I have done months of personal thinking and praying and thinking and studying and thinking and soaking about the nature of the Gospel. In my opinion, American evangelicalism is weak in two areas.
The first is the size of the Gospel. We have a reductionist tendency. We like smaller iPods and smaller computers and smaller times of downloads and smaller amounts of waiting. That has played itself out in the realm of the Gospel by reducing it to something that fits on a napkin, can be shared in 30 seconds or less, and can be tract-bombed in an afternoon blitz. The message, it seems, has become this: believe that Jesus died for your sins and you get to go to heaven when you die. That's not untrue. But it's certainly not the whole truth, especially as its generally presented.
- "Belief" is synonymous with "think these facts are true." Biblical belief is a life-altering, worldview shaping, behavior-transforming issue (ala James 2). It's why around here, we use the phrase "put confidence in Christ," which for us communicates more of what the Bible is saying when it speaks of belief or faith.
- "Jesus died" means that I'm off the hook and can then live without consequence. Following Jesus is for those seriously committed to Him, but He'll pay for the sins of anyone who prays a prayer. I'm careful here, because I think Jesus does forgive people who authentically and honestly deal with Him in prayer and that He forgives people of sin who will sin against Him later and do so intentionally at times. But living without consequence mocks God and He simply won't have that.
- "Heaven" is that place where there are no more tears, hurt, pain, cancer, etc. And that's true. And that's wonderful. But lots of people want to go there. The difference between the biblical heaven and some painless utopia is that Jesus is there. Without Him, heaven wouldn't be heaven. We make an idol of heaven if we would gladly have its benefits without its Benefactor. It's a piercing question to ask yourself: would I be happy in heaven if Jesus wasn't there? The answer tells you everything.
Second, there's a real problem of thinking that the Gospel is for those who need to be converted but not the church at large. This is an outflow of the small-gospel problem mentioned above, but according to the Bible the Gospel is preached to the church as much as anyone. We all need (a) reminder about what God has done for us in Jesus and (b) fresh application of that to our lives. You don't enter the Christian life through the Gospel and go on from there. You enter the Christian life through the Gospel and go deeper into the Gospel as you grow.
One huge outflow of these two problems is evangelism. We don't preach the Gospel to ourselves and so it's not in our bones. We don't have a story worth sharing, so we don't open our mouths. But the Gospel of the Bible is both enormous, penetrating, and powerful. The Bible calls it the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1.16). You know what Paul says right before that? That he's unashamed in his sharing of it.
So live today with a large Gospel: Christ's righteousness for our forgiveness, peace, deliverance and healing through His death and resurrection.
And go share it.