Have you ever done any street witnessing before? It’s definitely not an activity for the faint of heart! I was involved with some street teams many years ago and we had some good conversations with people. I really admire people who still engage in street evangelism or door-to-door witnessing today and I have heard some amazing stories of people coming to Christ this way. However, it is important that we not see this as the only means of evangelism. Otherwise, we can wrongly think that evangelism is only for the courageous people who are bold enough to start up conversations with strangers in public. Evangelism is intended to be a normal part of the everyday life of all followers of Christ, not a ‘mode’ that a few people go into on a Friday evening or whenever. It is also not necessary to download the entire gospel story in every conversation we have with people. More often than not, we’ll be answering questions (Col.4:5-6. 1 Pet.3:15) and sharing brief ‘sound bites’ more than giving a detailed doctrinal presentation. Sharing our faith involves more than talking too. Prayer, acts of service, and loving actions are also an important part of sharing God’s love with people. Finally, we need to realise that the gospel is much broader than just personal salvation, as important as that is.
A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel
The word “gospel” means “good news.” It was a media term in the ancient world, similar to our idea of a newsflash. It involved the announcement of important events or achievements. Gospel language was already known to God’s people (Israel) centuries before the Roman Empire. The biblical gospel begins in the Old Testament, not in Matthew. For example, during the time of Israel’s exile, they had lost their land, their city, their temple and their hope. They were in desperate need of “good news” and that is what the prophet Isaiah came preaching (see Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 52:7-10; 61:1). The good news was that God reigns as King and his kingdom is coming, which meant peace, good things for all creation, and salvation for everyone. God returned to redeem his people and all the nations (Ps.96:1-3).
Far beyond the horizon of the Israelite exiles was the horizon of the greater arrival of God among his people in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The first gospel written opens with, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah” (Mark 1:1) and goes on to quote from the prophet Isaiah. Very early in his ministry, Jesus declared himself as the preacher of this good news (Luke 4:16-21). For the Gospel writers, the good news was the long-awaited reign of the true sovereign that Jesus came proclaiming. The call was to repent and believe this good news.
Lee Camp, in his excellent book on discipleship, says, “The good news is not first and foremost a message that gives one hope for the afterlife, a message that one may have inner peace and tranquillity or that one may experience an authentic life. It is first and foremost a proclamation that the long-anticipated rule and reign of God has now come in the midst of human history.”
The apostle Paul offered the Corinthian church a brief summary of the gospel (1Cor.15:1-8). The gospel is not the announcement of a mere idea (God reigns) but how that reign has been revealed to the world through actual deeds of Jesus Christ (his birth, miracles, teaching, death, resurrection and eventual return). The preached gospel is identical with the written Gospels. It is about the life and work of Jesus Christ and it’s significance to a fallen, broken world. It is about both historical events and theological ideas intricately interwoven together. The “gospel” is about Jesus – his entire story from start to finish. The good news of the gospel is that God’s kingdom has arrived with Christ and we are invited to participate in what God is doing.
Recovering the Wholeness of the Gospel
The gospel truly is good news that speaks to and can transform every area of human life that has been touched by sin. It is individual and cosmic (affecting all creation). It is for believing and for living. It is to be proclaimed (words) and demonstrated (actions). Jesus not only preached; he went around “doing good” (Acts 10:38). Evangelism and social action need to work together closely.
New Testament scholar G.E. Ladd once said, “The Gospel must not only offer a personal salvation in the future life to those who believe; it must also transform all of the relationships of life here and now and thus cause the Kingdom of God to prevail in the world.”
N.T. Wright says, “Our task as Christians, in the midst of individual, social, corporate and cultural angst, is to demonstrate the love of God, a self-giving love that trumps suspicion through giving itself away. Our vocation is to tell the story (of the cross and resurrection of Jesus which displays the self-giving love of the God who made the world), to live it out in practice, and to answer the questions in such as way that we become the answer to our own prayers.”
Such good news is not to be hidden but to be announced everywhere – to the whole world. It is a story that needs to be told.
- When is the first time you heard the word “gospel” and what did you think it meant at the time?
- Describe your understanding of the gospel in a few words or a single sentence.
- Share some of your experiences in “personal evangelism.” What have you learnt?
- What is the danger of focusing only on the gospel as being a ticket to heaven when we die?
- How is the gospel “good news” to the average Australian?
- Can you see God at work in people around you who do not yet know him? Do you see any evident longings for justice, spirituality, relationships or beauty?
- What activities can we engage in in order to BE good news to our world?