WHAT ARE THE DANGERS WE SHOULD AVOID WHEN PRESENTING THE GOSPEL?
PROMISE OF A BETTER LIFE
The promise of a better life is NOT an element of the Biblical gospel. The opposite, is in fact, more true. True Christianity has always led to misunderstanding and persecution by the world. This is developed more fully in our "Man-Centred Gospel" page.
Inviting a friend or neighbour to a social event which turns out to be a gospel presentation will not endear you to your friends. An invitation to hear the gospel should be given as such, since the Lord does not honour dubious practices.
A FALSE GOSPEL
So many gospel messages today are "man-centred" rather than Jesus centred. "God has a wonderful plan for your life" is not the gospel. The early Christians who were fed to the lions in Rome would rightly have felt deceived over such an evangelistic message! Indeed, the phrase "God loves you" is not a feature of the biblical gospel either. While it can be appropriate to tell hurting and damaged people that God loves them (I've done it myself with battered wives and other vulnerable, abused people), it doesn't form part of the gospel message in the New Testament . Check it out for yourself, don't accept my word about it. It is true that God draws the sinner out of love for His creation, and that Christ died as an act of love to make it possible for him to be saved. It is not however true that God has a wonderful plan for every lost sinner. His plan for lost sinnners who reject Jesus Christ is that they will be cast into Hell. That is not very wonderful!
These phrases are "man-centred", consequently when they are used they serve only to "lift up" man as being of value to God, whereas the opposite is in fact the case: GOD IS OF INFINITE VALUE TO MAN.
When man is "lifted up" in this way the gospel is being hindered, so be careful how you speak when you give out the gospel!
In truth, the way Jesus evidenced God's lovingkindness was not simply word-based, but emphatically action-based. "He healed all those who came to him". If we are offering a "words only" gospel without healing then we are offering "another gospel" and not the one Jesus taught his followers to practice. John 14:23: "Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching." John 14:24: "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." See our page on healing in evangelism for more on this.
TRUE AND FALSE EVANGELISM
The following quotation comes from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book "Studies in the Sermon on the Mount". As he prepares to discuss Matthew 5:27-30, Lloyd-Jones pauses to discuss sin and evangelism. Below is what he has to say about true and false evangelism:
"This doctrine [what sin is], therefore, is absolutely vital in determining our conception of true evangelism. Three is no true evangelism without the doctrine of sin, and without an understanding of what sin is. I do not want to be unfair, but I say that a gospel which merely says, ‘Come to Jesus,’ and offers Him as a Friend, and offers a marvelous new life, without convicting of sin, is not New Testament evangelism. The essence of evangelism is to start by preaching the law; and it is because the law has not been preached that we have had so much superficial evangelism. Go through the ministry of our Lord Himself and you cannot but get the impression that at times, far from pressing people to follow Him and to decide for Him, He put great obstacles in their way. He said in effect: ‘Do you realize what you are doing? Have you counted the cost? Do you realize where it may lead you? Do you know that it means denying yourself, taking up your cross daily and following Me?’ True evangelism, I say, because of this doctrine of sin, must always start by preaching the law. This means that we must explain that mankind is confronted by the holiness of God, by His demands, and also by the consequences of sin. It is the Son of God Himself who speaks about being cast into hell. If you do not like the doctrine of hell you are just disagreeing with Jesus Christ. He, the Son of God, believed in hell; and it is in His exposure to the true nature of sin that He teaches that sin ultimately lands men in hell. So evangelism must start with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the demands of the law, the punishment meted out by the law, and the eternal consequences of evil and wrongdoing. It is only the man who is brought to see his guilt in this way who flies to Christ for deliverance and redemption. Any belief in the Lord Jesus Christ which is not based on that is not a true belief in Him. You can have a psychological belief even in the Lord Jesus Christ; but a true belief sees in Him one who delivers us from the curse of the law. True evangelism starts like that, and obviously is primarily a call to repentance; repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
John Wesley likewise emphasised the importance of preaching the law:
( From Sermon XXXIV – The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law):
"To slay the sinner is, then, the First use of the law; to destroy the life and strength wherein he trusts, and convince him that he is dead while he liveth; not only under the sentence of death, but actually dead unto God, void of all spiritual life, “dead in trespasses and sins.”
The Second use of it
is, to bring him unto life, unto Christ, that he may live. It is true, in
performing both these offices, it acts the part of a severe school master. It
drives us by force, rather than draws us by love. And yet love is the
spring of all. It is the spirit of love which, by this painful means, tears
away our confidence in the flesh, which leaves us no broken reed whereon
to trust, and so constrains the sinner, stripped of all, to cry out in the
bitterness of his soul, or groan in the depth of his heart,
I give up every plea beside, — Lord, I am ***’d; but thou hast died".
OTHER MISLEADING PHRASES
So many unbiblical terms are used today - where do we start?
"Invite Jesus into your heart", "Give your heart to Jesus", "Just say this prayer after me".
The proper response to the gospel is none of the above. An invitation to "invite Jesus into your heart" may simply provoke a fleshly emotional response, rather than a step of faith. A lady of my acquaintance, when a child, was asked "give your heart to Jesus". She explained to me: "I thought: if I gave my heart to Jesus, how could I carry on living?". Furthermore, "give your heart to Jesus" is LAW rather than Gospel. Salvation is not my gift to God but His gift to me.
Richard Bennett a former Roman Catholic priest and founder of the Berean Beacon says: “Accept Jesus into your heart (to be saved) is one of the most used sentences in modern Evangelical circles. This humanistic concept is not biblical. (It puts man in control of his salvation, when all along salvation is “entirely” the work of God. Salvation is not a decision of man; it is a decision of God in the eternal council of the Godhead.) The biblical concept of salvation is that by grace the believer is accepted in Christ. We do not accept Him, He accepts us. The whole theme of Ephesians Chapter 1 is summarized in verse 6, “ To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” He is active; we are passive, i.e., He is the Potter; we are the clay. The terminology, “accept Jesus into your heart” is backwards and dishonest. It assumes wrongly that salvation (originates, starts) in the human heart. Consistently in Scripture, salvation is shown to be in Christ and in Him alone. It is not about man and what he should do, it is about Him and what He has already done. “Accepting Jesus” places emphasis on something that man needs to do. When properly reasoned out one sees that this is works salvation, but believing or trusting Him for what He has done is “through faith” salvation. In Him alone is that perfect righteousness that is sufficient before the Holy God to justify unholy sinners."
When we use phrases or concepts that are not in scripture, we end up creating a mess of our own making that is dishonouring to the Lord. No-one in the New Testament was ever invited to "just say this little prayer after me and you will be saved". This modern day approach assumes you have full understanding of the Spirit's working in that person's life and that you know the innermost thoughts and intentions of the enquirer. Do you really?
THE SINNER'S PRAYER
"The Sinner's Prayer" is another man-devised method that was never practised or taught in the New Testament. Many evangelically-minded Christians keen for quick results may persuade others to say such a prayer. This puts the recipient in great danger by believing that through a led prayer they are therefore automatically Christian simply by repeating words after us, when such a response may often be a human one and not led by the Holy Spirit at all. See this excellent summary of the background to, and dangers inherent in, relying on the use of "The Sinner's Prayer" in evangelism.
SALVATION IS NOT OURS TO BESTOW
We love to think we can mediate salvation to a seeker, as if it were ours to give. Any approach that fails to recognise Jesus as the mediator of salvation is perilous. Salvation is not ours to bestow, in terms such as: "Congratulations, you're now a Christian!" The repentant sinner who truly comes to Christ in simple faith and trust will know soon enough if they are a Christian by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. The witness of the Spirit and His outworking in the believer's life is the only reliable evidence by which a believer (and we!) might know they have entered Christ's Kingdom. An evident love for Jesus and His brethren, a desire to pray and read the Bible and a wish to turn from known sin, are the best evidences for determining what has happened in an enquirer's life. Only then is it really appropriate to say: "Congratulations, you are showing all the signs of being a new Christian!"
Charles Finney said: “I don’t need to run around informing new converts that they are converted. If a person has obeyed God, he will know it. Telling someone “You’re converted” before he discovers that fact himself easily breeds false hope. It is usually best to let the hope or belief that he is converted spring spontaneously from the young converts own mind.”
DON'T OVER-COMPLICATE IT!
Using Christian jargon with an enquirer is liable to confuse them and may end up with them walking away. "Do you want to make a profession of faith?" means nothing to an enquirer and is liable to confuse. Telling them to go to Jesus - to confess their sins and receive forgiveness from Him - is both straightforward and Biblical!
KEEP IT SIMPLE!
We want people to come to Christ in simple faith, trusting in His work alone, so keep it simple. Bear in mind Jesus words: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Luke 18:17
QUOTES FROM JC RYLE (LEADING VICTORIAN EVANGELICAL BISHOP)
“You may spoil the gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith--Jesus Christ--and to substitute another object in His place… and the mischief is done."
“You may spoil the gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honor, and the mischief is done."
“You may spoil the gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done."
“Lastly, but not least, you may completely spoil the gospel by confused and contradictory directions… Confused and disorderly statements about Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all. Religion of this sort is not evangelical.”