All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV)
What Do People Learn from You?
Think back to the last day and week in which you had the opportunity to speak to people whose spiritual condition you didn’t know was well, or who you knew were unbelievers. What did they hear from you? What information did you give to them?
If you’re like me, and like most people in the western world who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, most of what you said to such people had no potential to be of any eternal benefit to their souls. In fact, probably most of what you said to them did little good for them at all. But who are those people? Are they not eternal souls that may be under the wrath and condemnation of God, and enslaved to their sin and to the devil? Couldn’t they be ignorant of the most glorious message in the entire universe — the gracious and loving work of God to redeem sinful mankind through the eternal redemption accomplished and granted through His Son? Why wouldn’t we make every effort to make sure they knew these amazing facts?
The grievous and shameful answer is that we western Christians are so selfish, self-centered, and uncaring, that most of us fail to share the gospel of Jesus Christ on a regular basis, even though we have ample opportunity on a regular basis. What are the saddening consequences of this rampant failure that so plagues western believers? First of all, sinners aren’t being saved, since the preaching of the gospel is God’s ordinary means by which He draws people to Himself, and makes them His children. This can be clearly seen in hundreds of thousands of Bible-believing and Bible-teaching churches that consist of a pitiful-looking tiny band of faithful members, meeting every Sunday all around the West, but haven’t seen a new convert come into the meeting for decades. As a result, our glorious Lord Jesus isn’t being glorified as much as He could be, if we were communicating the message that God uses most to bring glory to His Son.
Because of these many and serious problems, many of us need to remember our great calling, privilege, and duty to preach the gospel. We need to understand, or remind ourselves of, the compelling reasons why, and the right ways in which we are to preach the gospel.
Why Must We Preach the Gospel?
It’s the Gospel of the King
The first reason that we must preach the gospel is that it’s the King‘s gospel. In the first century, the Greek word from which we get “gospel” — euangellion — was used of the authoritative proclamation of a king’s victory over his enemies, calling his people to celebrate and recognize his powerful and glorious reign over them, and to trust that he would provide them with material well-being. In a similar way, the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:1 that the gospel for which he was “set apart” was “the gospel of God“. This means that, rather than being a herald of the Roman emperor’s gospel, Paul was a herald of the good news of the ultimate King — God. It shows us that the message we believe and love belongs not to us, but to the King of the universe. Therefore, it must be announced to the subjects of His domain.
It’s the Message that Saves
A close second reason that we must preach the gospel to sinners is that it’s the only message that saves sinners from their sins and eternal damnation. Paul declares this astounding truth to the church at Rome in Romans 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Here, Paul gives the main reason why he’s “eager to preach the gospel to [those] who are in Rome” (v. 15). Although the gospel is a message that most of the world thinks of as shameful, Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. This is a backwards way of saying that he’s proud of the gospel.
Why is he proud of the gospel? Because it’s God’s power for the salvation of all who believe it. In other words, it’s the power source that saves those who believe it. Paul goes on to express the fact that the most dangerous thing that it saves believers from is “the wrath of God” (v. 17). So, if we would be used by God to save sinners from eternal punishment through His power, we must preach the gospel.
It’s the Life-Transforming Message
A third reason that we must preach the gospel is that it’s the only message that persuades people to become followers of Christ. The fact is that every Christian has a duty to take part in teaching people how to become followers of Jesus, since Jesus gave all of His followers this on-going Commission:
18 And Jesus came and said to them [the apostles], “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20
In this authoritative declaration, known as the Great Commission, Jesus gives His first missionaries the main reason and ways in which they are to “make disciples”, or followers, of Him. As I alluded to earlier, the Lord’s over-arching basis for giving this charge, and for the promise that He’ll be with His followers “to the end of the age”, is that He’s received “all authority in heaven and on earth”. In other words, He has all the rights of ownership and rule over the entire universe — He is the Ruler, not just of His people, but of both the spiritual and physical realms.
This is why He follows this boast with “therefore”, before giving His followers their primary task. As the Ruler of the universe, He has the right of rule over His followers and over “all nations” of the entire world. And what are His followers to do to the nations? To make out of them disciples, or followers, of the Lord Jesus. And how is this to be done? Primarily, by teaching these nations “to observe all that I have commanded you”. And what was the first thing He commanded His followers? According to Mark 1:14-15, it was His proclamation of “the gospel of God”, which included the command to “repent and believe in the gospel”. Thus, the only way to make disciples of Jesus is to preach the gospel of God, as Jesus did.
It’s the Most Important Message
The summary truth of these compelling reasons why we must preach the gospel of Christ is that it’s simply the most important message we can communicate to anyone. That’s the way the apostle Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, where he tells the Corinthians that he
. . . delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .
This message is of first, or primary, importance, both for us, and for everyone with whom we come into contact. Therefore, we must preach it to those who’ve not yet understood it.
Why Must We Live as Gospel-Preachers?
We’ve just addressed why the gospel is the message that we must preach, but why must we be preachers of it? What about our character and nature as Christians compels us to speak the good news?
We Love to Talk About Our Savior
The most natural reason we have to share the gospel with our unbelieving neighbors is that the subject of our Lord Jesus is the topic we love to talk about most. Or at least it should be. Why? Because we delight in Him more than we delight in anyone, or anything, else.
Think about it — if you truly believe that the Lord Jesus took the punishment that you deserve from God, and has given you the eternal life, peace, and joy that He deserves from God, do you not find Him to be the most wonderful Person in the universe? Isn’t what He’s done for sinners like you the most astounding and beautiful act of love ever performed? Then why wouldn’t you talk about all these things to people who haven’t yet understood them?!
After all, one of the proofs that you’ve been saved from God’s wrath is that “you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord . . . For . . . with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Ro. 10:9-10). Notice that Paul specifically points out that spoken acknowledgement of the rulership of Jesus is an evidence of salvation. This is one of the first responses of someone who has believed in Jesus.
The apostle John describes the same thing in 1 John 4:15, where he says,
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Here, John explains that those who openly acknowledge that — or live like — Jesus is God’s exalted and glorified Son are proving that they are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. Hence, part of being a saved person who has been born again is that we can’t help but talk about the Lord Jesus.
It’s the Most Loving Thing We Can Do for a Sinner
Another characteristic about us that ought to motivate us to preach the gospel to sinners is that we seek what’s best for our neighbors — because we love them. And the most loving thing we can do for perishing sinners is to preach the gospel to them.
Paul demonstrates this compassionate love for sinners in his description of the Christian’s ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20:
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Notice that Paul doesn’t mainly ground his passion to preach the gospel to sinners merely in his love for them, but in God’s love for them. In this passage, he calls all sinners “the world”, and says that God has already reconciled the world of His chosen ones in Christ. However, He also commissioned all who have been reconciled in heart to preach this message to the world. As one of these representatives of Christ, Paul implores, or begs, sinners for Christ to receive God’s reconciliation through repentance and faith. Paul does this because he recognizes not only that it’s his duty, but also because receiving peace with God will save sinners from the damnation they deserve for their “trespasses” against Him.
We Are a Royal Priesthood
The apostle Peter expresses the fact that believers are “ambassadors for Christ” by calling us “a royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9, which describes the purpose of this calling:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
First, Peter describes Christians as “a chosen race” of people. This means that we are God’s chosen people. And what did God choose us to be? First of all, “a royal priesthood”, or king-priests. What does a priest do? He serves as a mediator of God’s blessing, peace, and favor to people who are without these gifts. And how do Christians serve as God’s priests? Peter says it’s by proclaiming the Lord’s “excellencies”, or “praises”. In other words, God has made us His priests so that we would proclaim the character and work of the Lord Jesus to people yet in darkness. The question is — how do we do this?
How Do You Preach the Gospel?
Every Christian knows and understands the gospel, but we might not understand exactly how to share it. It’s very simple, but there are a few keys that we need to put into practice when we’re striving to communicate the gospel with sinners. We should do it at the right time, with the right words, and through the right power.
At the Right Time
The first skill in sharing the gospel is knowing when to share its truths. That’s why Paul gives the Colossian church practical instruction in both their attitude toward unbelievers and in their speech toward them:
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.Colossians 4:5-6
First, Paul counsels that we ought to “walk”, or live our daily lives wisely “toward outsiders” — those outside God’s family. He then describes this as “making the best use of the time”. In other words, we need to avoid wasting any time that we have in our contact with unbelievers.
Then, Paul immediately applies this principle to our speech. He begins by commanding the Colossians to always use gracious speech. The Greek word behind “gracious” literally means speech that is beneficial to the hearer. Paul pictures this kind of speech as “seasoned with salt”, which reminds us of Jesus’s declaration that His followers are “the salt of the earth”. Just as salt is a purifying influence on bloody wounds and decaying food, so also our speech should be pure, and have the power to purify those who hear it.
But the reason Paul gives for why we should use gracious speech is “so that you may know how you ought to answer each person”. The reason that using gracious words will teach us how to “answer”, or “respond to”, each unbeliever that we speak with, is because our purifying words will bring out a response from our listener. That response will basically either be acceptance, indifference, or hostility. In either case, God will be able to use any beneficial, purifying, words that we speak to unbelievers to either persuade them of the truth of the gospel, or to harden them against it (2 Cor. 2). Our only responsibility is to speak gracious words to them, and then follow-up appropriately. The Lord is in control of the results.
Clearly and Understandably
The second way in which we ought to preach the gospel is as clearly and plainly as possible. Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him to be able to do this in Ephesians 6:18-20:
. . . praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Here, Paul first asks that the Ephesians would pray for the Lord to give him words. He goes on to explain that he means he wants to be able to boldly “proclaim the mystery of the gospel”. He’s calling the gospel a “mystery” simply because it once was a secret to people, but now it’s being made known. But he desires that the Lord would give him boldness, or literally “outspokenness”, or plainness of speech. Most of us are assaulted with the fear of rejection, disapproval, anger, hostility, or any number of unpleasant responses to our evangelism. But we must rely on the Lord to give us the ability to clearly and directly preach the gospel to sinners, no matter the possible response.
Paul not only asks for boldness of speech, but then repeats that the reason he wants the ability to speak the gospel boldly is so that he’ll declare it boldly (v. 20). And why does he want to do this? Because it’s the way he “ought to speak”. In other words, he has a duty to speak like this, for the reasons that we’ve already considered for all believers.
By the Power of the Spirit
Obviously, since Paul asked that the Ephesians would ask the Lord to give him both the ability to speak, and the words to speak, the power to rightly preach the gospel can’t come from us. Since the gospel is God’s message, and not our own, it requires His power to communicate it to sinners, and to grant them repentance and faith. Therefore, we can’t rely on our intelligence, our eloquence, our cleverness, our tone, or any other physical power to share the gospel with people. Rather, we must rely upon the power of God the Holy Spirit — the main Person who lives inside of us. He is the One who gives us the ability, and even the desire, to preach the gospel.
That’s why in Paul’s request that the Ephesians pray for his boldness, he commands them first to pray “at all times in the Spirit“. They are to pray through the Holy Spirit, or by His power and direction. How is this to be done? By believing that God is listening to them because of what Jesus has done, and is doing for them as their Mediator and Intercessor.
It’s the same thing with respect to sharing the gospel. We don’t try to share the gospel through our own physical capacities, but through the supernatural power of the Spirit. And just as we pray through the Spirit, so we preach through the Spirit. We trust in the Lord’s promises that He has called and gifted us to share the gospel with sinners. This ought to motivate us, just as it moved Paul, to pray that the Lord would enable us to open our mouths and to clearly explain the gospel to the unbelievers that we’re able to witness to. And just as we looked at earlier, this will work in harmony with our recognition that we carry God’s gospel that has the power to save sinners from destruction, and to give them eternal life, blessing, and peace with God.
So, if you’re a blood-bought servant of the Lord Jesus, go and make disciples!