A gospel without the resurrection is worthless
As Easter approaches, it’s time to start thinking about Jesus’ resurrection. I grew up in church and heard the good news of Jesus every week, but the resurrection was only highlighted this time of year. Every week in the “evangelistic” part of the service the pastor would boldly proclaim that Christ died for our sins and, through faith and repentance, we would have eternal life. This is the gospel that I was taught and that I taught others.
All of that is good and biblical, so what’s the problem? There’s no resurrection! A gospel without the resurrection is a half gospel at best and a false gospel at worst. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
A dead savior isn’t a very good savior. That’s Paul’s point. Faith in a dead guy is worthless. How do we know that Jesus was who he claimed to be? How do we know that God truly crushed him for our sins and that we’re forgiven? How do we know that we will be raised and have eternal life? Because Jesus was raised from the dead! All of Christianity stands on this foundation.
Go read the sermons in Acts (Acts 2:24, 31–32; 3:15; 4:10, 33; 5:30–32; 10:40–41; 17:2–3, 18). The church was born because the Apostles were preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus. It absolutely can’t be left out when sharing the gospel with unbelievers.
Now, I don’t think anyone purposely omits Jesus’ resurrection. It’s just a terrible habit that good Christians have picked up and passed on to others.
Do we always have to mention the resurrection?
In evangelistic settings, explicitly teaching the resurrection is essential. As we’ve seen, it’s a massive part of what makes the gospel the gospel. It can be different, though, when talking to believers.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.”
Is he saying he only preaches Christ’s death and not his resurrection? Of course not! Paul is writing to believers and using shorthand that Christians will understand. When you’re talking to unbelievers, however, this type of Christian lingo isn’t obvious. You can’t assume that they know what it means.
It’s the same with the word “gospel”. I recently heard a friend tell an unbeliever to “believe the gospel” without defining the term. The unbeliever just looked confused. My friend followed up with, “Just trust in Jesus.” I knew he meant, “Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, and saving resurrection” but the unbeliever still didn’t have a clue.
Be fluent in the gospel
Understanding which Christian words to use in different contexts has to do with our level of “gospel fluency”. To learn a new language, people have to immerse themselves in it: listen to it, speak it, think in it, etc. Imagine a non-Spanish speaker who goes to a Mexican restaurant and orders in Spanish, one of the few things he knows how to say. If the waiter responds in Spanish then he’s totally lost. He has memorized a couple of useful phrases but that’s it.
One of the best Christian books that I’ve read in the last few years is Gospel Fluency, which discusses this idea. You may have memorized the “Romans Road” or other evangelistic strategies but are you fluent in the gospel? Could you easily explain it if, like in the Mexican restaurant example, the person asks you a question or doesn’t understand?
The idea isn’t to have a pre-packaged gospel presentation but to be so immersed in the good news of Jesus that it naturally flows out of your mouth, adapting to any conversation. This fluency only happens if you consistently think about the gospel, listen to it daily, and speak it to yourself and others.
If this is true for you then the resurrection won’t be something you just add to the end of the 2-minute gospel presentation you have memorized. No, you will speak about it naturally because its beauty has so deeply saturated you. You won’t be content with only using Christian lingo with unbelievers but will be able to practically apply the truths of the good news to their lives. The result will be a passionate presentation of Jesus that anyone can understand.
Do you immerse yourself daily in the wonderful truths of our salvation? There are times when you can use Christian words that summarize deep truths, but be wise about it. I think it would be a lot better to err on the side of talking too much about the resurrection and details of salvation than the alternative! If you are truly fluent in the gospel then you’ll know how to talk about it, and your genuine awe for Jesus will impact others.