The Content of the Salvation message
The Bible provides guidance about how to introduce the Christian faith in a way that avoids two opposite undesirable extremes (a “mechanical” presentation and a “shotgun” approach without clear focus). There are five sections in the Book of Acts that record what Peter or Paul said when they were addressing non-believers. Amazingly, each of the five contains the same four concepts — so they avoid the extreme of “lack of focus.” At the same time, they talk about the concepts using different words each time, so they avoid a “mechanical” approach.
Peter’s sermon in Acts chapter two illustrates the flow of thought. Starting in verse 23, Peter accused the crowd of murder, but announced that the person they had killed, Jesus rose from death and is the promised Messiah. When the people asked what they should do, Peter invited them to repent and be baptized, so their sins would be forgiven and they would receive the Holy Spirit. In brief, Peter bought up a problem, showed how God solved it, answered their question about what to do, and proclaimed the benefits they would receive.
These four concept areas (PROBLEM -ANSWER – INVITATION – BENEFITS) are found in all five of the messages found in the Book of Acts. Following the apostle’s model, these are then the areas we want to talk about with non-Christians. We want to internalize them so completely that we can express them in the words most suitable for the person we are conversing with. (A sixth message — Paul’s speech in Athens in Acts 17 — does not include these 4 elements). (for more, click PROBLEM ANSWER INVITATION BENEFITS)
We may be able to bring up all four in a single conversation, or different ones may be brought up in different conversations. If we know them well enough, we will know which important concepts have yet to be brought up in future conversations. After we know our friend has heard all four, we can ask “what do you think?” and from there can know how to continue the conversation. Their response might show an interest in faith, or they might raise an objection. Suggestions for what to do in either case are found at the link “handling responses to the message.”
Looking at the salvation message in terms of these four categories removes a lot of pressure from us. It is not a matter of getting someone to understand everything in the Bible so they can become a Christian: rather, the salvation message– the amount of things Peter and Paul said to non-Christians — could easily be said in a few sentences. It is after someone becomes a Christian that the begin to learn the rest of the Bible’s teachings. Rather than looking at evangelism as complicated, then, our attitude should be that evangelism is not complicated, for it only includes four concepts. It is the continued Christian growth after coming to faith that is complicated and has a huge number of topic areas. Suggestions for these areas of “follow-up” and “ongoing nurture” are treated in this web site on the Nurture Pages.
Concentrating on this simple message explains why Paul could tell the Corinthians “I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), but he could tell the Ephesian elders “I did not hesitate to proclaim to you the entire counsel of God.” Paul may seem to be inconsistent, but actually he has selected the content that is correct for the stage of the listeners. To the non-believing Corinthians, Paul concentrated on the salvation message. To the Ephesians, who had already become Christians, Paul taught the rest of God’s Word. This differentiation is reflected in the Great Commission: first there is the teaching that leads to baptism, and after that comes the “teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” One cannot teach “all I have commanded” before the person has become a Christian.
LINKS: More scriptures that include the four concepts
More on the salvation message as a four-topic concept
More about the word “gospel.”
More about the word “evangelism.”
A learning activity: the Gospel Booklet
(this is for you to teach Christians, not a witnessing piece)
30 bullet points for presenting the Christian Faith
Differentiating “law” and “gospel.”
More detail on each individual topic:
PROBLEM ANSWER INVITATION BENEFITS
GodConnects. A FREE series of 12 10-minute videos, with questions to consider. http://www.lhm.org/godconnects/