1 Corinthians 15:1-5 – “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
When we say we are sharing the gospel with someone, how important is it that we share the whole gospel? How much do we need to make sure the person understands before we encourage them to respond in faith and repentance? Can they hold to heretical teachings about Christ and truly be saved? Can they repent of some sins but not all sins and still have a genuine transformation of the heart? These are all questions that are important to wrestle with.
Imagine sitting down with someone who has heard you explain the gospel and is ready to place their faith in Christ. Now imagine you whip out a document that details the most prominent Christological beliefs of the first few centuries that the early councils condemned as heresy. “Are you an adoptionist? … Are you an Arianist? … Wait, what did you say you believe about the Trinity? … Oh, you’re a modalist! … You better go take a seminary class before I can check that box off and lead you to receive Christ as your Savior.”
Now, that scenario sounds extreme, because it is. At the same time, there are certain ideas about Jesus that we need to make sure people understand when they say they are believing Christ as their substitutionary sacrifice. If someone denies the humanity of Christ, how could Jesus be the sacrifice that both takes away the penalty of our sin and takes away the wrath that we deserve? If someone denies the resurrection, then our faith is in vain and we are still in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:12-17).
How about the idea of repentance? Are we telling people that in order for them to come to Christ and be saved from their sin, they need to change their behavior first? The biblical response to the gospel message is faith and repentance; belief in the truths of who God is, who we are, and who Christ is, and then an active turning from sin. Some would say that when we tell someone they are to believe and repent, that we are therefore requiring them to believe and become a new person before the Holy Spirit has been given to them. There is a sense that repentance is more than just saying sorry for the sins that have been committed. Repentance is an active turning from sin. Biblical repentance is not becoming someone new, but instead recognizing that the life we have lived is in opposition to God and is not compatible with being a child of God. It might take some time for the person’s actions to totally change, but there will be an understanding that those actions are not consistent with a follower of Christ.
Be comforted. God’s desire is that he be glorified through his chosen people being reconciled to himself. One of the most prominent ways we glorify him is by telling others of this gospel message. So though we wrestle with questions of what we should say and what we shouldn’t say and what we should expect and what we shouldn’t expect, we need to realize that if we are being faithful to preach the gospel as we have been commissioned, then the Holy Spirit’s presence will move through us. It is God’s desire to be glorified when his children turn from their sin and follow Jesus.