What is the Gospel? In a posting last month, I mentioned the seven essential things we have to tell people when sharing the Gospel, as they were laid out by A. Ray Stanford in his Handbook of Personal Evangelism. Today’s post is an explanation of the first.
Popular wisdom tells us, “Nobody’s perfect.” In a sense that is what the Bible teaches too. But when the culture tells us that everyone falls short the implication is one of excusing one’s failures. That is not what the Bible teaches.
The first point we have to convey to people if we want them to understand the Gospel is man’s sin. We have all sinned by disobeying God. None of us are innocent. Stanford writes:
“Everyone is a sinner, less perfect than God. ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23). The Virgin Mary, the Pope, your minister, your mother, you and I…all are sinners. ‘For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not’ (Ecc 7:20).”
So when the Bible teaches that nobody is perfect, it is not excusing us. It is accusing us. Only if other people are our standard is “nobody’s perfect” a valid defense. But other people are not the standard by which we’re supposed to live, or by which we’ll be judged. God is the standard! “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy […]” (Leviticus 11:44, NKJV).
To understand and believe the Gospel, we must first understand and believe that there is an infinitely holy and perfect God, and that we all fall far short of His standard.
How do we explain this fact to people?
First, we use the Bible. It is essential that we refer people back to what God says. Otherwise it comes across as though we’re the ones telling them they’re not good enough. If that’s what they hear, it appears to them that Christianity makes us the standard. Use the Bible, and make it clear that what you’re telling them comes not from your opinion, but from God’s Word. “[… Y]ou have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15, NKJV).
Second, we place ourselves in the same boat. “You’re a sinner” is far more objectionable than “The Bible says that I’m a sinner, and that you are too.” It is not about us accusing them, it is about God’s Word accusing all of us. A little honest humility goes a long way. “[… A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV, emphasis added).
Third, we don’t mislead them about who Christians are. In this honest humility, we must not make it sound like we were sinners but that we no longer sin since we became Christians. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8, NKJV).
Fourth, clarify what it means to be a sinner. Sinners aren’t limited to to murderers and molesters, and Hell isn’t reserved for Hitler and Stalin. Even “good” people have sinned against God. “[…S]o that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:20-21, NKJV, emphasis added).
Some people will grasp this point more quickly than others, but before people will get saved, they need to know that there’s something to be saved from. Each of us has sinned and, as I’ll talk about next time, that sin has a dire penalty.