Let us imagine that it is a cold, grey, winter morning. One of those mornings where you are nice and cozy where you are, and it would be uncomfortably cold to push aside the bed covers and get out of bed. Looking at the clock you see that it is still early and the prospect of getting up is about as appealing as extensive dental work. Just as you are about to drift back to sleep, a stranger barges into your bedroom with an air horn blaring and throws something in your bed. It is a fish! A cold, slimy, smelly, dead fish. Yuck!
For most people in this world, the gospel message is about as welcome as being awakened in this way. This is because the way the gospel is presented to people is oftentimes overwhelmingly negative. The evangelist starts out with the “bad news” of sin, death and hell and only then presents the good news of Jesus Christ at the end. No mention is made of God’s purpose for putting us in this world and no explanation is given that makes sense of Hell as the consequences of rejecting God’s generosity. Heaven is not mentioned nor any reason why we might like to go there. Is it any wonder that many people reject the gospel message out of hand?
A Negative Gospel Presentation
Let’s take a hard-working, decent person doing their best to make their way in a tough world. They are struggling to make ends meet, honour their obligations and have a little fun. In the midst of this exhausting struggle, along comes someone who starts off with the bad news. The sense of guilt, failure and inadequacy that is common to decent human beings is used to make the sinner feel bad. Once the sinner feels good and depressed, they are then terrified by the wrath of God. They are told that there is a God out there who is extremely angry with them and thinks the way they are living their lives is totally inadequate. Not only totally inadequate, but so completely evil that He is planning on tossing them and all their evil friends and family members into a Lake of Fire for all eternity. Only after the bad news has been used to depress and terrify the sinner is the good news of Jesus Christ presented.
Now this strategy for presenting the gospel message has been very effective and I don’t mean to demean it or those who use it. On the other hand, this technique is not going to be very effective for modern, skeptical people. To these people, this type of presentation will feel as though they are being skillfully manipulated. They will feel that the evangelist is using common feelings of guilt combined with the terror of death and the unknown as a high pressure sales tactic to get the gullible to agree to highly dubious propositions. Their natural skepticism will cause them to question whether the story really makes any sense. “I am no fan of Charles Manson”, they may say, “but burning someone in a Lake of Fire forever seems a bit extreme even for someone as evil as him, let alone a garden variety sinner who has never committed a felony.” How can we present the gospel to modern, skeptical people?
An Alternative Approach
Love is the hardest thing that we as human beings ever attempt to do. Is it easy to love your kids or do you some times want to smack them around? Is it easy to love your friends, or have you lost friends over seemingly trivial matters? Is it easy to love your parents or do they sometimes drive you crazy? Is it easy to love your spouse, or do you sometimes wonder if you have made a mistake? Is it easy to love your coworkers, or do you sometimes dread going into work? Love is extremely difficult and, if you are honest with yourself, you can easily find examples in your own life where you have blown it and not loved others as much or as well as you should have. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’s love.
Now what are the consequences of failed love? If we look around, they are not hard to see. Divorces, broken homes, hurt children, rape, murder, theft, genocide, racism and every other type of evil are all caused by the imperfect love that human beings have for one another. And yet if you ask around, everyone is in a constant state of denial. We are fine, we are doing well, we love perfectly and none of the problems on earth are our fault. Someone else is always to blame.
In the midst of the carnage caused by imperfect love, however, there are voices crying out in the wilderness. If you listen to these voices, you will hear that they are saying something very strange. They are saying that perfect love exists and that He is inviting us to live with Him forever in paradise. How do we accept this offer? How do we experience perfect love forever? We must accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must reject the selfish and self-centred lifestyle that we cling to and die to ourselves. We must accept the love and forgiveness of God made available to us through the cross of Jesus Christ and be cleansed in the blood of His perfect sacrifice. Only with God’s forgiveness and love can we experience life as God intended.
What are the consequences of rejecting this offer? Because Jesus Christ died to give you eternal life, you have it. If you reject God’s love. forgiveness and guidance, however, you will live forever without love. What will that be like? Look around this world and see the consequences of imperfect love and you get the basic idea. Eternal life without God’s love is a life of misery, loneliness, hatred, bitterness, anger, envy, strife and disappointment without end. God figuratively compares this bleak and horrible existence to living in a Lake of Fire.
The good news is that there is a God who loves you and created you for an eternity of blessing, joy, fellowship and love. This God created strawberries, sex, music, dancing and swimming and wants to bless you beyond anything you can ask or think. Eternal paradise is only possible, however, if the people in that paradise accept God’s help to love perfectly. Because God cannot force His help on us, He created us and put us in a world where our need for His forgiveness and assistance is as obvious as it possibly could be. Amidst the pain and suffering of this world, our need for perfect love is crystal clear and in that context He invites us to accept the grace and forgiveness that Jesus Christ purchased for us on the cross of Calvary. Only by accepting divine assistance can you be capable of loving well enough to enter into paradise and experience the eternal blessing for which God created you. Rejecting this blessing has truly horrible consequences.
The Bottom Line
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news I know. If you gave me the choice between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a 100 million dollar lottery ticket, there is no comparison. The Gospel promises us eternal life, health, love and pleasure more than any man could ask or think. Despite these enormous positives and the fact that the basic truths of the Bible are readily apparent, those who bring the gospel message are about as welcome as an IRS agent at audit time. Why is this? Because we present the gospel in a negative way focusing on sin and hell and wrath. When presenting the gospel, the topics of hell, sin and death are unavoidable and the notion that sinners need the grace and forgiveness of God is always going to be like getting slapped in the face with a cold, wet, dead fish. As illustrated above, however, it is possible to present the gospel in a way that is minimally offensive because it focuses on the goodness of God and the human desire for love.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10)