What’s the best way to present the gospel? Is there a best way?
There is no cookie cutter, one-sized-fits-all approach to sharing the gospel (although there are common elements that should be present in each presentation). The “best” way to present the gospel is the way that best meets the specific needs of the hearers (both believers and unbelievers) that the gospel addresses. A quick survey of the sermons in the book of Acts will show a diversity in the apostles’ gospel proclamation.
In his very helpful book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, Timothy Keller condenses an article by D.A. Carson (available here) that describes what Carson calls “Motivations to Appeal to in Our Hearers When We Preach for Conversion,” which I have further condensed below.
Six Biblical Motivations to Believe the Gospel
- Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of fear of judgment and death.
Hebrews 2:14-18 speaks about Christ delivering us from the bondage of the fear of death. In Hebrews 10:31, we are told it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
- Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of a desire for release from the burdens of guilt and shame.
Galatians 3:10-12 tells us when we are under the curse of the law. Guilt is not only objective; it can also be a subjective inner burden on our consciences (Psalm 51). If we feel we have failed others or even our own standards, we can feel a general sense of shame and low self-worth. The Bible offers relief from these weights.
- Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of appreciation for the “attractiveness of truth.”
In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul states that the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. Yet, immediately after this statement, Paul argues that the wisdom of the cross is the consummate wisdom. Paul is reasoning here, appealing to the mind. He is showing people the inconsistencies in their thinking (e.g., “your culture’s wisdom is not wisdom by its own definition”). He holds up the truth for people to see its beauty and value, like a person holding up a diamond and calling people to admire it.
- Sometimes the appeal is to come to God to satisfy unfulfilled existential longings.
To the woman at the well Jesus promised “living water” (John 4). This was obviously more than just eternal life–he was referring to an inner joy and satisfaction to be experienced now, something the woman had been seeking in men…
- Sometimes the appeal is to come to God for help with a problem.
There are many forms of what Carson calls “a despairing sense of need.” He points to the woman with the hemorrhage (Matthew 9:20-21), the two men with blindness (Matthew 9:27), and many others who go to Jesus first for help with practical, immediate needs. Their heart language is, “I’m stuck; I’m out of solutions for my problems. I need help for this!” The Bible shows that Jesus does not hesitate to give that help, but he also helps them see their sin and their need for rescue from eternal judgment as well (see Mark 2:1-12; Luke 17:11-19).
- Lastly, the appeal is to come to God simply out of a desire to be loved.
The person of Christ as depicted in the Gospels is a compellingly attractive person. His humility, tenderness, wisdom, and especially his love and grace draw people like a magnet. Dick Lucas, longtime pastor at St Helen’s Bishopsgate in London, has said that in the Bible God does not give us a watertight argument so much as a watertight person against whom, in the end, there can be no argument. There is an instinctive desire in all human beings to be loved. A clear depiction of Christ’s love can attract people to want a relationship with him.