Let’s say you have been intentionally pouring your efforts and love into a particular non-Christian friend’s life for years. You have worked hard at guiding your conversations toward spiritual things, and progress has only been miniscule and bit by bit. But recently your friend, due to some hard and humbling circumstances that have come into his life, suddenly says to you, “Okay, tell me what this Christianity stuff is all about.” What would you say? Could you explain the gospel clearly in that moment?
I am not asking you whether you know the gospel because, if you are a believer, I assume that you do. The question is whether you are ready to explain it clearly.
I know how to properly kick a soccer ball because I have been doing it since I was four. But I have learned from coaching, that passing that knowledge on is not easy. I have put in hours of thought on how to explain a simple kick that is so natural and obvious to me. I’ve learned to break it down into a four-step process, so as to communicate it clearly. That’s how it is with the gospel: we know it instinctively, but articulating it clearly is a whole other matter.
Recently a famous Christian artist was asked in an interview to explain his understanding of the gospel. And this was his answer:
What a great question. I guess probably . . . my instinct is to say that it’s Jesus coming, living, dying, and being resurrected and his inaugurating the already and not yet of all things being restored to himself . . . and that happening by way of himself . . . the being made right of all things . . . that process both beginning and being a reality in the lives and hearts of believers, and yet a day coming when it will be more fully realized. But the good news, the gospel, the speaking of the good news, I would say is the news, I would say is the news of his kingdom coming, the inaugurating of his kingdom coming . . . that’s my instinct.
Now I actually love his answer because it’s so real. We can hear in his response that this is a guy who is a believer, who loves Jesus, who reads his Bible, who is theologically educated, who likes to talk about his faith, and who has some really good things to say. But we also hear that when it comes to explaining the gospel (which I have no doubt he knows), he is completely unclear. A non-Christian would have no idea what he was talking about.
The problem is that his explanation came out of “instinct”—not practice. Here’s the deal: if you think when the moment finally comes and your friend is ready to listen, that the gospel will flow “instinctively” and smoothly off your lips because, after all, you’ve been a Christian for years, you are wrong! It will come out of your mouth and fall on the floor in a muddled mess.
To be effective witnesses we must work at gospel clarity! We must work at being able to take what we know in our heads and hearts and clearly express it out of our mouths.
Three Disciplines of Clarity First, memorize a few Scriptures that sum up the key components of the gospel such as Romans 3:23–24; 5:8–9 or Ephesians 2:8–9 or 1 Corinthians 15:1–5. But don’t just memorize these verses; spend time meditating on them noting how they communicate each element of the gospel (God as creator, man’s sin, God’s judgment, Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection, repentance and faith). If you know just one or two of these verses thoroughly, you will have a great start in sharing the gospel with clarity. In a pinch you will be able to quote one of these verses or write it out for the person with whom you are sharing, and then you can use it as a guide to your conversation, even circling the key words as you explain them. Not only will the content of the verses keep your conversation on track, but also, by simply quoting them to your friend, you will grace him or her with the seed of God’s powerful Word, which the Holy Spirit may implant and begin to cultivate.
Second, make a gospel road map in your Bible. Simply take your Bible and a highlighter and mark a sequence of verses that take you through the gospel. Then, in the margin next to the verses, jot notes about what you want to say, along with the reference to the next verse you need. This way, when the opportunity to share arrives, all you will have to remember is the reference to the first verse of your sequence. And if you can’t remember that verse, just keep it tabbed in your Bible. I am not the best at memorizing verses, so this was my method for years. A good example of this method is what is called “The Roman Road.” It’s easy because it follows Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; and 10:9 right through the gospel. And there are lots of great supporting verses right there in the context of the book of Romans.
Third, learn a rote gospel presentation. Yes, I am talking about one of those presentations that they sometimes offer as an evangelism course at church, the ones that you may think are “canned” and corny and come with a matching gospel tract. You have been avoiding these presentations like the plague because you fear you’ll have to do door- to-door evangelism. I have taken a few of these courses on gospel presentation, and let me tell you what I have gotten from them:
- They help me wrestle with the logic of the gospel.
- They make me memorize key gospel verses, which is reason enough to take the course.
- They teach me transition sentences that help me so that I don’t get stuck in one part of the gospel and can’t remember what comes next.
- They often give me great illustrations that help me explain hard concepts like the nature of sin.
- They keep me on track so that I can get through the whole gospel message . . . even when my friend keeps asking about aliens or The DaVinci Code.
- They lead the listener to a point of decision.
And the truth is that they only sound canned or awkward if you fumble through them because you haven’t learned them well. Learn them well and the framework will become part of how you naturally think, so that the words and ideas will flow off your lips like they’re your own. It will almost be like you’re speaking out of instinct!
I presently use a gospel presentation put out by some Aussies called “Two Ways to Live.” It’s a series of six boxes that you can draw as you speak. In each box you sketch stick figures and write verses that flow clearly and concisely through the logic of the gospel. (See www.GodlyYoungMan.org.) This framework has become such a part of how I think that even when I am not drawing the boxes, they still guide my gospel conversations. I have even come to the place where I check off (in my head) what box we left off at when the conversation gets interrupted—so that later I can pick it up right where we left off!
So step up your efforts and take a good evangelism presentation class. Put in the work for the sake of gospel clarity!
This excerpt is adapted from R. Kent and Carey Hughes’ book, Disciplines of a Godly Young Man.
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois where he served as pastor for 27 years. He has authored numerous books for Crossway, including Disciplines of a Godly Man. He is also the series editor and a contributor to the popular Preaching the Word series. Hughes now lives in Washington state with his wife, Barbara, and is the father of four and grandfather of an ever-increasing number of grandchildren. Carey Hughes (MTh, Moore College, Sydney) is senior pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Spokane, Washington, and former Junior High director at College Church in Wheaton.