If I were to say to you, “Let me tell you about the epistemological presuppositions of supralapsarianism,” your eyes would probably glaze over. You might smile reassuringly at me while racking your brain for a reason you suddenly need to be somewhere else. That’s what people feel like when we explain the gospel using terminology that only has its special meaning to Christians.
One of my favourite commercials portrays a member of the German coast guard who is manning the radio room, when a frantic voice comes out of the speaker, “Mayday, mayday! Is anyone out there? We are sinking! We are sinking!” The German looks around for his supervisor, who has left the room, then responds, “Zis is de German coast guard.” The voice on the radio picks up intensity, “I repeat: we are sinking!” Puzzled, the German replies, “What are you sinking about?”
Sometimes what we are saying is not what the other person is hearing, because our language is different. Apply this to your sharing of the gospel with a completely secular, non-churched person.
The first big word you use when you share the gospel is the word “God”. In all likelihood, the person you are talking to is not thinking at all what you are thinking of when you say “God”.
The second big word you use is “sin”. You know what you mean—it seems so obvious. But when they think of the word “sin”, they probably think only of the really big sins like murder, adultery, etc. The ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. They don’t have any concept of a sinful nature that draws us away from God and ruins our lives. Nor do they think of sin as legal guilt before God that has to be dealt with.
The third thing you talk about is Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and this may be the first time anyone has told them about that. All they may have is some kind of hazy knowledge that Jesus died on a cross, but not who he is or what that was all about.
Words like these, along with terms like “judgment”, “grace”, “salvation”, “redemption”, “justification”, “born again”, “the penalty for our sins”, are jargon—they have a special meaning to those of us already in the Christian sub-culture. But when we use them with a person who is not familiar with that subculture, we are like the British ship captain trying to communicate with the man in the German coast guard.
Sin, judgment, salvation, grace—all the terms we have talked about represent things that are crucial to someone understanding the gospel. What that means is that in evangelism we must learn to talk about those things without using those words, but using terminology that means the same thing to us and to the people we are talking to. Of course, once a person understands the meaning, then we can say, “That’s what the Bible calls ‘sin’.”
I encourage you to practice talking about the gospel with your Christian friends, using terminology that would be meaningful to non-churched people. Help each other think through good ways to communicate the key points of the gospel in natural language.
Here’s an example: Sin
The Bible uses the word “sin” to express three different concepts: 1) your sin-nature that draws you away from God towards a focus on self (Romans 6:12), 2) acts of disobedience to God (which your conscience warns you about) (Joshua 7:20), and 3) your legal guilt before God (2 Cor 5:21). All three of these are connected to the gospel, and all three can be clearly described without using the word “sin”.
Sin meaning #1:
“Think about when you were little. Did your mum or dad ever sit down with you and say, ‘Here’s how you steal the other kids’ toys…’? 🙂 Of course not. As a little child, it was natural for you to think of yourself first and just take what you wanted. As we grow up we become more sophisticated about it, but really those ways of thinking are still in us, aren’t they? The Bible tells us that God didn’t design us that way, but something is broken in us that we can’t fix. Only God can fix it and we need him in our lives.”
Sin meaning #2:
“That brokenness in us leads us to constantly do what we know is wrong, sometimes in little ways and sometimes in big ways. God has built it into us to know when we are not doing the right thing. That’s our conscience. You say something hurtful to somebody and immediately you know you shouldn’t have said it. Or you take something from work and you know you shouldn’t have done it. Every time you get that feeling, it’s God letting you know that those things offend him, that they are not right. Those things are what the Bible calls ‘sin’ and we’ve all done them. The Bible says, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ I sure know that’s true of me.”
Sin meaning #3:
“Do you ever notice yourself doing something you have criticised other people for? I hate it when that happens. I might criticise someone I see speaking in anger to their child and then find myself doing the same. Or I might get frustrated with someone for pushing in front of me in traffic, but then find myself in a pressure situation doing the same. You know something? If we can’t even live up to our own moral standards, what are the chances that we have lived up to God’s standards? When it comes to being right with God, I reckon we all are in big trouble.”
In each of these paragraphs, I have talked about an aspect of sin, communicating the biblical truth about sin, but using normal language that would make sense to anyone.
As you learn to communicate the gospel without jargon, you’ll find that they understand the gospel much more quickly and can see its connection to their lives. You will find people eager to discuss the gospel with you.