Sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the primary call on every believer’s life.
Each and every one who claims Jesus as Lord is commissioned to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This was not a command limited to the disciples who heard the words of Jesus that day, but was a command to the church that those disciples represented.
The disciples faithfully executed this commission. As the Apostles of the Church, they went to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth with the Gospel of the Kingdom (Acts 1:8). And on that foundation — the Apostolic proclamation of the Gospel — we continue to share the good news that there is a King who has died as the perfect sacrifice for his people, who rose again unto resurrection life, and will come again with the fullness of his kingdom to set right all that sin has set wrong. It is with joy that we call people to trust in Christ, so that we might be clothed in his righteousness (Galatians 3:27) and welcomed into the Kingdom-Family of God (Romans 8:15).
That joyful duty, however, is sometimes accompanied by tears. It seems strange that tears would be a characteristic of Gospel proclamation. But this is only strange if we forget that sharing the Gospel requires calling men and women to repentance. (Acts 2:38) It requires calling people out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9) It requires exhorting our neighbors to lay aside every sin and weight that clings to them and run the race God has set before them. (Hebrews 12:1)
I have been asked, particularly in light of recent controversies, “Do you believe there are places that we shouldn’t take the Gospel?” Not at all. If someone invites me, as a minister of the Gospel, to share the good news of Jesus Christ, I will go regardless of the unwholesome circumstances around me.
But I must go in wisdom. I must beware that I not participate — intentionally or unwittingly — in the sins of those who have invited me in (1 Timothy 5:22). And I must also make sure that I’m preaching the same Gospel that Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Or in the words of Paul, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again” (Acts 20:24-25).
This very same Gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully declared by the Apostle Paul is to be proclaimed by us. And built into this gospel is the call to repentance.
It is not enough to state the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and then offer a broad call to repentance when a specific sin must be identified and denounced. To share the Gospel with a room filled with pornographers, for example, must include pleading that would sound like, “Friends! Repent of this sin of pornography. Turn from this wickedness! Instead, embrace the true love of Jesus Christ and find forgiveness and grace!”
I wonder if this call to repentance is missing from some of our Gospel presentations. Now, the call is name-checked. We often say the words “repent and believe,” but the words may not be filled with their actual weight.
Yes, there will be times that the proclamation of the gospel is set within a framework of encouragement and love, rebuke being secondary. But there are other times when the ratio must be reversed. There are times when rebuke must be our primary focus in the proclamation of the gospel.
Christians, and particularly Christian leaders, must prayerfully discern which approach is most appropriate. Which approach gives most glory to God in that moment. Which approach would harm the reputation and cause of the church in that moment? These questions must be raised and weighed. Such consideration requires wisdom from above, supernaturally given by the Holy Spirit (James 3:17).
We all love our sin. That’s why we turn to sin as often as we do. It’s why we pray with the anonymous voice of the Valley of Vision, “Subdue in me the love of sin.”
Our unbelieving neighbors are not only lovers of their sin, they are blinded by it (2 Corinthians 4:4). They are blindly “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). If this is true, then it does little good to call people to repent from an undefined concept of sin. Part of the duty of gospel proclamation is to call sinners to repent of the sins they are actually committing.
Jesus and Paul modeled this for us in their ministries. When Jesus found himself in conflict with the Pharisees, he did not speak broadly of their sin, but was specific, even crafting entire parables to name their sins and call them to repentance (see Luke 16:1-17).
When Paul confronted Peter, he showed Peter that his specific sin of furthering ethnic division in the Church was an affront to the Gospel (Galatians 2:11-14). And Peter was willing to hear Paul’s rebuke because 1) the rebuke was targeted at a specific sin in Peter’s life and 2) Peter himself had followed Christ’s example and specifically rebuked named sin in his own Gospel ministry (Acts 2:36).
Here’s a helpful ground rule we can speak to ourselves daily: if you believe you can “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9) and yet continue in the same pattern of unrepentant sin, then you haven’t understood the Gospel (1 John 3:9).
And if we share the Gospel with someone without calling them to repentance — not theoretical repentance but actual repentance of concrete sins and sin patterns — then we’re not actually sharing the Gospel.
This is hard. It requires not a haughty heart of self-righteousness, but the humble heart of brokenness and tears. For there are “many that live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18) and believe they are saved because they said a prayer or trusted in some facts without repenting of their sins and allowing the Holy Spirit to do life-transforming work in them.
I have wrestled with this mightily over the last few weeks. I was ordained as a Pastor earlier this month and I’ve spent time in prayer as I have considered my own work. I have come to this conclusion: If I do not lovingly and tearfully rebuke sin, I fail in the task of sharing the Gospel, and I am giving people a false assurance that their sins are forgiven and that they are at peace with God.
Oh God, would you protect me and all your undershepherds from this failure.