I believe it is imperative to talk about a common misconception that has been stuck to the Christian culture like a piece of gum on the bottom of a shoe.
This misconception, which needs to be dug at and scraped off once and for all, isthat our lives are the gospel. Yes, our actions can be persuasive, and we can be good citizens and loving neighbors, but we ourselves are never the gospel.
Hang in there and allow me to explain.
THE GOSPEL IS NEWS ABOUT JESUS
First and foremost, the gospel is news. News has to be announced, communicated, written, and delivered with words.
Think of any major news story or event: the reporter doesn’t seek to act it out. They aren’t doing anything to make the news true; they’re simply delivering a message. A reporter recounts an event that happened in space and time.
The gospel is news about an actual historical event accomplished by an actual historical person that altered history. Jesus did something that changed everything.
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word for our English word gospel means “good news.” As one scholar puts it, the word gospel is “good news concerning the now present instantiation of Jesus’ divine dominion and way of salvation by his death and resurrection.”1
THE GOSPEL IS NOT NEWS ABOUT YOU
Here’s some more good news. The gospel is not news about you and what you have done to be good. The gospel is news about Jesus. You are simply a beneficiary of this news and a recipient of this news, but you are not the news.
This is good news because you and I could never be good enough to bring ourselves salvation, let alone bring salvation to anyone else by our own goodness.
Evangelism is about announcing the goodness of another. It’s about announcing the historical reality that the goodness of Jesus brings rescue to weary sinners. He lived, died, and rose again for you and me.
I find it so confusing when I hear people say things like, “We’re just trying to live the gospel” or “We’re trying to be the gospel.” In other words, they’re associating the gospel with their good works, their moral living, or their method of evangelism.
If you do evangelism by trying to “be” the gospel, not only will you be guilty of false advertising (you’re not the Savior), but nobody will hear the real good news about Jesus Christ.
Only Jesus could live out the gospel and be the gospel (don’t burden yourself). At the very heart of the gospel is that none of us can “be” the gospel or “live” the gospel, which is why we need the one who can and did.
Although the message of the gospel might rub you the wrong way at first, it is actually really good news if you are someone committed to evangelism—you don’t have to be Jesus!
You can (and will) struggle with sin, doubt, and personal weakness and still do evangelism because you don’t have to be perfect to do it. Jesus was perfect on your behalf, and this is part of your proclamation.
OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW IS NOT THE GOSPEL
Getting the focal point of the gospel straight is huge in rightly understanding evangelism. Many Christians fear that their lives don’t match the gospel message, and that this shortcoming is a significant barrier to doing evangelism.
They’re right, of course. None of us live as we ought to 100 percent of the time. If you think you are worthy to earn the gospel based on your moral performance, you have never studied the law of God.
“For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom 3:20).
Your obedience to God’s law is not the gospel. The gospel is the gospel, and the gospel proclaims that Jesus obeyed the law on our behalf, died for our disobedience to it, and rose again to give us the Holy Spirit to pursue obedience in it.
No one is worthy but Jesus Christ, and he fulfilled all that you need in your place. Now you’re free to tell others about this grace.
GOOD DEEDS NEVER SAVED ANYONE
There is a well-known quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” This is clever, but not biblical.
This quote confuses the distinction between law and gospel. It confuses sharing the good news of what Jesus has objectively done for sinners (the gospel) and what God calls us to do in order to love and serve our neighbors (the Great Commandment, Matt 22:36–40).
The assumption of the quote is that the gospel is something we live through our actions of love toward our neighbor. But our loving actions are not the gospel.
- My argument is that when it comes to evangelism, it’s always necessary to use words, because the gospel is news about Jesus.
- The gospel centers on who Jesus is and what Jesus did and does.
- The gospel is the good news that God sent his perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to live, die, and rise again on behalf of sinners, to save their souls, and reconcile them to God.
- The gospel is expressed in Christ’s person (God and man), his works (obedience and submission to God on our behalf), his death (in our place and for our sins), and his resurrection (to grant us new life).
That is the gospel. You see, who you are and what you do don’t make the cut to be included in the news of the gospel. You are not Jesus, and you don’t need to try to be.
JESUS CHRIST IS THE GOSPEL
You and I are not the gospel; Jesus Christ is the gospel. There are four books in our Bible that we call Gospels that detail him as the hero.
You and I are not Jesus; Jesus is Jesus. Therefore, you cannot live or show the gospel; you must proclaim it.
The gospel is a message that must be preached, proclaimed, and told using words. And now we’re invited to speak with others about that good news. And this, in a nutshell, is evangelism.
Thomas Sheldon Green, Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976).
This is an excerpt from Pastor Harvey's new book Friend of Sinners: An Approach to Evangelism