Pitfalls When Communicating the Gospel

Down through the years, Christians have used many different phrases to communicate the Gospel that are not actually the Gospel. These phrases are actually ways of referring to the Gospel. Our concern is that they add more confusion than they do clarity to the gospel.

The verse about Jesus standing at the door knocking is actually a command for believers that are living in sin to repent. Let’s keep this one in its context and cease from using it to communicate the Gospel inaccurately.

“God Shaped Hole”

This phrase is often used to describe the condition of a person before they come to Christ. The idea is that without God we are incomplete and therefore experience many problems in life. We all need satisfaction, identity and self worth, meaning, and hope. God designed humans to find the fulfillment of each of these things in Himself. This is true. However, when we tell people that they need Jesus because He will fulfill them, we are watering down the Gospel. This excludes God’s holiness, judgment for sin, the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross, repentance, and faith. We can also, perhaps unkowingly, dishonor God by making Him out to be our servant. Although it is ture that God desires to fulfill our hearts, it is not true that God’s primary concern is our happiness. We are not God and He is not our servant. He is God and we are unworthy to even be His servants.

“Accept Jesus into your heart”

This phrase refers to the truth that Christ comes to dwell inside someone in the person of the Holy Spirit after they repent and trusts in Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. Again, this eliminates many of the “Irreducible Core” tenets of the Gospel. It can also put someone in the driver’s seat when it comes to how they relate to God. It isn’t that we have the option to accept Christ as if our acceptance meant something to God. We are the ones that desperately need to be accepted by Him. Communicating this to someone that does not know Christ or the Gospel is unclear at best and misleading at worst.

“Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior”

The problems with this phrase are the same as the previous one. There is another that needs mention as well. We as Christians often used terminology that is unfamiliar to nonbelievers. The concept of having another person or god as your “Lord” is simply unknown to an atheist, agnostic, or even a religious person that lives for themselves on a regular basis. The same goes with the term “Savior.” It is fine and good to use these terms, but necessary to explain their meaning.

“Accept Jesus’ plan for your life/Your best life now”

These phrases are just dangerous. The first communicates that the primary problem of mankind is that they don’t know their purpose. Although it is true that we have lost our purpose, this problem pales in comparison to the problem we have of facing a holy God with all of our sin and then receiving the just punishment of eternal hell. That is a much bigger problem. These phrases also put man in the center and god as the servant/counselor that will give you happiness by improving the quality of your life. Remember, we follow a crucified Savior. He promised that if people hated Him, they  would hate us as well. Abundant life is the fruit of the Spirit that comes from the Gospel and intimacy with our Lord Jesus – in the midst of persecution, hardship, and pain. To teach people that the Gospel is that God has a wonderful plan for their lives (implying a comfortable and successful livelihood) is deceitful.

“Jesus knocking at the door of your heart”

This phrase comes from a passage in the book of Revelation, chapter 3:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Revelation [3:20]

Christians tell nonbelievers that Jesus is standing at their door and wants to come into their hearts. The reason Jesus wants to do this is to have a relationship with them or help them in their lives in some way. Here is the context of that verse:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Revelation [3:14]-20

The verse about Jesus standing at the door knocking is actually a command for believers that are living in sin to repent. Let’s keep this one in its context and cease from using it to communicate the Gospel inaccurately.

“We’ve all make mistakes”

One way that we can water down the Gospel is to minimize that more difficult aspects of the Gospel. Sin becomes simply making mistakes as if we aren’t in rebellion against a holy God whose wrath must be satisfied. God’s judgment becomes doing things outside of the way God designed. Jesus becomes “a” way, rather than “the” way. Repentance becomes a simple “change of mind” rather than a deep conviction of the heart accompanied by a sorrow for sin. Faith in Christ becomes an intellectual agreement to a set of facts about Jesus dying for sin and rising from the dead. We can become so concerned about offending people that we forget that God tells us the Gospel is offensive. It is wrong to offend people unnecessarily. However, we must not water down the Gospel to make it less offensive. Here are some of the harder parts of the Gospel that are naturally offensive to anyone that doesn’t want to recognize their sin and turn to Christ:

  • God is holy and must judge every sin. To be accountable to anyone for our actions is repulsive as guilty people.
  • We are sinners. Admitting I’m wrong and facing shame is scary, embarrassing, and makes me face the fact that I will be judged. It is very offensive to be told that I am wrong.
  • Jesus is the only way to be forgiven/go to heaven. It is absurd to a nonbeliever that there is only one way. This seems narrow-minded and even bigoted. However, only Jesus paid the price of sin for the entire world.
  • We are saved by faith alone. This is offensive to a religious person that has worked very hard to be accepted by God. This is also offensive to anyone that measures sin by the righteousness of another person (usually themselves). How can it be that a murderer can repent and trust in Jesus at the end of his life and still be forgiven when a morally decent person that doesn’t trust in Christ will go to hell? Good question. If God graded us on a curve (or by the best one of us morally) then this certainly would be a good argument. However, God’s holiness is the standard and we all fall short – way short. If the murderer and the moral man both threw a rock at the moon, one of them might throw theirs further, but both will never come close to hitting it. It is the same with any one of us trying to be good (or better than anyone else) to be righteous before God. Jesus’ work on the cross to pay for all of our sins is our only chance.