I don’t know who said this first, but “the gospel is simple and it takes theologians to complicate it.”
Recently I gave myself the challenge of presenting a comprehensive and jargon-free gospel in less than 400 words. That exercise got me thinking. What if we limited the gospel to just one word, or two words? Or ten?
Could it be done? Can you do it?
Throughout the Bible you will find short declarations of the Good News. Below I have listed short gospels from Paul, Peter, James, John and Jesus. I also have one each from Spurgeon and Calvin. But what I would really like to hear is yours. What is your short version of the gospel? Everyone should have one for those small windows of opportunity.
If you want to send in your short gospel (use the comment form below), remember three things:
(1) The gospel is news – it’s an announcement, not an appeal.
(2) The gospel is good news. There’s no bad news in the good news. Hell and judgment are real, but they’re not good news.
(3) For maximum appeal, a good gospel should be simple. A famous theologian once summarized the gospel as adoption through propitiation. It’s a good summary but it has limited appeal. It won’t make much sense to the man in the street.
As we will see in below, the best short gospels use simple language and are self-explanatory:
1 word: Jesus! You cannot improve upon perfection and there’s no other name by which we’re saved (Acts 4:12). Grace and truth are found in Jesus. Jesus saves sinners and keeps Christians. Whatever your need, the answer is Jesus. Are you struggling with sin? Jesus is your victory. Are you suffering with illness? Jesus is your healing. Are you bound up with depression? Jesus is your freedom.
2 words: Christ alone! If we must add one word to the name “Jesus” or his proper title “Christ,” let it be the qualifier “alone.” He alone saves us, and he doesn’t need our help.
3 words: None but Jesus! It was good enough for Spurgeon.
4 words: Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13). And just so you have no doubt as to where mercy comes from, James tells us: “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (Jas 5:11).
5 words: Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s all Paul needed to know (1 Cor 2:1-5).
6 words: Saved by Christ; kept by Christ. Many Christians believe only the first part of that statement. They believe that Jesus gave them a fresh start, but not a new life. They are confessing their sins instead of their sonship. Instead of resting in his righteousness, they are striving to make themselves righteous. The good news is better than they think!
7 words: Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Think of a firefighter smashing through a concrete wall to save trapped orphans. That’s what Jesus did for us. When all hope was lost, he came. Now that’s good news!
8 words: Christ died, was buried, then rose. He reigns! (1 Cor 15:3-4,25). Everyone quotes the first three bits of Paul’s gospel and misses the punch-line. The good news is not just what Jesus has done, but what he’s doing (he’s reigning!) and yet to do (until his enemies have been put under his feet).
9 words: I want to come in and be with you (Rev 3:20). Religion offers carrots and sticks, but Jesus offers invitations.
10 words: I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). As the song says, without the way there is no going, without the truth there is no knowing, and without the life, there is no living.
11 words: When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train (Ps 68:19). Ever seen those movies where the good guy beats the bad guy but then forgets to check whether the villain’s really been neutralized? Jesus is not like that. He has enslaved slavery, bound bondage, and captured captivity. Where are Jesus’ foes? They’re in his train, shackled and disarmed.
12 words: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The Messiah whom the Jews looked for, has been exalted, made supreme, so that our sins might be forgiven and the Holy Spirit given (see Acts 2:38)
20 words: The Son of God became the Son of Man that the Sons of Men might become the Sons of God. John Calvin may or may not have said this – I can’t verify the source – but it’s true and it’s good news.
And that’s it! What do you think? Can you convey the joy of the good news in just a few words? I would love to hear your short gospel.
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