Allow me to pose a simple question: how will people in our city know that the gospel is true? When I say “true” I mean authentic, real, effective, and worthwhile. This simple question has all kinds of answers today.
I often feel the pressure to make a sales pitch for the gospel. Do you feel that way? It’s like the gospel depends on our ability to play the role of a salesperson – coming up with clever slogans, flashy signs, and creative expressions. I realize that the gospel must be proclaimed, but I think the Bible has something to say about our efforts to make our city know that the gospel is true.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians to a group of Christians who have really experienced the truth of the gospel. He writes in chapter 1, “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5a).
The gospel came in three ways: with words, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. In a sermon from 1967, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones stresses the importance of all three. In his day, there was intense pressure to make the gospel easier for people to understand. Christians all over the world were trying to find creative ways to prove that the gospel is true. In the 1960s, many called for a new English translation of the Bible because the King James Version was too difficult for the modern reader. Conferences, books, and sermons were dedicated to finding new ways to present the gospel so that it would be attractive to the non-believer. Sound familiar?
We have the same problem today. There are endless English Bible translations, countless Christian marketing firms, and a mountain of church resources dedicated to creative new sales pitches for the gospel. We have employed social media, trendy music, and dim lighting to get people in the door. We can’t lose sight of what Paul says about the church in Thessalonica: the gospel came to them in word, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. There was a synergy of proclamation, a movement of the Spirit, and deep conviction in the hearts of people. You can’t engineer this in a church office.
Now, Paul goes on to say about these folks, “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore, we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:7-9). What was the result of the gospel coming in word, Spirit, and deep conviction? They became models to the whole region of life transformation, of turning from idols to serve God! Paul doesn’t need to make a case for the gospel anymore because its truth is evident in the people’s lives.
I’ll ask again: how will people in our city know that the gospel is true? They will only really know by the authenticating witness of transformed lives. When there is real transformation, whole cities and regions take notice. When the gospel comes in word, Spirit, and deep conviction, then we don’t have to come up with fancy presentations of the gospel. In cities where Christianity is seen as a poison to society and a nuisance to get rid of, the only way the gospel is going to be proved true is through the radical transformation of people.
I think of San Francisco. There is no way I could come up with a creative enough sales pitch to make people believe that the gospel is true. But you can’t argue with someone’s transformed life. When you see your co-worker, family member, or friend’s changed life, it’s a lot harder to argue about the truthfulness of the gospel. My prayer is that the gospel would come in word, Spirit, and deep conviction in our city resulting in the transformation of people’s lives and that this will witness to the power and truth of the gospel.