path of least resistance. Simply describing what you believe about Jesus produces far less friction than telling the person across the table they must also believe the same thing.
For years, I consistently forgot to make explicit the need for a response of repentance and faith. I told myself that if someone understood the depth of the problem and the goodness of Christ’s atoning death, they would believe. I was helped by seeing a man attend church for years with his family. He agreed that the facts of the gospel were true—that he was a sinner, that God was holy, that Jesus really had lived, really was God, and had died as a sacrifice. But it made no difference in his life. He believed it was accurate but lived as though it was irrelevant. He needed to respond not merely by acknowledging the facts about Christ but by relying on the person of Christ for salvation.
Isn’t that what we see starting from the first Christian sermon at Pentecost? When Peter described the facts, that they were culpable for having killed the Messiah, the crowd cried out, “What must we do to be saved?” The facts alone were not enough to save them. They needed to “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
The Assurance of Salvation: The Resurrection
For whatever reason, the resurrection doesn’t seem that integral to us for the basic gospel message. Yet that’s not how Paul saw it. In summarizing what we must do to be saved, he says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Or consider 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not only a vindication, or proof, that his sacrifice was effective (though it is that—c.f. Acts 17:30–31). It also means we have a living Savior! And where is he now? Seated at the right hand of the Father! He ascended to heaven to send us the Helper (John 14:15-26), the Holy Spirit, who not only strengthens us in our proclamation but also enables dead eyes to see and dead hearts to love. The Spirit is active in the world because Jesus, along with the Father, has sent him! Jesus wasn’t just the sacrifice for our sins— he is the high priest who even now effectively applies that salvation at the heavenly altar. Even now he lives and pleads for me!
The resurrection is the answer to the question, “Why does faith guarantee that God will forgive and bless me?” Because Jesus is alive, and he is affecting what he promised.
Gospel Clarity Around the Resurrection
Including the resurrection in your explanation of what Christ has done isn’t simply so the person you’re sharing with knows Jesus is alive (though it is important for that!). It also lays the foundation of assurance we can have in the gospel. That is, if we repent and believe in Jesus, we have an imperishable inheritance already secured for us (1 Peter 1:3–4).
One of the great benefits of growing in gospel clarity is that as you learn to speak with more specificity. You will love Christ and thank the Father more concretely. The other benefit is that you will find yourself saying enough for someone to listen to you and be saved.