In a recent newspaper editorial in the Toronto Sun, columnist Marianne Meed Ward commented on the Jews for Jesus Behold Your God campaign and concluded: At the risk of suggesting that Behold Your God is redundant, I suspect that most Jews in Toronto are well aware of the other faith options available to them, including Christianity. If they reject it, it’s because they don’t want to be Christians no matter how Messianic Jews dress up the faith.”
Ms. Ward’s editorial makes reference to her own evangelical upbringing, yet she does not seem to understand the fundamental reality of the gospel. Like many others, she refers to the Christian gospel as though it would be one of several truth claims vying for a hearing in the open marketplace of ideas. Spiritual investigation, therefore, becomes a kind of religious comparison-shopping expedition. Potential buyers examine various religious wares on display, perhaps try a few on for size, then pick the one that suits them best.
But the gospel is not an option to be considered alongside other truth claims. It is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The church of Jesus Christ is not a fraternity seeking members. It is the community of the redeemed, the body of believers against whom the gates of hell will not prevail.
I am perplexed by Christians who treat the gospel as though it is the best of a host of options for people to consider. Some spend their time trying to convince people that our option is best when in fact there is no other option. Our witness is weakened because we look to argue rather than declare, to persuade with clever arguments instead of simply explaining what God has said.
Recently, I was handing out gospel tracts in downtown San Francisco. A man in his mid-forties approached me and began to rail against Christians. He was quick to let me know that he had a degree in philosophy and had found the Christian worldview simplistic and untenable. I could sense my pride beginning to rise up within me and I was tempted to argue, to prove I could hold my own in a debate with this man. But I guess the Lord cared more for this man than I did because He pulled me up short.
I suddenly said, “Before we go any further, may I just explain to you what it is that I actually believe?” He agreed and I told him in as direct a way as I knew how the gospel message. By the time I finished, this man had tears in his eyes. He then told me about his life, the disappointments he had endured and the struggles he was facing. I offered to pray for him and he gladly accepted the offer. Right there on that busy corner I laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed to the same God who, just minutes earlier, this man claimed did not exist.
What happened? What changed? It wasn’t clever arguments or eloquent words that transformed the interaction. It was the simple gospel message. That is the power of God.
Sometimes we get too sophisticated for our own good. We make things more complicated than they need to be. It is easy to become enamored with our apologetics and our fancy methodologies and forget the power of God. People need to know what the gospel is, not necessarily all the reasons why they should believe it. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. It is the simple good news of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection that is the power of God that changes the hearts of those who believe.
Mission experts often point to Paul’s evangelism on Mars Hill in Athens as a wonderful example of how to use apologetics to persuade skeptics. In fact, Mars Hill was not Paul’s most successful outreach. Only a few believed (Acts 17:34). Maybe that is why, when Paul went on to Corinth he stated clearly that he “…did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the story of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). This is the power of the simple gospel message. Paul had a fruitful ministry in Corinth and he stayed there for much longer than he had been in Athens.
Time and time again as we conduct our Behold Your God campaigns in cities around the world, we discover people who have not heard a clear and simple presentation of the gospel before. Many of these cities are well populated with churches and Christians who believe the gospel to be true. During our Cleveland campaign, many believers, including several pastors, thanked our campaigners for being out on the streets with the gospel. It was encouraging to hear Christians tell us they want to do a better job of getting out the gospel.
In contrast, a group of pastors in Paris, France met to decide how to respond to the increasing government restrictions on literature distribution in their city. These men concluded that street evangelism just wasn’t the best way to get the gospel out anymore. Yet, they proposed no alternative.
The gospel should be preached with love and with excellence, whether we are handing a person a tract, engaging a stranger on the street in spiritual conversation or meeting to study the Bible with someone who has expressed a desire to know more. We ought to do our best as we communicate the gospel. Nevertheless, the focus is not our own excellence when we preach the gospel, but the excellence of Jesus. Nor is it our effectiveness, but the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit that releases the power of the gospel into people’s hearts.
It is easy to criticize simple efforts to proclaim the gospel, but most people who truly understand the necessity of the gospel for salvation are happy to see it proclaimed in many different ways. If anyone wants to explain a better (and affordable) way to let more people know the gospel message, I would love to hear about it.
I get enthusiastic about witnessing campaigns because of the amount of gospel proclamation that occurs and the numbers of people who actually hear the message for the first time. You can argue methodology and strategy, but you can’t argue with the power. The power is in the “what” of the gospel. The “why” comes later. If only we could grasp this simple truth, we would be less likely to discourage one another from simple and bold gospel outreach. Let us, like Paul, be determined not to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.