The Reformer, Martin Luther – a preacher of the gospel and no stranger to a fight – once said that knowing the gospel and teaching the gospel is so necessary for discipleship that we must beat it into our heads continually. Luther knew this gospel-beating was greatly needed because of our struggle against the three enemies of discipleship—the devil, the flesh and the world—all of which work to weaken and destroy disciples. Since the enemies’ assault is relentless daily, and since the gospel must sink deep into our minds and hearts continually, we need to proactively speak the gospel. We also need to have it spoken to our faces all the time. The aim of this article is threefold: 1) why we need to speak the gospel proactively into our struggles; 2) how to speak it proactively; and 3) encouragement to speak the gospel without fear. I will be talking about speaking the gospel primarily with Christians. While speaking the gospel to non-Christians is crucial for discipleship and mission, here I am concerned only with the necessity of speaking it to believers of the gospel (Eph. 4:15; Heb. 3:13).
Why Speak the Gospel Proactively
Proactively Speaking the Gospel is Different than Reactive SpeakingTypically, we speak the gospel only as a reaction to unbelief and sin, rather than as a pro-action in the struggle of discipleship. But, there is a need for both. Reactive speaking of the gospel happens when someone reveals an area of unbelief and sin to you, and you call them to repent and renew faith in the gospel. You speak the gospel as a reaction to their sin and unbelief. Proactive speaking of the gospel is different. It does not wait for the opportunity for sin to be exposed, but assumes the need for the gospel to be spoken and heard regardless of the sinful matter at hand. Proactively speaking the gospel works as a blessing or encouragement to Christians.
Jesus is Confrontational Proactive gospel-speaking confronts people directly with Jesus. This works in contrast to merely discussing Jesus. Christians love to discuss Jesus. But many find it more difficult to speak or receive the good news of Jesus face-to-face. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to just talk about Jesus, but more difficult to actually speak Jesus to someone’s face? The reason is because when we discuss Jesus, or talk about some peripheral issue of him, we are merely confronting Jesus with our questions and opinions. But when we speak Jesus to people we are confronting them with Jesus. We are speaking him to their face.
If you begin to practice this, you will find how often some Christians will dance around Jesus and move to a secondary issue, but never actually deal with Jesus. I became aware of this when for the first time I spoke the gospel proactively to some men in my discipleship group. I proclaimed just the simple truth that Jesus loves and cares for them deeply, and one of them completely derailed the moment, immediately responding with a reflection on how interesting the various names are for Jesus in the Bible. Instead of dealing with Jesus, he wanted to discuss Jesus. Please do not think that if you have a nice discussion about Jesus with someone you are speaking the gospel of Jesus to him or her. You may have dissected and defined the gospel a little more, but you did not proclaim him in the biblical way that he is meant to be proclaimed.
We Wrongly Assume Christians are Well-versed in the Gospel It is evident in America that many churched Christians are living un-gospeled lives; and one of our greatest errors in discipleship is assuming that this is not true and everyone is ‘okay’. However, the reality is that just because Christians are involved in a missional community, a discipleship group, or are putting on their happy face, this does not mean they are well-versed in actively speaking and living out the gospel. The more we wrongly assume, the more we assuage the need for gospel-centered living. Are we regularly provoked with the immensity of God’s glory, holiness and wrath, the stark reality of hell and heaven, Satan and demons, sin, idolatry and punishment? Are we at rest in the all-sufficient power and sweetness of the cross of Christ? Proactively speaking the gospel often will help us to mutually shepherd each other without assuming everything is ‘okay’, because we are all deeply sinful and flawed, and desperately in need of God’s grace.
How to Speak the Gospel Proactively
Speak the Gospel to Yourself Speak the gospel every day, numerous times a day to yourself. You will not be able to speak the gospel to other people unless you regularly speak the gospel to yourself. This is an aspect of my discipleship which I have been greatly convicted. In morning-prayer, commuting in the car, during breaks between projects, and before falling asleep, I have been practicing this discipline. It has been powerful for my own discipleship, because I’m constantly reminding myself of how much God loves and accepts me in Christ alone through the gospel.
Speak the Gospel to Your Spouse, Kids or Friends Speak the gospel to your spouse and kids (or your close friends, if you are single). Your spouse and kids are the closest and strongest community in your life. Men, you are called to shepherd your wife and kids in the gospel. Therefore, speak the gospel often to them. As a parent, you are called to raise your children in Christ. Part of that task is teaching them the Christian language of the gospel. If children primarily learn a language from their parents, then the best way to teach them the language of the gospel is by speaking it constantly to them.
Speak the Gospel to Your Community Speak the gospel proactively to your gospel community, and encourage them to do the same for each other. I have been doing this with our community, and I look forward to see how it will affect them in their discipleship. I want them to, like Jeff Vanderstelt has said, be able to speak with a gospel fluency in every way, both for their own growth and for the growth of fellow believers.
Speak the Essential Doctrines of the Gospel When I proactively speak the gospel to believers, I usually seek to mention one or more of the four main doctrines of the gospel: adoption, justification, salvation and regeneration. Here is a paraphrase:
Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we are:
- Children fully loved and accepted by our Father, adopted into his family – Adoption.
- Fully pardoned from the punishment of a holy God on our sin, now declared righteous – Justification.
- Completely saved from the clutches of Satan and hell, given eternal life with God – Salvation.
- Given a whole new life and identity by the Holy Spirit who lives in us – Regeneration.
Speak the implications of the gospel When I proactively speak the gospel to Christians, I usually include one or more of these implications. This helps to remind them of how the gospel works to change us and send us on mission. Here are implications for each doctrine:
In the gospel we:
- Have nothing to prove since we’re already fully loved, approved and valued by our Father. Therefore, we can love and serve all people, even our enemies, with no strings attached – Adoption.
- Do not need to defend our rights or control others’ opinions of us since we are not condemned. Therefore, we can live with deep humility, yet much confidence and joy – Justification.
- Have nothing to worry about or fear since nothing can separate us from our Father. Therefore, we can love and reach our neighbors with great courage and resilience. –Salvation.
- Do not need to look to anything else for identity and purpose since we have been reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can re-orient our whole lives around the mission of Jesus to make disciples – Regeneration.
Speaking the Gospel Without Fear Why do we often not speak the gospel to Christians? Why do we find it hard to tell another Christian face-to-face, even in a spontaneous moment, that they are so deeply loved by Jesus?
One reason is because we ourselves fear the confrontation of speaking the gospel to someone up close. We all are prone to avoid confrontation, and this even applies to speaking the gospel proactively. As a church planter, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunities to proclaim Jesus to a larger group of people; but this only entails speaking the gospel to people from a distance. It is very different speaking the gospel up close with someone, because, again, we are speaking Jesus to his or her face, and Jesus gets up close and personal.
We also fear our gospel-speaking might sound cute, cliché or Sunday Schoolish. Have you ever wondered why we often can tell a child face-to-face they are loved by Jesus, but we never speak those words in the same way to adults? Perhaps we fear their opinion of us, because we believe that saying simply, “Jesus loves you” does not sound sophisticated, sexy, or theologically hip. Ironically, we fear the gospel might sound childish to adults.
A final reason we do not proactively speak the gospel to Christians is because we do not yet believe the gospel in such a way that it permeates every aspect of our lives. We still live with insecurity. We lack confidence and courage. We compare and contrast ourselves with other people. We crave man’s approval. We’re easily defensive. We find worth and identity in worldly things. We look to other things for satisfaction and provision. Since we will only speak what we believe to be true in our hearts (Matt. 12:33-35), it is apparent that there are many things in our hearts we trust in, other than the gospel, for salvation. This lack of faith in the gospel naturally will be displayed in a lack of proactive speaking the gospel to ourselves and people.
Yet, in light of the gospel, you have nothing to fear. In Jesus, you are fully loved and accepted by your Father, reconciled and adopted to him, even while you are still sinful, fearful and weak. You have a Lord who, at great cost to himself, loved you faithfully, laid down his life for you and covered over you from the wrath of a holy God. You are completely saved from the devil and eternal death in hell, and guaranteed life forever with the Creator. The Holy Spirit who lives and works in you has given you a whole new life. You have a great King who overcame sin, death and hell for you. You need not fear anyone’s opinion of you, since the one true God of the universe thinks highly of his Son, and therefore, he thinks highly of you. Take great courage! Speak the gospel proactively to Christians who so desperately need to hear it often.
Derek Hiebert is a full-time disciple of Jesus, as he makes disciples with him. He is a happily married husband and teammate of eight years with his beautiful wife and helper, Colleen. He is also a proud daddy of three beautiful daughters. On the side, he is planting gospel communities in Parkland, WA, where we have one of the best miniature golf courses in the country.
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