It is no easy task to share the gospel briefly and do justice to the its glory and majesty at the same time.
In our morning devotions, we are enamored with the infinite depth of the gospel. Only a few hours later we stutter as we try to share it over a cup of coffee, during a break at work, or at the end of a sermon.
But what if we can do both? What if we can share the gospel in a few minutes and maintain at least some level of its depth and richness?
If we can do that, gospel renewal will spread through our churches and neighborhoods. This will happen because people will hear a message about Jesus that is different (but more biblical!) than the one they rejected years ago. They will hear a message with power.
Where do we go for this model rich, but simple model for sharing the gospel? We need look no further than Ephesians 1:3-14.
Paul’s Trinitarian Gospel Presentation
In the opening verses of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul summarizes the gospel. But he does so in a unique way. Paul presents the gospel so as to show how each Person of the Trinity contributes the accomplishment of salvation.
- 1. The Father adopts (1:3-6). The fact that we need to be adopted implies that we are orphans. We have all “run away from home.” Just as Adam and Eve hid from God after eating from the tree, so also, in sin, we have all hid from God. As spiritual runaways, we have no way to return to our Father. We are locked up in the orphanage of sin. But our Father still loves us. He hasn’t forgotten about us. He has planned from eternity to adopt us back into his family.
2. The Son redeems (1:7-12). As with all adoptions, there are costs and fees involved. God had to purchase our adoption. Jesus, God’s true Son – the only one who didn’t run away – gave his life to pay the cost of our adoption. Our sins are forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ blood.
3. The Spirit seals (1:13-14). How do we know we won’t run away again? The Holy Spirit seals us as God’s own children. By giving us the Spirit, our Father guarantees that we will be his forever. This is not much different from the parents who immediately bestow their last name on the child they have just adopted. That’s the proof that the child has a family forever. The sealing of the Spirit is the proof that we are in God’s family forever.
Paul’s model is as timely today as it was 2000 years ago
Besides providing a framework for sharing the gospel, Ephesians 1 contains two themes that address common unbiblical beliefs held by those without faith in Jesus.
1. Sin is the problem. When we share the gospel, how often does the conversation turn to politics, social injustice, or natural disasters? Ephesians 1 locates the problem inside us, not “out there.” We ran away, and that sin condemns us forever.
2. Jesus is at the center. Postmodernism may be dead, but pluralism is alive and well. We will continue to hear claims that all roads lead to God somehow. All of the “in Christ” and “in him” statements refute this notion (only verses 8 and 14 have no such reference!). Salvation lies only in Jesus and through Jesus.
This model is enriched by the mysterious workings of the Triune God. He is one God, in three Persons, with each Person fulfilling a unique role in the single work of salvation. This is incomprehensible stuff.
Yet it is also simple. It’s a three-point presentation, so you can remember it. It follows the analogy of adoption, so the person you share it with can identify with it.
This model doesn’t hit everything. But the point isn’t to hit everything. That will paralyze us from sharing the gospel. We need something that is rich and simple. Paul provides that for us.
This is a guest post by Eric McKiddie. Eric blogs at pastoralized.com about doing pastoral work with theological rigor and practical efficiency. He serves as the Junior High Pastor at College Church in Wheaton, IL.
My reply to Collin Hansen’s post:
Excellent thoughts! Thank you for sharing. I love following the adoption analogy.
Thanks for the post. Presenting the Gospel in such a way as to show the activity of the Trinity in Salvation is both God honoring and helpful. You have also chosen three excellent pictures (from many) of what is involved in the Gospel. That being said I am concerned with the move from “The Father Adopts” to “we have all “run away from home.””
This presentation would suggest to me, as the other person in the conversation, that God is my Father and he “has planned from eternity to adopt us (me) back into his family.” Has he? Was I once a member of God’s family but have chosen to leave? I think not. I believe adoption is a wonderful illustration that can and should be used as to communicates the relationship that exists for those who respond to the gospel, if used with just a little more precision.
I think we need to be careful using “us”, “we” and “our” in our Gospel presentations. I know I do.
Thank you for pointing out my imprecision with the “running away from home” motif. You’re right that it doesn’t necessarily work regarding the individual personally. We are born dead in our sins (Eph 2:1-2), so in one sense, we didn’t “run away”.
But I think it does work in regard to Bible’s grand narrative. We, as a human race (and this is where I should have been more precise) ran away in Adam. He was the representative head, so that in his sin, we all sinned. I think this is part of what Paul is getting at in Rom. 5:18-19. So in this sense, we can say that we “ran away” from God in our sin.
In my attempt to simplify the gospel, I oversimplified it! Thank you for your gracious critique.
Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing. It seems some people forget the third point (The Spirit seals) and there is not a full realization of this new identity…
I have a different view on this.
Consider the context of Ephesians 1.3-14. Context is vital in handling any scripture.
Paul is not here presenting the gospel to non-believers. He is addressing ‘the saints…the faithful in Christ Jesus’ (v1). So he is ‘preaching to the converted’.
He explains how they were chosen before the foundation of the world, predestined for adoption as sons. Predestination of the elect is being presented, to those who are already saved, as a comforting doctrine, to show them their eternal security in Christ, also to move them to worship as they recognise God’s grace in saving them. Paul wants them to know that the only reason they chose Christ is because he first chose them. He’ll go on to tell them in Eph 2 how God made them alive even when they were dead in sin, that they are saved by grace alone, through faith – and that not of themselves, even their faith is a gift from God.
You’re spot on about sin being the problem, and that the only basis for being forgiven is because of Jesus’ blood shed for sinners. Because at the cross the just wrath of God against hell-deserving sinners was propitiated.
But if you use these verses in Ephesians as a model for presentation of the gospel, where is the call to repentance and faith in Christ? We need to be very careful not to present a version of the gospel which does not clearly call people to turn to Christ in repentance and faith.
Perhaps you did not mean to exclude a call to repentance and faith. But I have heard too many ‘gospel’ presentations which speak to unbelievers as though they were already saved, as though they were already reconciled to God, they just don’t know it yet. That is not right.
If we want to think about Pauline models for presenting the gospel to unbelievers, I really dont think Eph 1.3-14 is the place to go. Look at how Paul preaches the gospel in Acts 17.30-31, where he IS speaking to non-believers:
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Another good example from Acts of Paul’s model for presenting the gospel to non-believers is from Acts 20.21:
“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
The call to repentance and faith in Christ is at the heart of Paul’s model of how to proclaim the gospel. Ephesians 1.3-14 is written to those who have already repented and believed. I really don’t see it as modelling how to present the gospel to non-believers.
Dave, I agree that the context in Ephesians 1 is a letter to Christians in Ephesus, but I think this simple model of adoption does also have benefit in evangelism.
The idea of repentance is integral to the idea of Jesus purchasing us, and, to extend the orphan analogy, actually fits quite well. Imagine a loving parent going to an orphanage to adopt a child, or children. Though there are almost innumerable children, and it’s clear that the adopting father is limitlessly loving and capable of caring for them, most of the children either ignore this father-to-be, or even go so far as to spit at him, insult him; reject him. Some children, however, realise how unworthy they are of adoption, and how much they need this father, and they come to him, with nothing to offer whatsoever, and ask to be accepted into his family, putting themselves totally in his care.
This analogy, whilst going beyond the Ephesians 1 picture, reflects the idea of repentance. There is, however, an element in which those non-Christians to whom we evangelise may be “called according to his purposes”- that Romans 8:28-39 idea that God predestines, foresees, calls, justifies and glorifies people through and by Christ.
It is true that context must be taken into account, but on the other hand, this is gospel we’re dealing with. We’re told in 2 Timothy 3:16 that ‘all scripture is God breathed’ and in 2 Peter 3:16 Paul’s epistles are categorised as scripture. As such, it’s important to recognise, that, though this particular expression of the gospel message was delivered within a particular context, the fact that God is sovereign and has given us a spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7) I think enables us to be able to evangelise with Ephesians 1 in spite of the context.
It is clear that God transcends context, and acts in spite of adversity. In our weakness, God is strong, and in our lack, God is plentiful. In the same way, our paucity of expression or inability to understand, let alone preach, the gospel in its fullness and perfection can still be used by God to change hearts and minds.
Though you’re right that there are other models throughout the New Testament for preaching the gospel, I think Eric has made a good point in identifying the idea of adoption as a way in which we can communicate the gospel. If we’re ‘to be all things to all men’ and ‘season our conversation with salt’, I think we’re also called to carefully consider how we can best communicate the gospel message. While we have to be true to the gospel, and can’t tailor or adjust its message to suit our agendas or contexts, we do have choice in our medium of communication and a spirit to guide us. I think that this idea of orphanhood is a way in which we can share the gospel message while neatly sidestepping preconceptions, stereotypes and stigmas that are regrettably associated with “Christian jargon” terms of repentance, judgement and sin. When evangelising, we need to ask whether people are hearing an affirmation of their stereotypes and ignorance of the gospel, or hearing the gospel message itself.
I think that, though you do make a good point in mentioning the issue of context, there is scope in Paul’s letters to Christian brothers and sisters for great evangelical models to those who don’t know Christ.
I for one will definitely try talking about the gospel through this analogy, as it’s an image that can address both repentance and assurance- orphans, upon experiencing the love, care and provision of their foster parents rarely abandon them, but rather rest secure in their love. In the same way, once we are saved by God, held in the palm of his hand, and given rest from our burdens and weariness, in my experience it’s hard to turn away.
Thanks for the article Eric- it was really encouraging. 🙂
Thanks James for your reply.
I will be so bold as to say I think you are seriously mistaken.
First, 2 Tim 3.16 does not licence bad exegesis.
Second, your post doesn’t really acknowledge that Paul very clearly sets out his model for presenting the gospel to non-believers, in the passages in Acts I referred to.
He unashamedly declares that they must repent and believe in Christ. That was his model for evangelising.
There is only one model of the gospel message in the NT. The one the apostles themselves used when addressing unbelievers. Sure, there are awesome depths to the truths contained in the gospel, and Eph 1.3-14 unpacks some of those depths for us who have believed.
But, I say again, Paul is not here talking to non-believers in order to convert them. He is talking to those already saved, saved by their response to the message of ‘repent and believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’.
Be very careful of thinking you can legitimately avoid talk of repenting and believing on some false ground of ‘contextualisation’. If you modify the message in order to ‘help people to better understand it without the jargon’ (as I have heard this justified by others), there is a danger you are departing from the model of the gospel we are told to proclaim in scripture.
Can God save someone who walks into a church meeting and hears a sermon on Eph1.3-14? Certainly he can. He can make someone spiritually alive and cause them to trust in Christ in what seems the strangest of contexts.
The reformers started out as ‘good Catholics’. They were saved when God made them alive, and they repented and believed, and this was in spite of the official presentations of the ‘gospel’ they had heard from their ‘church’. The model they were presented with was false, but God still broke through all that and saved them.
I know I have often failed to proclaim the gospel to people as faithfully as I should have, or as fully as I would have liked. God can and does still save when he has chosen to.
But that doesn’t excuse sloppy presentations of the gospel on our part, or the following of faulty models. The more we depart from the model for evangelising we are given in scripture, the greater the risk of making false converts. I say again that Eph 1.3-14 is not given to us as a model for evangelising the unsaved, for that is quite simply not what Paul is doing in that passage. It is faulty exegesis to say that he is. Who are those verses written to?
If you declare to people, as Paul did, that they must repent and believe in Christ (and by all means do explain what those words mean to them so that the words do not remain ‘jargon’), then I think it is fine to also talk about adoption, and Eph 1.3-14.
But don’t just tell them about adoption, leaving repentance and faith ‘implied’ in your model but not expressly stated, and think that is sufficient. Paul didn’t. It wasn’t his model to leave out an express call to repentance and faith in Christ.
Dave, thank you very much for your response- re-reading what I wrote, I realise it does sound like I was using contextualisation as an argument to exclude the necessity of repentance and belief from gospel conversations. I didn’t at all intend to do this, and nor was it my intention so say Ephesians 1 is the sole model we should use to talk about the gospel to non-Christians. I was instead agreeing with Eric that it provides a model of explaining our relationship with God in a way that neither compromises the gospel nor excludes the fullness of the imperative to repent and believe.
The way I read Eric’s article, he was describing a model to evangelise whilst under time constraints. I took such instances to mean evangelistic opportunities like walk-up, or perhaps talking to someone in class. My point about contextualisation was not at all to remove repentance from the gospel message due to your context, but rather to talk about the gospel in a way that does not pander to the negative preconceptions about the gospel that many people hold. I know that, in Australia, where I study, there is a widespread view of Christianity as constituting an oppressive list of commandments and proscriptions that take all the pleasure out of life and drive Christians to confront ‘inferior’ non-Christians about how terrible they are and how badly they need to change.
If we as Christians want to avoid being associated with this false image of Christians, the gospel and Jesus himself, we need to make it clear that the gospel is truly about our undeserved deliverance by Christ from sin through his death and resurrection, and the new life we can live to the full through him for God’s glory and the advance of the gospel. I made my comments about contextualisation as I know for certain that if, upon approaching a non-Christian to talk about the gospel the first thing I say is ‘repent and believe’, I will instantly be labelled a bible-basher, an intolerant hypocrite, and put on the same pedestal of condemnation as Scientologists or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In light of this, what I took from Eric’s article was the suggestion to evangelise by the following model:
1) Definitely make clear that I’m a Christian. (So as not to deceive or mislead)
2) Describe the broken relationship caused by sin that exists between all people and God as a result of our rejection of him.
3) Talk about the salvation/adoption/deliverance/grace that Jesus provides through his death.
4) Make clear that, through repentance from sin and belief in Christ we can take advantage of the adoption that God provides through Jesus, and the new life of freedom we can live as Christians for the glory of God.
That was the model I took from the analogy of adoption- not excluding repentance and turning to God in humility, recognising our need for salvation and deliverance that can only be met through and by the blood of Christ, but also not assailing a non-Christian with terminology and ideas that they associate with a distorted and false gospel.
It’s imperative that we don’t rely on implication for the message of Christ to be preached. To do so is totally contrary to the biblical model provided by Jesus and by Paul. Jesus didn’t imply that the kingdom of God was near and that it might be a good idea to repent and believe- he proclaimed it. We are called to do the same, but I think, at least in my context, I can more lovingly express the gospel imperative of repentance and belief through patient discussion and explanation than I can through proclamation and confrontation.
Thank you again for your response and I hope this makes my interpretation and application of Eric’s article a bit clearer. I was by no means intending to water the gospel down to make it easier to swallow by removing the need for repentance, but rather seeing the idea of adoption as a way of communicating the necessity of turning to God to be saved in a way that is clear and accessible to non-Christians, and avoids the trap of false gospel stereotypes.
Just a layperson trolling the net for stuff on gospel presentations (that are more about the gospel than my experience) and stumbled on this site.I’m sure there is a lot of good stuff on this blog—but the combination of directness, humility and respect with which a word of correction was given and treated in the comments (above) is downright inspiring. If you’re pastors—I’m sure your flocks are well served. God bless you both in your efforts to serve Him. JP
I must say I have been inspired by the way Dave and James have approached this piece of writing. it is evident that both of you are humble servants of the most high who have shown respect for each other’s point of view.
Personally, I would say both of you are correct. I wouldn’t say the gospel model is dysfunctional and I wouldn’t say it was out-rightly written to non believers. This scripture can be used to point out the important truths a non believer needs to understand. the adoption analogy is great. however, the passage can also be used to speak to those already in Christ like the Ephesians Paul is writing to to help them understand their position and what God has done for them.
However, these are very enlightening thoughts,
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