There can be a tendancy in North American churches to invite people to respond to follow Jesus without filling in some of the puzzle pieces of what the teachings of Jesus or the Gospel truly are.
It is easy to assume that if a person is in attendance at a local church in the Western world, they already have a clear picture of the truth of Jesus. We must remember that the enemy of our souls blinds the minds of unbelievers so they can't see the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Every opportunity to recast the vision of the Gospel with clarity and power is a good opportunity.
Here are four key puzzle pieces of sharing the Gospel that should be included if possible:
1. Share about the historical Jesus
It's important to at least briefly retell the story of Jesus, his life, purpose and redemptive work before calling people to respond.
The Apostle Paul gives a overview of the Gospel to the church in Corinth in his first letter:
"Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you ... by this gospel you are saved ... For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time ..." (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, NIV)
2. Preach the Gospel as hope for eternity, not simply for joy in this life
While the Gospel brings an extreme amount of joy and peace, it is also primarily a message of eternal salvation that is the reward after enduring many trials and hardships in this life for Christ. (See Acts 14:22). It is important for us to explain to people the reality of eternity. Consider this story:
"Two men are seated in a plane. The first is given a parachute and told to put is on as it would improve his flight. He’s a little skeptical at first because he can’t see how wearing a parachute in a plane could possibly improve the flight. After a time he decides to experiment and see if the claim is true. As he puts it on he notices the weight of it upon his shoulders and he finds that he has difficulty in sitting upright. However, he consoles himself with the fact that he was told the parachute would improve the flight. So, he decides to give the thing a little time. As he waits he notices that some of the other passengers are laughing at him, because he’s wearing a parachute in a plane. He begins to feel somewhat humiliated. As they begin to point and laugh at him and he can stand it no longer, he slinks in his seat, unstraps the parachute, and throws it to the floor. Disillusionment and bitterness fill his heart, because, as far as he was concerned, he was told an outright lie.
The second man is given a parachute, but listen to what he’s told. He’s told to put it on because at any moment he’d be jumping 25,000 feet out of the plane. He gratefully puts the parachute on; he doesn’t notice the weight of it upon his shoulders, nor that he can’t sit upright. His mind is consumed with the thought of what would happen to him if he jumped without that parachute.
Instead of preaching that Jesus improves the flight, we should be warning the passengers they’re going have to jump out of the plane. That it’s “appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27)." (Ray Comfort, Revival's Golden Key)
3. Show people that our sins keep us from God
We must help show people that each of our own sinfulness from within is keeping us from the grace and promise of God. We must realize that we are NOT good within ourselves, but need the covering of Christ to make peace with God.
The age old problem of self flattery remains one of our greatest obstacles today - "For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin." (Psalm 36:2, NIV). We must admit we have sinned and are sinners and need the sacrifice of Christ to cover us.
4. Teach people to trust in the work of Christ on the cross alone for their salvation, not their own merits
It's easy in the church culture, where our job is cleaning up people's lives, to quickly turn the Gospel into a message of discipleship. While it's true we are called to follow Christ, our hope for salvation and forgiveness of sins should be firmly planted in trusting Christ's finished work on the cross, not our own success at following Him.
Do you feel there are other puzzle pieces vital in the sharing of the Gospel? What has God been teaching you about this? Are there any points I wrote about that you are inspired to incorporate into your conversations or messages now?