A man is trying to chat with a stanger

Have We Missed the Point of the Gospel?

Written by Jess Ragg, New Zealand

In Bible college, I remember the palpable terror in the lead up to the assessment for our paper on evangelism.

Our assignment was: practicing actual street evangelism.

If you’re as introverted as I was, just thinking about this would give you a case of the cold sweats. In those days, I could barely phone and order pizza, let alone ask random people if they wanted to talk about Jesus. I wasn’t sure how someone like me was ever going to navigate street evangelism.

And while I believe it was important to share the gospel, somehow street evangelists gave me the heebie jeebies because, let’s be honest, they can be a little intense.

But the day arrived, and after memorising the short script we were given, we headed out onto the streets of Auckland in groups of twos and threes. My group ended up at the Auckland Domain, a big busy park filled with metropolitan Aucklanders. After a team pep talk and a prayer, we rolled up our figurative sleeves and got down to business.

The conversation went something like this, “Hey there, do you mind if I ask you two questions?”, one of us mumbled to a passing stranger. “Firstly, if you were to die right now, do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not you’d go to heaven—”

We didn’t even get to the second question because the person’s face immediately brightened and she said, “Yes! I’m a Christian!” She then spent some time chatting with us a little about her church, her life, and so on. She also mentioned that she was feeling quite lonely as she had moved to New Zealand to study, and would appreciate if we could pray for her.

So, we did, all the while feeling a tinge of defeat that we didn’t get to spread the “good news” since she already knew it. Ruefully, we searched for our next target, who turned out to be a Christian too! And while we had a fantastic and meaningful chat where we encouraged one another, no one got saved.

The third and final person we approached was also a Christian, who thanked us afterwards because he was feeling pretty bummed out, and “really needed to have this conversation today”.  After which, we returned to our campus, feeling as though our little stint on street evangelism hadn’t been all that successful.

Later that night, my face bathed in the cool light of my laptop, I was truly stumped. “How was I going to write an assignment about the usefulness of doing something we didn’t even get to do?”

It was here that God met me, midway through lamenting about my 3000-word essay. “Who said you didn’t share the gospel with them?” the thought wriggled into my mind. Because we did. We shared the gospel—the good news of Jesus.

This became a turning point for me that challenged me to a better understanding of the theology of the good news of God’s Kingdom.

Did anyone get “saved” that day as we stumbled through our street evangelism script? No.

Were those people impacted and encouraged by the that day? One hundred percent yes!

What salvation is really about

Salvation is both event-based—like yes, there is a decision to make—and an ongoing process—a continuing commitment in line with that decision. Salvation, as defined theologically, is the point at which a person is delivered from their sins and made whole.[1]

As a result, the person is put into right relationship with God. Not only do they get to go to heaven one day, but they get to be with God and experience God in their day to day.

These days, however, salvation has become mostly reduced to altar calls, as though it’s about getting a “passport stamp” into heaven and ticking the box on the “this is how you become a Christian” to-do list.

In his book How God Became King, N.T Wright proposes that we have missed the point of the gospel. We see the need to “get saved” and think that the gospel is a scrapbook of stories that show us how to live—a kind of Christian Aesop’s Fables, as though the purpose of Christ on earth is simply to give us a story with moral endings.

We’re to let the gospel rewrite our lives

We are shaped by the “big stories” told to us by society, and these stories shape and form the foundations of our lives. These “big stories” go something like this: “I’m not worth anything unless I . . . (insert whatever it is society tells us we must accomplish to matter, e.g., fulfilling our potential and landing the best career option, getting into a romantic relationship, leaving a legacy)”.

Another popular “big story” is this: “Nothing really matters”, or “Everything is an accident—including me”.

These “big stories” define our lives and become so firmly cemented within us, like a big, heavy concrete foundation upon which we build our beliefs. They sit at the base of everything and are affirmed from every angle—in advertising, books, Tik Toks, TV shows, even the music we listen to.

But the “big story” for us as believers is that Christ is the Victor. We need to see the good news as this great, big, powerful story of a cosmic battle between good and evil, where Jesus emerged victorious overall, and we were ransomed back from darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Everything from Adam to Acts boils down to this: God is redeeming His people.

Furthermore, until we truly comprehend the gospel as good news for our everyday lives, reciting verses like Jeremiah 29:11 or John 3:16 over and over to ourselves is nothing more than sticking feel good “post-it notes” on top of the big, awful concrete “You’re Not Enough” story in us.

Once we comprehend the full scale of the gospel, not only does our faith have deeper “stickability”, but it has the potential to breathe the beauty and wonder of God’s kingdom into our everyday lives and those around us.

We live as people knowing we’re a part of God’s coming kingdom, where conversations and activities are not merely the comings and goings of a carnal being, but as a vessel of the Holy Spirit who joins with us and works through us.

We’re to encourage one another with the good news

A year or so ago, a woman encouraged me when I was in an awful situation. In the midst of it I prayed, “God, I need something to know you’re here with me”. No sooner had the prayer formed in my mind did a woman wander over. Our daughters were playing together and she began to speak with me. Not only had she journeyed the same hardship I was at that time, but she’d conquered it. She was everything I prayed to be at the end of my own battle, and in that moment, I experienced God’s salvation.

A few years down the line, I was able to pour out the same encouragement I had received over a new mum. “I feel like a terrible mum,” she told me, for a litany of reasons that she was storing up in her heart—frustration, grieving her pre-child life, being unable to breastfeed.

I had a one-year-old myself, and bottle fed my daughter, so I knew what it was like. I gave her some tips on bottle feeding that I’d learnt, and reminded her that her feelings were normal.

“You’re a great mum,” I added, a little more firmly than I’d spoken about formula scooping techniques, because I knew this mattered more. “The very fact you are overthinking everything shows how much you care about your baby. You might not feel like it, but God has given you this child and He is with you even when it is hard.”

Friend, these are the conversations where we affirm the truth of the good news and point people back to the big story. God’s salvation means He meets us in these everyday moments where we need to see His grace—salvation is the “big story” that lies beneath everything.

We’re to share this good news with others

While I am by no means the living embodiment of evangelism, I try to remember every day that God is outworking His salvation within me, in giving me the right conversations at the right time, in working behind the scenes on the things that keep me up at night—I try to remember that my everyday life is no different from that day in Auckland Domain. That each morning, in everything I am called to do or be, I am to spread the good news of Jesus, to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Wherever you are today, I want to encourage and challenge you. There are hurting people in your life, people who are exhausted, disappointed, burnt out, worn, grieving, the list goes on.

To the lonely student, to the fretting mother, to the broken-hearted friend—these are the instances we can remind people of the truth of the good news. That God is with them, that Jesus meets them where they are, that everything He is has everything to do with their day to day, regardless of what they’re experiencing.

What of the “good news” that God saves so completely do they need to hear today? Or simply ask a friend today, “How can I pray for you?”

How can we encourage others in our lives (Christian or otherwise) with the core of the gospel—that God saves and that we continue to be saved and that ultimately when Jesus returns, we will be saved?

We never stop needing to hear the good news, so let’s never stop sharing about it.

[1] R. Balmer, Encyclopaedia of Evangelicalism (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002) 501

 

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.