What Is the Whole Gospel?

I recently had a conversation with a fellow believer and an important subject came up. We were talking about how to do evangelism in a residential area that they had been tasked with ministering to. As they were seeking advice and the conversation progressed, an important question came up: when you’re talking with someone, what do you have to say in order to share the whole gospel to them? Maybe it’s something a lot of people don’t think about. I’m worried that people don’t think about this. Are there certain points that you have to make when you talk about the gospel? Should more weight be given to certain subjects than others? Maybe to some people reading this it seems to formal to try and develop a method for sharing the gospel or an outline of points that may need to be made. But I think it is important to know the content of what you’re going to say to someone, because we have a message that needs to be delivered faithfully. And I think we need to practice what we say and develop a method.

Anyone who has ever done door-to-door evangelism or tried to share the gospel with a friend knows that the words may be hard to find, and that the content of the conversation and how to explain something can be difficult to work out. We should think about what to say, and be intentional about how to say it. We should think of the best way to deliver the message and practice it. How we present the gospel says something concerning what we believe to be true about the gospel, and how we present can show the people we’re telling what we think about the God we serve and what He has to say about their lives. We should care about this.

We are familiar with the common examples of a gospel proclamation, both the soft gentle ones and the hard seemingly insensitive ones. If you say something like, “Jesus loves you and will save you if you believe in Him,” then you are saying the truth. But not the whole truth. You left out a lot of important stuff. If you take the more hardened approach and say “you deserve to burn in hell, but Jesus can save you,” then it’s much the same thing. You have told the truth, but not the truth in its entirety, and additionally it seems like you didn’t really consider the gospel that you were trying to preach. And I could argue that if you don’t tell the truth in whole, it’s as bad if not worse than not telling them anything at all, because this leaves people with an incomplete and probably misleading idea about their condition. In other words, they will make conclusions that have a little bit of truth as the matter, but are false as a whole. This is both dangerous for them and unloving of us if we do this.

Before I go into the details, let me explain what I am not trying to do. I am not presenting this as the only way to effectively share the gospel. There is no one way to share the gospel that can be claimed as the best way, the way that should be used above all others. What I am saying is that if the following points are not made when sharing the gospel with someone, then you have not shared the complete gospel and you have done them a disservice. More importantly, depending on how you share the gospel you may be misrepresenting God. It is God’s message, and we are called to deliver His message faithfully as it is, not deliver it how we would like it to be or in a way that sounds good to the recipients.

Are There Bad Ways to Share the Gospel?

I have read many gospel tracts that, while well intentioned and maybe useful to certain audiences, make the gospel presentation about heaven and hell instead of about the glory and holiness of God. They say something like, “If you died today, would you go to heaven?” That’s a good question to ask, but not if it takes the place at the center, and not if just getting people to heaven is your motivation for sharing the gospel. Saying things like this draws the attention to heaven and makes the whole presentation about keeping people out of hell. The gospel presentation should be about the infinite worth of God and how they can be brought back into relationship with Him to serve and love Him and express His worth. Further, if we’re not careful when we share the gospel like this we may lead people to think that after they pray to God and the promise of heaven is theirs, their work as a Christian is done. The Christian life has just started! A whole life of serving God, daily repentance, and sanctification is ahead. Christianity is a life-long relationship, not a one-time prayer. The main goal and reward is God Himself, not deliverance from hell and eternity in heaven.

Other errors we make in presenting the gospel are due to either fear of rejection or a misguided sense of purpose. I used two examples in a paragraph above. We may emphasize that God loves people and wants to have a relationship with them, but not speak too much about the depth of their sin and how they have chosen to reject God. Or, on the other end, we may emphasize God’s judgment and make only a passing reference to God’s grace and forgiveness that is available through Christ. Both of these are dangerous proclamations of the gospel because they draw attention to certain parts of the truth at the expense of others. It seems people tend to lean either one way or the other, but we should all avoid sharing the gospel in this way.

In any of these cases, we are giving a gospel that is either made to be more palatable to the people we’re speaking to, presented while in fear of man, or shared with hardness of heart and insensitivity to what God has done in our own lives. In every instance, we are misrepresenting the gospel and God who entrusted the message to us (1 Thessalonians 2:4). It is irresponsible and inexcusable.

The Important Points

Just to be clear, I’ll say it again: I’m not saying the following is the only way the gospel should be shared. There are so many different contexts and so many different people we talk to and an infinite number of ways that God can work. It would be foolish to claim there is one ultimate way. But this is the way I was trained to share the gospel. So, what are the points that must be made in order for a gospel presentation to include the whole gospel? I believe the following five points are needed:

  1. Who God Is
  2. Man’s Purpose and Fall
  3. God’s Holy Response to Sin
  4. Jesus’s Life, Sacrifice and Resurrection
  5. The Invitation and Response

If you leave out these points, then I believe you are missing something. Let me write briefly about each of these points so I can try to get my idea across.

The Right Place to Start and End

1 – Who God Is: The Holy Creator of All

If we start with God, Who He is and how He is, then we are setting everything that follows in its proper context. We are also making God the main point, not what He can offer or do for us. We need to tell people that God is holy, which means He is far above everything else, being set apart and unable to have any sin with Him. God is moral and righteous, which means He relates to us in terms of right and wrong. God is a perfectly holy, good, pure, just, loving and wise King Who created everything and therefore rules everything. He defines what things are and how they should work, and He has the right to rule over everything and everyone. Because God is good and wise, all that He purposes is good. God created the world good and He created humans to love and serve Him and find their ultimate fulfillment in Him.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

2 – Man’s Purpose and Fall

God created us so that we would love and serve Him and exercise authority over the earth, under His good and loving rule. But man chose to put himself first and reject God’s loving rule. We have all chosen to reject God and live life our own way. The Bible calls this sin, and it’s the reason the world is in its terrible state. Pain, suffering, broken relationships with others, poverty, death; everything that is wrong with the world and with each of us is the result of sin. We are sinful, not because of acts that we do, but because of who we are.

“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

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20

3 – God’s Holy Justice

God is a holy King of infinite value. Because He is perfectly just and loving, He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. God will pour out His wrath on all sin, and the penalty we must pay for our treason is eternal separation from God. This means that we will spend eternity without life, love, or a relationship with God. Everyone deserves God’s wrath in a place called hell, where they will experience eternal, conscious torment and never have any rest from their suffering. God will not allow us as His creation to look at His infinite worth and live as though He has no worth.

“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

4 – Jesus’s Life, Sacrifice and Resurrection

We are in a desperate situation, and we can do nothing about our sin. But God does not desire anyone to spend eternity separated from Him. Because of His great love and mercy, He sent His Son Jesus Christ. God stepped down and became a man to live among us. Jesus did what we could never do and lived a perfect life. He never sinned and always did what was pleasing to God, and even though He is the One person who has never deserved to die, we nailed Him to a cross and murdered Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and experienced the full weight of God’s justice. And though He died, three days later God resurrected Him, defeating death. Jesus is now in heaven and is Lord of all.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

5 – Invitation and Response

God offers forgiveness to anyone who turns from their life of sin and accepts the sacrifice of Jesus by faith. If you acknowledge that you have been living in rebellion against God, confess that you are wrong and that you will live with Jesus as Lord of your life, surrendering everything to Him and putting your trust in Him for salvation, then God will save you. Jesus demands that you give Him everything, and He promises that He will save you, never leave you, and only do what is for your good.

It is not possible to be confronted with the gospel and not make a response. If you decide to not choose, that’s really the same thing as rejecting God, and you remain under His wrath. There is no question of your desperate condition or guilt, because God has already pronounced all of us condemned (John 3:18, 36).

You have a choice. You can come to God and be saved and have abundant life, or live life your way and not ever experience the deeply satisfying joy and fulfillment that only comes by having a relationship with God. These are the only two ways. Will you accept God’s offer of forgiveness and His grace?

“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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on Him.” John 3:36

The Whole Message

These are important points. It’s important that we start with God because He is the main focus, the center of everything, the reason for everything existing. It’s only in relation to Him that anything can have a definition and purpose. We must tell them of their sinful condition, otherwise there is no need to talk about a Savior. We must with broken hearts and great urgency tell them that they are headed towards and eternal hell where they will experience God’s just punishment of their sin, for if we don’t there is a lesser sense of the great depths God promises to rescue them from. We must tell them of the perfect One, Jesus, Who humbled Himself and gave Himself for them so that they could have a relationship with God. We must tell them of His resurrection, for how can we leave out the great victory Jesus achieved over death? We must urge them to respond.

Some of these things are difficult to say, and some of them are unpleasant to think about. But we must give the whole gospel, not a version of it that leaves out how great a person’s sin is, or neglects to warn them about their certain eternity in hell. We must also be ever gracious and loving and compassionate and patient, following the example of Jesus. Speak truth and grace, never emphasizing one to the neglect of the other.

Oh, how much more I could say but time would prevent me!

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