The Bible is an evangelistic book, revealing God to us, our need for reconciliation to Him, and the means by which it happens. This reconciliation comes about only through the will, wisdom and power of God.
The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ, accomplished to bring about this restoration. The gospel has taken many forms through the centuries. Indeed there are many ‘gospels’ promoted today. Some are incomplete forms of the true gospel. Others are no gospel at all, speeding people along the broad road to destruction (Galatians 1:6-9). It’s easy to see why people get confused when receiving different answers to the question ‘What must I do to be saved?’
Rather than pulling out a verse here or a verse there to defend a particular gospel message or method, I decided to study the book of Acts, which contains virtually all of the post- resurrection evangelistic accounts in the New Testament. I wanted to see how the apostles and early church presented the good news of Jesus Christ to their lost hearers. Specifically, I wanted to answer the following questions:
- What was the content of the message?
- What were the people called to do?
- What promises were delivered to those who would accept the message?
From the results of my study I would be able to discover what the early church thought to be the essentials of the gospel message and compare it with the various gospel messages being promoted today.
I found 28 accounts of the gospel being presented in the book of Acts. A few had almost no detail (such as Acts 4:33), while others took up the majority of the chapter. But all accounts were studied.
Here’s a summary of the results of my study (the study itself can be found here):
- The gospel message repeatedly contains the following themes, in order of the frequency of occurances:
- God’s authority invested in Jesus (Lord, Christ, Savior, Judge, etc),
- the death and resurrection of Jesus,
- people confronted with their sin,
- the call to faith in Jesus,
- the call to repentance towards God (symbolized by baptism).
- The saved (those who accepted the message of the gospel) are always identified primarily as those who believed (i.e. Acts 4:32), not those who repented, or were baptized, or did any kind of works. These other things happened, but salvation is by faith alone. (The other things came about as preparation for or as a result of salvation. Baptism symbolizes not salvation but turning from the old way of life to a life of discipleship.)
- The book of Acts contains no mention of heaven. This is interesting since most of today’s gospel presentations make heaven a primary motivating factor.
- The book of Acts also contains no mention of hell or the wrath of God. Rather it speaks of the final judgment of all men. Jesus is not promoted as a Savior from hell but from this judgment. It seems merely presenting the message of future judgment is enough to get people to think about what that means and what needs to be done.
- The word “sin” (or “sins”) in the gospel presentations is used only in connection with the word “forgiveness”. It is never used to convict someone of sin (i.e. “you have sinned”). However, the word “wickedness” is used in this way (Acts 8:22), and people were confronted with their specific sins (Acts 2:23,36, 3:14-15, 4:10, 5:30, 7:52).
- The word “love” is never used in Acts, neither is “mercy”.
- The word “grace” is never used in a gospel message, however it is used to describe the gospel message in Acts 14:3,15:11 and Acts 20:24. Most occurances of this word apply to those who have already believed (i.e. who have had grace shown to them).
- The gospel according to Acts mentions no temporal salvation benefits. No health, wealth, or a more fulfilling, exciting life… not even a relationship with Jesus (even though that is a benefit). The only earthly benefits listed are spiritual: receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and ‘times of refreshing’.
- At first glance, there are no direct mentions of the deity of Jesus in the Acts gospel accounts. However, Jesus is repeatedly called Lord, which to the Jewish mind is understood as a direct statement of His deity. (Another question would be what Jesus’ Lordship meant to the gentiles.) He is also called Son of God, a declaration of His deity understandable by the gentiles.
- On a trivial note, the word “disciple” (or “disciples”) only appears in the gospels and Acts.
These are just some statistics I’ve found. The purpose of this study is not to say certain words/concepts are wrong to use when telling the lost about Jesus, but to make sure we keep the main themes the main themes. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning heaven, hell, the love of God, or sin when speaking to the lost. But we must remember to keep the common themes at the forefront of our message: the death and resurrection of Jesus, His complete authority over man, confrontation with sin, repentance, and faith in Jesus.
Here are scripture references for the more common themes:
|Common Themes||Occurs Where|
|Jesus’ death and resurrection||Acts 2:23,24,27,32, 3:15, 4:2,10,33, 5:30, 7:52, 8:32 (implied), Acts 10:39-41, 13:27-29,31,34, 17:3,18,31, 26:8, 26:23|
|…part of God’s plan||Acts 2:23, 3:15,18,22, 13:23, 26:6,22,23|
|God exalted Jesus above all||Acts 2:33, 3:13, 7:55-56|
|God’s authority invested in Jesus: Lord||Acts 2:25,34,36, 4:33, 5:31, 7:59, 9:29, 10:36, 15:11, 16:14, 16:31, 18:25, 26:15, 28:31|
|God’s authority invested in Jesus: Christ (Messiah, King)||Acts 2:30,36, 3:20, 4:10, 5:42, 7:56 (“Son of Man” ref Daniel 7:13-14), Acts 9:20, 13:22-23 (implied), Acts 15:11, 16:31, 17:3, 18:5, 18:28, 20:21, 28:31|
|God’s authority invested in Jesus: Only Savior||Acts 4:12, 5:31, 13:23, 15:11|
|God’s authority invested in Jesus: Judge of man||Acts 10:42, 17:31|
|God’s authority invested in Jesus: Sender of the Holy Spirit||Acts 2:33|
|God’s authority invested in Jesus: other, including evidence by miracles||Acts 2:22, 3:13,16,22,26, 4:10,11, 10:38, 13:23, 17:31|
|Jesus called God’s Holy/Just One||Acts 2:27, 7:52, 13:35|
|Jesus called God’s Son (deity)||Acts 9:20, 13:33|
|People confronted with their sin||Acts 2:23,36, 3:14,15,17, 4:10, 5:30, 7:51-53|
|People called to repent towards God||Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 17:30, 20:21, 26:20|
|People called to believe in Jesus||Acts 5:31-32 (implied), Acts 10:43, 13:39-41, 15:9,11, 16:31, 18:5 (implied), Acts 20:21|
|People called to be baptised (symbolizes repentance)||Acts 2:38|
|People called to call on the name of the Lord to be saved||Acts 2:21,38,47, 4:12|
|Promised: Remission of sin||Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 10:43, 13:38-39, 26:18|
|Promised: Receive the Holy Spirit (of Jesus)||Acts 2:33,38, 3:20, 5:32|
|Promised: times of refreshing from God||Acts 3:19-20|
|How received: believed||Acts 2:41,44, 4:4, 10:44 (implied), Acts 11:21, 16:34, 17:34, 18:27,28|
|How received: baptised||Acts 2:41, 10:47-48, 16:33|