[Here are my notes for the talk I gave at the TRC Evangelism Conference 2016, recordings coming soon.]
I don’t remember a time when I did not love Jesus. One of my earliest memories is being interviewed for membership in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church by a couple of elders when I was four years old. I was baptized and became a communicant member shortly thereafter. I’ve always loved singing worship songs and hymns. John Frame led worship with my dad in my early years in southern California. Part of how I’ve always known the presence of the Holy Spirit is through the many times I’ve been convicted of sin. I remember getting angry at some neighborhood friends on one occasion, riding my bike furiously away and wiping out about hundred yards down the street. In my seven year old heart, I knew it was God throwing me down, and I got up and went back to my friends to ask their forgiveness. One of the first times I remember sharing the gospel with someone was a neighborhood boy in Alaska who prayed with me and my brother to receive Christ. I was probably nine years old; he was probably around seven. So much of my testimony is bound up with the grace of God ministered through my dad, an OPC minister, who often took me around with him knocking on doors or walking through the park to share the gospel. Sometimes we would do a literature table at the local shopping mall. My dad is two parts Alaskan hockey roughneck, one part Louisiana-Texan cowboy, and three parts simple, patient, Christian love.
Why do I begin here? Because “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10). This, in part, is my testimony of God’s grace in me, and if you have met Jesus, you have a story to tell as well – you have a story of God’s grace toward you. This is my gospel, the gospel of free grace, the gospel of blood-bought forgiveness and freedom and unending goodness, the gospel of Jesus. This is also your gospel. It’s the same Jesus, the same grace, but you have a different story of the same grace. This is why you need to learn to say, “this is my gospel.”
We Proclaim Jesus with Ourselves
There are important ways in which the gospel is a public, political announcement to the world about facts that are objectively, historically true, which have an inevitable glorious culmination (e.g. Phil. 2). There are also important ways in which the gospel transforms individuals from the inside out, granting them healing, hope, and new hearts (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:3). There are times and places where either side of that coin may be the appropriate emphasis, but by themselves, the former can lack any personalism or else the latter can veer into over-personalized subjectivism. An overly objective emphasis can tend to discourage evangelism because it seems to be based on getting certain facts and theological truths right. An overly subjective emphasis can tend to discourage evangelism because it seems to be based on having a “great testimony.” One of the glories of gospel proclamation is how the objective, historical God-man Jesus grabs hold of men and women and turns their lives into uniquely shaped vessels of His grace. Jesus saves in such a way as to make His gospel your gospel. And therefore we need to learn to say, “This is my gospel.” It’s striking to notice how often Paul talks about himself in his letters. Sometimes he is defending himself against false accusations (2 Cor. 2:17, 4:2), sometimes he is defending his apostolic authority (Gal. 1), sometimes he talks about his imprisonment (Phil. 1), sometimes he reviews how he came to the Lord (1 Tim. 1), sometimes he compares his ministry to the ministry of others (1 Cor. 15), sometimes he names people who have helped him, and other times he names people who have harmed him. This is why Paul sometimes has to protest that he is not preaching himself: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). But there he goes, mentioning himself again!
Paul’s Gospel, Our Gospel
Paul refers to the gospel of Jesus several times as “my gospel.” In Romans 2:16, Paul refers to the day of judgment which is coming “according to my gospel.” Later, in Romans 16:26, Paul writes, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages…” And again in 2 Tim. 2:8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” Something similar seems to be implied a number of other places in Paul’s letters. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing…” (e Cor. 4:3). “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…” (1 Thess. 1:4-5). “To this he called you through our gospel so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor. 15:1, 10). “And the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:14-16).
Sharing Your Gospel, Our Gospel
The point is that when God saves, He saves particular people, with particular backgrounds, personalities, gifts, strengths, and so on. He saves you from your sins, but the shape of His grace in your life is on purpose. He has given you a unique and glorious story of His grace.
How should you share the gospel? You should share your gospel. This is not a different gospel than the one Paul preached. Nor is it a different gospel than all the faithful saints have preached down through the ages. It’s still Christ crucified for sinners; it’s still Jesus raised and seated at God’s right hand, Lord over all. But this glorious reality takes a particular shape in particular people.
In other words, as I am fond of telling my homiletics students: you cannot give what you do not have, but the wonderful thing is that you can always give what you do have (cf. Acts 4:6). Have you received mercy? Then share that mercy. Have you received hope? Then share that hope. Were you raised in a Christian family? Tell that story of grace. And do not say that your testimony is boring. There is nothing boring about the grace of Christ. Were you saved out of addictions or abuse? Tell that story of grace. Your story of grace is your gospel for the world. With Paul, learn to say, “This is my gospel.” And as we do this, we are sharing our gospel, the only gospel there is.