The reformer Martin Luther – a preacher of the gospel and no stranger to a fight – once said that knowing the gospel and teaching the gospel is so necessary for discipleship that we must beat it continually into our heads (he had a fierce way with his metaphors). Luther knew this gospel-beating was needed greatly because of our fight against the three enemies of Christian growth – the devil, the flesh and the world – all of which are working daily to weaken Christians with lies and temptations. If this fight is an everyday reality – however overt or subtle it may seem – it would follow, then, that the best counter-offensive would be to have the truth of the gospel sink deep into our minds and hearts on a daily basis. We need to be hearing and speaking the gospel with each other proactively, and, I would propose, in the tradition of Luther, having it spoken right to our faces.
Part one of this article will be to discuss why we need to speak the gospel to each other. Part two will offer a few suggestions on how to speak the core doctrines of the gospel, and conclude with some encouragement toward speaking with spontaneity and without fear. For the purposes of this article, I will be talking about speaking the gospel primarily with Christians. While speaking the gospel to unbelievers is crucial for the Great Commission (and some of the ideas here could have crossover in evangelism), here I am concerned only with the necessity of speaking it to believers (Eph. 4:15; Heb. 3:13).
Why Speak the Gospel to Each Other?
Because the gospel is a message to be given, not just received.
For the sake of brevity I will not go into a theology of why the gospel is meant to be spoken and given away; doubtless, not many evangelicals would question it anyway. Suffice to say, Scripture is replete with stories and commands of the good news of God proclaimed through a variety of people in a variety of situations. However, we often remain content to just hear and receive the gospel from a sermon or some form of media, rather than speaking and giving its message to each other. Perhaps one of the ‘Great Omissions’ of the church is that in our zeal to make new disciples with the gospel, we have neglected to make disciples of each other with that same gospel. If we believe that the amazing good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – with all its redemptive implications for life and ministry – is the lifeblood of the church, the sine qua non of our existence as Christians, we would do well to speak it and give it to each other often.
Because we are called to build up the church with the gospel.
Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 4:11-13 that the role of leaders in the church is to equip the body for the work of ministry, so that the body may be built up to maturity in Christ. Whether you are a full-time minister in the church, or a member of the body serving in a smaller capacity, you are called to practice what you have been taught for the sake of the church’s growth. Paul goes on to say in Eph. 4:14-16 that one of the main ways we contribute to the growth of the church is by “speaking the truth in love”. What is this particular “truth” that we are commanded to speak in love? Paul answers this later on in 4:20-21 that “the truth is in Jesus.” In other words, the very truth of the gospel that Paul spent the first three chapters articulating in terms of our salvation and identity in Christ is the same gospel truth that we are to speak in love to each other, reminding, encouraging and exhorting each other often, so that the body of Christ may be built up to maturity.
Because we need to encounter Jesus.
Speaking the gospel face-to-face gives people an encounter with Jesus. This is in contrast to merely discussing Jesus. As Christian leaders and seminarians, we love to discuss Jesus; and this is, of course, a good practice, ensuring we have accurate theology. Yet, how many of us find it more difficult to speak or receive the good news of Jesus face-to-face? Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to just talk about Jesus, but more difficult to actually speak Jesus directly to someone? There are a few reasons for this. One is that when we discuss Jesus, or talk about some peripheral issue of him, we are, in a sense, confronting Jesus with our questions and opinions. However, when we speak Jesus to people we are confronting them with Jesus. We are speaking him to people in such a way that they must interact directly with Jesus. It’s hard to be direct with people sometimes. Another reason is because we tend to operate more with cultural ‘rules,’ rather than a biblical lifestyle. By this I mean that we don’t want to appear culturally unaware, and it feels socially acceptable to come off as a little more private and reserved about spiritual things, rather than feeling comfortable and free to speak the gospel openly with each other. Another reason may be that we genuinely do want to show our faith in everyday life, but we worry that speaking the truth in love to each other might sound pretentious, artificially passionate, or disproportionately zealous. (I mean, who of us wants to appear culturally out-of-touch, awkward or inauthentic, right?!)
Because we wrongly assume Christians are well-versed in the gospel.
It is evident in America that many churched Christians are living un-gospeled lives, and one of our greatest errors in discipleship is assuming that this is not true and everyone is ‘okay.’ However, the reality is that just because Christians are attending church services, or a small group, or are showing a joyful disposition, does not mean they are well-versed, actively speaking and living out the gospel. The more we wrongly assume, the more we assuage the need for gospel-centered living. Are we regularly provoked with the immensity of God’s glory, holiness and wrath? Are we aware of the stark reality of hell and heaven, Satan and demons, sin, idolatry and punishment? Are we at rest in the all-sufficient power and sweetness of the cross of Christ? Proactively speaking the gospel often will help us to mutually shepherd each other without assuming everything is ‘okay,’ because we are all deeply sinful and flawed, and desperately in need of God’s grace.
Now, if you begin to practice this you might find how often some of us will dance around Jesus and move to some marginal subject, but never actually deal with Jesus. I became aware of this when I began to speak the gospel to some men in my discipleship group. I proclaimed the simple truth that Jesus loves and cares for them deeply, and one of the guys derailed the moment, immediately responding with a reflection on how interesting the various names are for Jesus in the Bible. Instead of dealing with Jesus, he wanted to discuss Jesus. Again, discussing the biblical names for Jesus is not a bad practice. However, the point is that having a discussion about Jesus – even a robustly theological discussion – is not the same as speaking the gospel of Jesus to them. You may have dissected and defined the gospel a little more, but you did not proclaim him in the biblical way that he is meant to be proclaimed.
The gospel is a message to be proclaimed for every person (including Christians), in any city, in any church, in any situation. In Part Two, I will discuss more of the practical how-to of speaking the gospel.
 Luther, Martin. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia: Smith, English & Co., 1860), 206.