Jesus tells his disciples in Acts 1 that they will be his witnesses. By Acts 2 we see them carrying out this task telling the gospel story on the first Pentecost. Having been part of the gospel story, as well as being steeped in the Old Testament, his disciples knew the gospel story to tell.
I’ve been wondering how many people in our churches can do the same. My friend, Scott VanderPloeg, of Sunlight CRC in Port St, Lucie, FL has as a central part of discipling people teaching them how to tell the gospel story. So I’ve been wondering, how do churches teach people to tell the gospel story?
One of things I’ve been noticing, which is not new by any means, is that a lot of people in our society don’t want to start hearing the gospel story with hearing about sin. You can get to sin by talking about brokenness, loneliness, the darkness that seems to surround us on so many levels, but to simply start with sin keeps some from listening. Another thing that is important to me in telling the gospel story is to tell the good news of where this world is finally heading and our place in that work of God (see John 9.4). Because of both of these things what we are beginning to teach at EverGreen is a Gospel Witness that follows the flow of Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation. We have gladly used the Contemporary Testimony as a template for putting together this way of telling the gospel story (we even “borrow” some lines that are particularly helpful and powerful from the testimony).
Below you will find the gospel story we want people at EverGreen to be able to tell. We don’t expect them to memorize it word by word, nor will they say it all every time they tell the story. They will, however, be able to give the outline and catch the most important parts of the story each time they tell it.
You can see how EverGreen does this, how do you do it or how would you tweak the story?
God, as the king and lord of all, creates a perfect world, filled with wonder and beauty.
He then does an amazing thing: he creates human beings in his image. As image bearers of the God of creativity, wonder, beauty and love he gives them a calling to unearth the wonders of his creation for his glory, the good of human beings, and the good of creation. This calling is to reflect the nature of God himself i.e. people are to be people who are creative, who add to the world's wonder and beauty and love. Central to this work is tending and caring for this world of wonder and beauty and filling this world with more people who live out God's calling.
Early in human history people rebelled against God and his loving rule that was designed to give both the world and all who lived in it life. In response to the voice of Satan, Adam and Eve rejected God, in order to become like God. The depth of this tragedy is only seen when we realize that Adam and Eve were already like God for they were created in his image. With their rebellion against God the wonder, beauty, love, and creativity they were called to became distorted and broken. The result is a world that is marked by ugliness, injustice,loneliness, sorrow, grief, and other terrors that we see all around us. The creation suffers for we abuse or idolize it rather than unearthing its wonders while tending and caring for it.
We see that we are caught up in this world gone wrong. Close to home our experiences with brokenness, sorrow, thinking of ourselves when others need us reflect our sinful nature. In our broader world we fail to do justice, fail at keeping our promises, and don’t walk with humility before God shows our own brokenness. All of this and more shows that not only others, but we too are sinners before God (a sinner is one who misses God's mark like an arrow misses a target).
God longs to make all things new in this fallen world. He wants to set the crooked straight, to have people know and rejoice in living in a world filled with justice and peace. He wants to have a creation that no longer groans under the pain of a fallen world. While justly angry at our sin and knowing that we must be punished for our sin, God makes an amazing choice, rather than abandoning this broken creation and the broken, sinful people in it, he turns toward it in love. "With patience and tender care he sets out on the long road of redemption to reclaim the lost as his people and the world as his kingdom." As he sets out to reclaim a lost people he does so to restore them to himself through forgiveness and a new relationship and to create for himself a new people who will participate in giving the world a taste of his new creation by creatively bringing love, beauty, and wonder to a broken world.
For this to happen the day has to come when the Son of God, Jesus steps onto the earth. Jesus is the perfect reflection of the image of God, doing all what we failed to do, living in perfect obedience to the Father. Being both truly human and truly divine Jesus steps into our place and takes on our punishment on the cross. He is our substitute. As Isaiah says, Is. 53:4-6 "Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." He rescues us from sin and death in his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension.
When we accept what Jesus did, believing in his death and resurrection, God forgives our sins. Our enemies, sin and death, are destroyed and we are now in a renewed relationship with a God and part of Jesus' kingdom movement. As his image bearers we creatively bring love, beauty and wonder to the world. We learn how to do this by being people who read and study God's word. We are empowered to do this by God's Spirit who calls us to God's mission and gives talents to carry it out. We do this as part of Jesus' new community called the church.
God is heading this world in a direction. He is determined to make all things new. The day is coming when Christ will return and God will make everything as it was meant to be. We, and all of creation, will be redeemed, liberated and made new. We will live an eternity with God on a New Earth that is filled with wonder, beauty, and love. Where his people, who have been raised to life, creativity live out being image bearers of God.