Gospel Fluency - The Gospel Core
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” Acts 2:4-8
How’s Your English?
How are you doing with the new language? Getting better and better at expressing yourself? For those of us here where English is our second language it can be a real challenge!
I made so many mistakes and I still do. And it’s usually the teachers in my audience who correct me the most (other than my wife J). Especially English teachers.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Who knew that there was no such word as “irregardless”? Of course, now I know that “irregardless” is not a word since my spell check flags it.
But before that, I used the word a lot in my sermons. I meant to say “regardless” but kept saying it wrong, until a teacher in my church in Lindsay pointed it out to me.
Even to this day there are some words I struggle with, and at times my punctuation is off. It’s ironic that I should end up as a preacher.
Also ironic is the fact that we are to have gospel fluency when one of the biggest struggles of life is figuring out how to express the gospel succinctly and convincingly.
English is thus not the only language we need to show proficiency in. Even if all of us are proficient in English, let me ask you about your gospel fluency?
Does the Gospel flow as easily off your tongue as does English or whatever language you are most proficient in?
As you engage your colleagues, neighbors, friends and family there will be ample opportunities to speak the Gospel into people’s lives.
Be it at the Benefit Shop, Club Night, Nemby events or even Spring Open Doors, opportunities abound to share the Gospel with others.
This means that we need to be fluent in the Gospel. We need to speak it well, and in such a way that people can understand it.
While we may shape the Gospel into various contexts and speak it differently regardless where we are (or is that irregardless?), we need to know the Gospel well enough to articulate it.
It may sound different in Spanish than it does in English, or in Russian or in German, but the Gospel is still the Gospel and we need to be well versed and fluent enough in it to easily and naturally share it with others.
And every language has sublanguages in which the Gospel still needs to be spoken. Just like German has a crazy sublanguage called Low German along with a host of other dialects so English has various nuances.
This means the English spoken in a Seniors Home is different from the English spoken on the streets, or the English spoken in the hallways of our schools.
We don’t need to worry much about mastering other languages; but instead we need to be concerned about mastering the Gospel sufficiently that we can speak it into the vernacular of whatever language we happen to be proficient in.
So let me ask you: Have you mastered the Gospel sufficiently to speak it into everyday English? Does the Gospel roll off your tongue easily and naturally in Spanish for those of you that speak it? What about our Russian or Ukrainian friends? What about our low-German speaking friends?
Does the Gospel roll off your tongue easily enough? That’s the question this morning.
Four Key Questions
While it’s true that the Gospel is incredibly complex, with many layers and nuances addressing everything from the meaning of life to how we see God and thus can be studied forever, don’t get caught up in its complexity. Instead, look for the simplicity in the Gospel that can engage even a child.
A great theologian was once asked how he would summarize theology and the essence of the Gospel. He thought about it only for a minute before he responded with “Jesus loves me; this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
The Gospel, in its simplest form, is about Jesus and what we can do for others.
At its core the Gospel is about four things: 1) Who is Jesus?
2) What did he do for us? 3) What must we do? 4) What happens to us when we do it?
You master these four aspects and you will be Gospel fluent, which you can then take into whatever language you are at home in.
It’s as simple as that. Four steps. Four key questions. You master these four, and you will know the essence of the Gospel.
Who is Jesus? What did he do for us? What must we do? What happens to us when we do it?
So here’s the Wikipedia version of the four key points:
1) WHO IS JESUS?
The Gospel is good news about a WONDERFUL PERSON. Jesus is the GOOD NEWS. Make much of Jesus!!! Jesus is the Gospel!
He is the perfect man who lived a perfect life fully submitted to God the Father in all things.
He is the God-Man in the flesh, so we could know what God is like, and so that God could be near us.
He is the Saviour sent by God to save us from our sins, death, and destruction.
This answers the first question of who Jesus is.
2) WHAT DID JESUS DO?
The Gospel is the good news about Jesus’ death as well as his resurrection and subsequent ascension.
In his death he exchanged his sinlessness for our sinfulness so that those who call out to him will have their sins forgiven.
In his death, not only were my sins removed or exchanged but they were paid or atoned for.
When he rose from the dead he showed his power of sin and death. The wages of sin is death so Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated how that debt was fully paid.
He ascended to heaven not only to make intercession for us (for God knows we need all the interceding we can get), but to also send his Spirit to empower us to live the life of the forgiven.
So that answers the second question of what Jesus did.
3) WHAT MUST WE DO?
This really becomes key. The Gospel calls for a response; it’s never good enough to offer what Jesus provides without inviting a response.
The invitation without a response opportunity is like serving half a meal.
Peter was brilliant in this regard. What he did in taking the Gospel to his Jewish audience was amazing (more on that in a moment), but equally amazing was how he pointed to the need for a response.
In his discourse at the Feast of the Tabernacles he repeatedly called for a response:
“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” vs. 21
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” vs. 3
No doubt, without the call for a response, there would have been no way that 3000 of them that day would have said yes to Jesus.
This is called closing the sale. Don’t just make the offer without closing the sale, folks. What you point to in a response is repent, believe and belong.
Repent – Turn away from your old life of sin. Have a change of mind about what your sins have done, who God is, and what he offers.
Believe – Turn toward God. Put your trust in who Jesus is, what he has done, and what it accomplished for us.
Belong – Belong to God, surrender to him; belong to the community by being baptized.
As Peter said: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
That answers the third question of what our response is to be. The only thing left is to answer that fourth question of what happens to us.
4) WHAT HAPPENS TO US?
So here is what someone who has turned away from their old life and toward their new life with Jesus can expect:
Ø We are forgiven and cleansed from our sin
Ø We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Ø We are included in God’s family forever.
Ø We are sent out to help others with that same offer
Again, there are ample scriptural references for all of these points. This is just a precursor and overview of the Gospel Core.
The Gospel Core in Jerusalem
Now with this in mind, here is your assignment: Take these four essentials of the Gospel into the languages around you.
Take this to the Thrift Store. Take this to the High Schools. Take this to your neighborhood. Take this to Spring Open Doors.
If your friends are hip-hop, then rap it in the spirit of the modern day spoken word artist.
If your friends are Spanish then put this into Spanish. If it’s every day English then say it in everyday English.
Take this into every conversation that the Holy Spirit opens up for you.
Do what they did in the book of Acts. I love the Book of Acts. It’s actually the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which traces the incredible stories of these first generation Gospel-bearers.
I marvel at the Gospel fluency these people had and their ability to shape the Gospel into the various contexts and languages of their day.
Peter certainly stands out as one of these people. What he did in Jerusalem was incredible.
He not only grasped the gospel core of who Jesus was, what Jesus did, what people had to do and what they could expect, but he did it within the culture of his day.
For Peter it was within the context and language of the observant Jews of the first century who had gathered in Jerusalem for their annual Feast of Tabernacle.
Peter starts out referencing Jesus of Nazareth as a man accredited by God and builds from there:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Using their language and speaking in their context, quoting even their national heroes such as Joel and David, he positions Jesus as their long expected Messiah.
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, who you crucified, both Lord and Christ” vs. 36
This is how you speak the Gospel to observant Jews of the first Century. This was the Gospel Core in their language at its finest! No wonder there was huge surge of response.
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
That’s how you do gospel fluency among first century Jews!
The Gospel Core in Caesarea
Then we see Peter again, this time with the household of Cornelius, which became a huge turning point.
You see, Peter was comfortable in the world of first century Judaism, with he himself being Jewish. These were his people, this was his language, and he was very effective in bringing the gospel core to his own kind.
Cornelius was a huge turning point. Cornelius was neither Jewish nor from Judea but a Gentile from Italy.
Notice what it says: “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.” Acts 10:1
He was from a completely different world than Peter’s. Peter not only had to learn the language of this man, but he needed huge convincing that this man was worth saving.
You know the rest of the story, of how God had to come down in a dream and almost slap him in the face before Peter realized that this man was worth saving.
Peter confessed his prejudice to this man when he told Cornelius: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” 10:27
There is a lesson there for us, isn’t there? Who have we written off? Who would be taboo to reach out to? Who are the lepers in today’s evangelical churches? The transgendered, the gay, the common-law, the tattooed and body pierced?
That’s a whole other conversation, isn’t it? We would do well to heed Peter’s confession: “God has shown that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
The other question is what do we do with them when they become Christians? Do they have to look like us, talk like us, have our tastes and preferences?
That was a huge conversation in the early church which actually started with the Ethiopian Enoch, who, I believe, was the first non-Jewish convert.
What do we do with non-Jews that convert? Do they have to become Messianic Jews or Judaizers? Do they have to observe the laws as we do? Do they have to look like us?
It almost split the church of its day and led to the Council of Jerusalem where a ruling was made regarding lifestyle issues.
It’s easy to take the gospel core to your own people, but a completely different story when riffraff walks in.
Well, Cornelius was Italian riffraff in the minds of these Judaizers, and yet look at what God was doing in that man and his family:
“He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.” Acts 10:2-5
Amazing that God would be at work in the life of an Italian centurion. Who knew?
Never judge a book by its cover, friend! God has an amazing ability to be at work in the most unlikely of people.
As you look outside your box, who are the Cornelius’ in your life? Who’s beyond your comfort zone? Who is stretching you in ways you never imagined as you hear God whisper to you not to call anyone impure or unclean?
Look at what Peter did. He engages Cornelius and his entire house with completely different language than he did with the Jews in Jerusalem.
Different sentence structures, different wording, no references to Old Testament writings. It’s like two different preachers.
But he still presents the essence of the four questions of the gospel core in terms of who Jesus was, what he did and our need to respond, and the assurance of what will happen to us.
So Peter talks about such things as: “announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” vs. 36 and “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” vs. 43
And Peter also provides assurance of new life upon repentance when he says: “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” vs. 47
I could go on and tell you about the language that Philip used so as to reach the Ethiopian from Africa, and how different that was from the language that Paul used to connect with the Epicureans from Athens, and how different that was from what Peter did.
Yet with each one the gospel core was conveyed. This is what is needed in our days. True to the gospel core yet fluent in the gospel and speaking it in the languages of those we come across.
As much as you may think that that is about human smarts, ingenuity and learning languages and that somehow Peter, Philip, Paul had the smarts and wherewithal to do this, let me suggest to you something else at play here.
That as much as the Book of Acts is about the incredible acts of the apostles, behind these men and women stood the force of the Holy Spirit, beginning at the very beginning of Acts and all the way through to the end.
This is as much about the Holy Spirit giving them the ability and drive as it was about what they were able to pull off.
Of course, as a Pentecostal, I do believe that on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit fell that they did speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance and that this prayer language and infilling would go a long way to keep them motivated and effective.
But I also suspect that the desire and the ability to take the gospel core into the many languages and cultures of their day was also a direct result of the Spirit’s coming, and that the speaking of tongues they did in those days was also somehow related to their gospel fluency.
So where do you start? By opening your heart to the Holy Spirit who will be your guide, teacher and the one who makes you an effective witness!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.