Gospel First...Defend second
It is not an easy thing to share the Gospel with another person. Many of my friends often believe that it is that way for me, but it is not. My heart pounds in my chest, my palms sweat, and my knees sometimes feel like they will buckle under me and fold. Yet, this is the only sure and true message we have:
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 (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
Let’s parse this out a bit. What are these two lines of text telling us:
1) Jesus is the Christ the Anointed One, the Messiah. He is the one promised by God to be THE One to rescue, save, redeem and forgive us.
2) This Christ, Chosen One, died, not for his sins for he did have any, but for OUR sins, the sins of every human ever conceived and that includes the person you are speaking with.
3) This all follows the promises and prophecies of the Scriptures, the Old Testament.
So, first, perhaps we need to become more familiar with the Old Testament. I understand it is often hard to get through those genealogies and all the details but Christ is in the Old Testament, sometimes loud and clear, as in “His Name shall be called Emmanuel”…and sometimes not so clear, as in “root of Jesse”. However, on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), Jesus opened up Moses and the Prophets and it says,
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27).
Every bit of the Word of God, the Bible, is about Jesus. So, all those promises and prophecies have come true in Jesus, in His Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. All of this lines up, is in accordance with the Scriptures. We have a sure foundation upon which to base our faith.
4) This includes not only his life, but his burial (which was eyewitnessed by both friend and foe) and proved He truly died.
5) Raised on the third day: We don’t have someone who was just sick, wounded and pushed a bolder out of his way then knocked out a substantial amount of trained, rough and tough Roman guards (who would be executed for not securing even a tomb). We don’t have someone, either, who was raised only to die again, like Lazarus whom Jesus raised but died again. No, we have a Christ who conquered death and lives forever more.
(This is part of the Panel at Musee UnterLinden and depicts (the right panel on the left side picture is the annunciation) and the right, which I have enlarged is the Resurrection of Christ with the Glory of the Universe behind Him, you can see the prints of the nails on his hands and fee, with the Roman guards falling down in utter fear. He rises a mighty conqueror and Lord of Glory.)
This my friends, is the Gospel, the Good News.
Did you see how wrapped up in these two lines of text you not only have the Gospel but you also have proofs? Look closely at how it tells us that the Scriptures spoke of this and now it has happened. Hundreds of years between the time the Old Testament was written and the events occurring give weight to the message. That Jesus was truly dead and now lives also gives weight to the message.
So, back to my title: Gospel first.
Absolutely the Gospel must be first presented in all its glory. I don’t mean with fanfare and flowery words but in its simplistic beauty it is glorious. Jesus lived, died, was buried and on the third day He rose again never to die again. How wonderful is that news! This is what the unbeliever needs to hear.
Now, should they make objections, then and only then do you defend the faith. The burden of proof is on you. Believe it or not, you are the defendant making quite the claim (a man was brutally beaten and nailed to a wooden cross, speared through so that his blood had separated to water and blood which proved his definitely being dead, was buried in a cold damp tomb, Roman guards, probably at least 4 most probably a dozen, on threat of their own deaths to keep anyone from going in; I doubt they thought the man they'd just executed would come out from within, rose on the third day smashing and conquering death, hell and the grave) and well, this incredible claim is really up to you to back up.
I would suggest that you begin with the eye witnesses: Matthew, Mark, Luke (he wasn’t an eye-witness but he was a historian of top marks who interviewed eye-witnesses) and John. Begin with these texts to defend the faith always remembering that God uses the Gospel for it is the power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17) but He also tells us to have an answer, a reason for the faith within (1 Peter 3:15).
Our defense is a creedal (Latin: credo, I believe) faith and should be defended in that matter:
This is what we believe. It’s not your opinion but the faith of the Church from the beginning and should be shown to be such.
Since it is a Creedal Faith we must hold to the most important part of that faith, which separates Christianity from all other faiths and without which would fall apart at the seams: Focus on the Resurrection. All other religious leaders from the past are dead and gone. Zero in on this essential: Christ died, in accordance with the Scriptures and rose again. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the only one to conquer death.
Keep your defense focused on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
because it is the center of the Christian Faith.
In order to do this you will need to have some preparation:
1) Memorize many of the verses in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which speak of the Deity of Jesus. Memorize those which He claimed about Himself. The reason is, if Jesus is God, then everything He says we must listen to. Also, because Jesus did rise from the dead (over 500 eye-witnesses at the time of the writing of the Gospels which would have been disputed easily), then what He taught about Himself is then true.
2) Learn the doctrines of the faith. Learn about Inerrancy and Inspiration regarding the Word of God handed down. See how the preponderance of evidence is in our favor and how the amount of solid, documented evidence is on our side. Learn what God’s Word teaches about the Crucifiction, burial and Resurrection. Study the sermons in Acts which place so much emphasis on the Risen Lord.
3) Read. I cannot emphasize this enough. The Christian is an ambassador for the King of kings. That means we have a message to give to people who still dwell in the kingdom of darkness. We have the One who is the Light of the world. We proclaim a message of hope, sure hope with confidence because He conquered death. Read the Word of God, study it to be an approved workman, but read the historical Christian texts as well because any argument brought up now is not new. Christian ministers and theologians have been answering skeptics for 2000 years so read them.
4) Study the Creeds of Christianity: The Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds are simple statements of what Christianity teaches and will aid you in defending what we really believe. As a professor of World Religions I find that students come into the course with all sorts of skewed views on a number of religions, particularly, Christianity. Part of my vocation is to help correct those misconceptions and explain what they really believe. It is the same with many who are Christians and yet have misconceptions, bad theology, poor teaching and almost radical ideas of what the Bible teaches. Think of the Creeds as a fence which keeps out that which is dangerous to you and your loved one while at the same time provides support for those inside the fence.