We are called to be evangelists, people who announce the “evangelion”, the “good news”, “the gospel”. But what exactly is the Gospel? If I were to answer that by handing you a copy of Luke’s Gospel alone and saying “read this”, would that be providing you with an answer to the question? Yes, it would, although, as long as it is possible, I would also make myself available for answering questions and giving understanding where I could.
There is good reason that, as evangelists, we have simplified the message that we share on the streets and in coffee shops. Most people live busy lives and their minds are full of complex issues. Often times, a person can be so preoccupied with a particular issue or issues that they can only hear one truth at a time and that is where we must start. An evangelist might talk about trusting God or finding forgiveness or a simple truth like that. All of that should be considered evangelism. It is announcing the effect of the ultimate truth of the Gospel. And the ultimate truth of the gospel is that God has brought a new reality into the world through Jesus and His resurrection.
When Jesus announces at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18), He is announcing a new reality that has broken into the world. We should be careful to remember that when we share the love of Jesus with friends, family, and strangers in the form of a word of truth or an act of kindness, we are offering an abbreviated version of the Gospel. John, the Evangelist, tells us in his Gospel that he too was giving us the short version: “There are many other things which Jesus did” he writes, “If they were written down one by one, I don’t think the word itself would be able to contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25 Therefore, short-hand is necessary when introducing somebody to the gospel. But if we want people to grow in learning to live in the light of the gospel, we need to spend time and effort to understand the fullness of the Gospel in order to sustain healthy discipleship. Sometimes we do get the opportunity to share the gospel by starting in Genesis and working our way through the death and resurrection of Jesus and even into the present day. That is rare, but it does happen and it is a great experience. I had the opportunity to share the gospel with a woman in California that way one time. She said that she knew “nothing” about Jesus. So, I started in Genesis and took the story up through the cross and resurrection and even into the present day. Her response was “that’s a lot.” But she also agreed to pray to receive Jesus and she took a Bible home with her! That was a thrilling experience! But most of the time, we are likely to need to use shorthand. Therefore, in order not to distort or short-circuit the Gospel, it is very important that we learn to understand the whole Gospel well so that when we put it in the short form, it is more potent, concise, and accurate.
This is the study of a lifetime. After all, the most impactful message any of us will ever preach is the life that we live and the way that we love. And learning to live and love like Jesus is a sanctifying work of a lifetime. So, do not wait until you have all the answers before you share the gospel. That would cause you to never share at all! Go ahead and speak! And as you do, keep re-reading the Gospels. Keep listening to the Holy Spirit and pray for understanding. Remain humble and know that you don’t need to have all the answers. But also know that answers to honest questions will come in time if we are patient. The greatest proof of the Gospel that anyone will ever receive is not a doctrine or a philosophy but the active, living presence of Jesus in our midst. The gospel is the announcement that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. Nevertheless, the written gospel of the four Gospels is the unchanging narrative that will both guide and make sense of our own personal experiences with Jesus in the world. So as long we are leaning on the living presence of Jesus in our living and speaking, and we are staying grounded in the written word, we cannot go wrong. As we do these things, we will not only lead people to Jesus, we will also grow in our faith, devotion and comprehension of the Gospel, and help others do the same.