Lie: We preach the gospel to get people saved so that they can avoid hell and go to heaven when they die.
Truth: We preach the gospel, the good news that Jesus died, was buried and rose again, to announce that Jesus is King of kings.
Make people wish the gospel were true and then show them that it is. — Blaise Pascal
We must be clear on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The problem with the lie above is that it focuses on man and uses God to solve man’s problem. The true gospel focuses on God and what he has done. This is not simply a matter of semantics.
Let’s look at an analogy. Let’s say that you’re a seven year-old boy and your father is serving in the military in Afghanistan. You haven’t seen him for a long time and you’re not actually sure when you last saw him, since you were so young at the time.
Then one day your mother tells you the good news: “Since your father is home now, things have changed. We won’t be so poor and you’ll be able to join the boy scouts and go camping and you won’t be so lonely any more. Isn’t that wonderful?” she says.
All that may be true, but the focus is lost because she fails to announce the most important news of all: ‘your father is home!’ She fails to let the significance of that sink in, but in a way, nothing else really matters. Instead, the mother focuses on what the boy needs, yet those needs will be well taken care of simply by virtue of his father being home. In other words, all the good news that the boy really needs is that his father – the most important person in his life – has come home. He’ll instinctively grasp everything else himself by simply basking in his father’s return and then living in his father’s presence. He will experience first-hand how wonderful it is to be a child of his father’s ‘kingdom.’
We must “preach the whole counsel of God,” including the reality of sin, man’s need for a Savior and the reality of hell. It’s true that “knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” But all that is part of a larger whole, which is only adequately summed up in Jesus’ own summary of the gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand (is here).” We reveal the many facets of the gospel diamond when we preach the singular truth: that Jesus is King; his incarnation, death, burial and resurrection and ascension; his redemption and forgiveness; his justice and mercy; his new creation; and his poured-out Spirit that empowers his church to transmit a foretaste of the age to come.
Focusing primarily on man and his need for a Savior cheapens and diminishes the full gospel. We end up seeing the sacrifice of the Lamb only in light of our own sin problem and not in the glorious light of who he is. When the emphasis is on man and when we see the cross only in terms of man’s need, the Person on the cross becomes secondary. But no, the cross only means what it does because of who he is. If Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius or any other man died on the cross, it wouldn’t mean anything at all.
So why do we preach the gospel? Because the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is truly good news. He and his kingdom have come and he now invites us in through the door of himself.
All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. — John 10:8–10
See also What is the Gospel?