First is the issue as to what constitutes the gospel. If you open the Bible you notice there are four books call "the gospel" - gospel of course meaning "good news" in the Greek. Their content is primarily the ministry, teachings, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. A couple of them - Matthew and Luke also touch upon his birth and early years. To say the obvious - Jesus Christ is central to the gospel. But in light of the shallowness of the manner in which the gospel is often presented, let's be clear that what was presented was not merely the name "Jesus Christ", but also his life, his being the Son of God, his ministry, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection. For even Muslims claim to believe in a "Jesus", but their version of Jesus is significantly different than the historic Biblical Jesus.
The Bible warns us to not be gullible on this matter concerning the preaching of Jesus. Paul warns the Corinthians,"I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough." 2Cor 11:3,4
What attributes and ideas about Jesus must one accept for it to be said that one believes in Jesus? Well of course we find out that for belief to be legitimate it goes beyond the realm of ideas. For Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."Matthew 7:21 And "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?"James 2:14 OK the faith that saves is an application oriented faith. We understand that. But object of faith is not the applications. So let's get onto the object of faith - Jesus Christ. What particular attributes and ideas about Jesus Christ make up the object of Christian faith?
The obvious answer is - whatever it is the Bible says of him. For if we say we believe what the Bible says of him here but not what it says there, we are not really believing in him at all. For example if one says he believes Jesus was the Messiah but not the Son of God (which is the Islamic position), then they don't believe in the Biblical Jesus. So also for those who claim to believe he is Lord but disagree with some of his teachings. Thus for one to say they believe in the Biblical Jesus is to agree with everything the Bible says of him - who he was, his instructions, his promises, his miracles, his death and resurrection.
Now there are those who claim to believe in Jesus but reject what his apostles say, or like Muslims those who claim that his apostles misrepresented Jesus. Jesus himself said, "I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." John 13:20 If a person rejects what apostles say, Jesus himself said that such people (like Muslims) reject him as well. Likewise John the beloved says, "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us." 1John 4:6
But concerning the content of the gospel, we see for example the Bible teaching that accepting Christ for who he was - his personhood - is essential for salvation.
1John 5:5 "Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God."
John 3:36 "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him."
John 8:23-28 And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." Then they said to Him, "Who are You?" And Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. "I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him." They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father. Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.
1John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
His Divine Nature
John 1:1,14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Heb 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
1John 4:2,3 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (John here is reacting against a gnostic cult which held that if Jesus were to be sinless he could not have inhabited human flesh. The Catholic church holds a related gnostic concept demanding that Mary could not have had a sinful nature to give birth to Jesus. And besides those cases, many if not most Christians today don't believe that Christ's flesh was Adamic - that is he was not tempted in all ways as we are.)
Rom 10:9 if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures 1Cor 15:3,4
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit 1Pet 3:18
This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Acts 2:23,24Now lets dive into some evangelistic preaching of the gospel we find in the book of Acts.
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. Acts 3:15
It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Acts 4:10
The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead— whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. Acts 5:30,31
They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen .Acts 10:39,40
Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed.When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. Acts 13:28-31
He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:31
"‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Joel 2:28-32)"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
David said about him: "‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ (Psalm 16:8-11)"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "‘The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ‘ (Psalm 110:1)"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
When the people heard this, they were cut to the
heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off— for all whom the Lord our God will call."
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."
Here we have the basic elements of gospel preaching. The affirmation of the message by miracles is one element. At the time there were often miracles accompanying the message itself. Of course now that the message has been so affirmed we can point to the miracles of the past - and in particular of Christ's resurrection for affirmation. Of course the resurrection of Christ was more than an affirmation of his message. It was part of the message itself - namely that He is the Lord of life. The believer in Him would be raised from the dead to live forever - and that in a glorified resurrected body, free from corruption.
Principle: Incorporate Christ's death and resurrection into the message and affirm it by miracles. (Perhaps speaking of Jesus' miracles.)Other elements incorporate Christ's death - and in particular the role Peter's audience played in his death. This was to point out their sin, but also to point out God's graciousness that God would accept them in spite of what they did - if they would repent. But before getting to the response section as to what they should do, it is significant that Peter elaborates upon who he is claiming Christ to be - namely that God made him out to be both Lord and Christ. And by "Lord" Peter alludes to his deity. For notice that the references to scripture he gives - for the passage in Joel he starts with Joel 2:28, but actually if you go one verse prior to this Joel 2:27 says, "Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed." Thus further in Joel when he says, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" he is referring to the Lord God. Yet not only here but also in Romans 10:13 where Paul also quotes this verse the apostles identify the Lord in this verse in Joel as the Lord Jesus - who apparently is the Lord God. Thus one aspect of accepting Jesus is to accept that he is the Lord God, which we refer to as the deity of Christ. To accept him as Christ is to accept what the scriptures say of the Christ, of which they may have been well aware and thus in no need of elaboration. In fact this message is quite condense compared to what may be appropriate for those who have little knowledge of the life and ministry of Christ. For realize that he is speaking to people who have listened to and seen Christ, being even active participants in his death.
Principle: Speak of what it means for Jesus to be Lord and Christ and of the appropriateness of asking him for salvation.Now if the message is preached correctly and non-Christians are listening in the right spirit and with an application oriented mindset then they should respond just as these have. "What shall we do?" So also we see Paul's jailor responding, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" It's interesting to note in these cases that it was the audience who asked the question. Perhaps due to evangelical zeal Christians may be getting to the "What shall we do" part too quickly - before the audience has any interest in the question. In fact these days much of the substance of the message tends to be neglected altogether and replaced simply with a call to pray Jesus into one's heart in some sort of experimental fashion and then declared to be "saved" without any reference to repentance or baptism. These days it seems many Christians wouldn't know how to answer this question Biblically. How does Paul answer this question? Simply "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." Acts 16:31 How does Peter answer the question? Actually what they were implying in their response was "We believe. Now what should we do?" Peter answers, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" The belief that Paul spoke of is the same as that of Peter. It incorporates not only faith in who Jesus was - Lord and Christ, but also repentance from sin and water baptism as a sign of one's conviction. Last of all Peter ends with something which may sound heretical for some Christians, namely, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." This highlights the fact that salvation is a matter of cooperation. Choice is involved. People need to know that they can save themselves and they need to save themselves. But they do so through faith in Christ. Contrary to purely passive puppet model of salvation advocated by Reformed Theology, the model of salvation Peter presents here is one of a drowning man being encouraged to lift his hand for Christ to pull him into the boat of salvation. "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him." Acts 17:27 Given the information and the responsive revelation, he presents it as a choice.
Principle: Convict them of sin and their need for salvation. And having presented the life, the person, the teachings and ministry of Christ, his death and resurrection, then if they ask what they should do to be saved, affirm that they indeed can do something to be saved; and that they need to do something to be saved; namely, direct them to believe in Christ incorporating also repentance and water baptism as appropriate applications and indications of their alleged faith.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.
By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
"Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that
your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from
the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—
even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore
everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses
said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among
your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who
does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’
"Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have
foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant
God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring
all peoples on earth will be blessed.’
When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
In a nutshell we have here first of all an affirmation of the message, by a miracle. We see elsewhere that miracles are spoken of as affirming the message
Acts 2:22 "(Jesus) a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs"But as for the content of the message he starts off on a rather negative point, which is typically how the gospel is presented - bad news, then good news. He pointed out their atrocious sin - they killed the author of life, and had a murderer released in his place!
Acrs 14:3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Principle: One of the first things to do in presenting the gospel is to point out people's sinfulness. (See also Romans chapter 1,2)Again of course he mentions Christ's death and resurrection - always a principle element of the gospel. And next notice he speaks of repentance. Indeed this was Jesus' message saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Mt 4:17 Forgiveness is available, but Peter notes here that it is conditioned upon repentance. He elaborates further upon what this repentance incorporates - namely obediently listening to Jesus and turning from your wicked ways.
Principle: Preach that forgiveness is available but contingent upon repentance - namely obediently responding to what Jesus has instructed and turning from your wicked ways.He even incorporates a bit of eschatology here - speaking of the return of Christ who will restore all things. It is interesting to note that before writing his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul had spent only a few weeks with them, and yet he spoke to them of matters of eschatology. The point is that such a subject is not to be consider sort of advanced Christianity, but rather that it is appropriate to share with newcomers.
Granted that all the examples we find in Acts may be geared to the particular people and circumstances surrounding the preachers. But there are general principles we can learn and general observations we can make. Having performed this healing miracle Peter found an opportunity to preach. So what was it he decided (by the Holy Spirit) to say?
We notice first off that he was addressing rulers and elders of Israel. When it comes to preaching to such people - the proud, the hypocritical religious elite - we find throughout the New Testament (indeed throughout the Bible) the approach is to speak to them in a derogatory manner. We see this of Jesus' rhetoric in Matthew 23, of John the Baptist's rhetoric (Matt 3:7), of Stephen - the first Christian martyr - in Acts 7, of Peter and of Paul.
Principle: Speak in a derogatory manner to religiously proud people - humiliate the proud. Yet the builders of institutional religion are quite likely to reject the capstone. Don't mind "turning people off". If it is presented properly, the gospel is designed to weed out the proud.Of course those with a utilitarian philosophy would respond "it's not going to work." But that's not the point. The Bible indicates that this is the way such people are to be approached. If they don't like it, then they can quite literally go to hell. You see this brings up a very important issue concerning the presentation of the gospel. In preaching the gospel, is our primary objective to convert people? No it is not. We shouldn't obsess over how we should modify the gospel to make it easy for our audience to accept. Today a gospel is preached which has little correlation with what the Bible says. People are told to pray a prayer for guidance and then told afterwards that by doing so they have become Christians. They are told to ask Jesus into their hearts in some sort of experimental fashion and then they are told that they are saved. Let's get back to how the gospel was preached in the Bible.
Jesus Christ of Nazareth was mentioned here. Why mention "Nazareth"? Because it pointed to Jesus lowly origin, one of the facts for which the religious elite reckoned him with contempt. Even Jesus own disciple said, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"John 1:46 Peter certainly was not trying to pander to them. Nor does it seem he was concerned about "turning them off" when he said, "whom you crucified" Notice as I mentioned he speaks of the resurrection of Christ - what we should all include in our presentation of the gospel. But then again with the derogatory comments, this time quoting scripture against them ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' (from Ps 118:22) This is the kind of message we give to the builders of institutional religion - yes even at times to the builders of institutional Christianity.
To further turn them off Peter brings up the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ. And these days this concept is politically incorrect in a major way. But the fact is that Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Salvation cannot be found in AntiChrist Judaism, nor in Islam's false unBiblical version of Christ, nor of course in completely Christless religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and the like, not even mentioning atheistic humanism all of which are on their way to hell. Salvation is exclusive to Biblical Christianity. And of course also from this verse we find that salvation is universally necessary. Everyone needs to be saved.
Principle: The need for salvation is universal. But salvation is exclusive to Biblical Christianity. Only by believing in the Biblical Christ - Jesus of Nazareth - can people be saved.
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen— by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Cornelius was informed of the message prior to this meeting, which is many times the case when the gospel is preached in Acts. Thus again while these messages are informative as to the essential elements of the gospel, the uninformed will need more information (Like the gospel of John, for example) Here again we find the basic elements of the gospel -
Principle: The gospel message contains the same essential elements whether preached to Gentile or Jew.
Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said:
"Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!
The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers;
he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country,
he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert,
he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance.
All this took about 450 years.
"After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet.
Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years.
After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him:
‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ (Ps 89:20 1Sa 13:14)
"From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.
Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.
As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you think I am? I am not that one.
No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ (John 1:27)
"Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing
Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus,
yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed.
When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
But God raised him from the dead,
and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.
They are now his witnesses to our people.
"We tell you the good news: What God promised
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.
As it is written in the second Psalm: "‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. ‘ (Ps 2:7)
The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words:
"‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ (Is 55:3)
So it is stated elsewhere: "‘You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ (Ps 16:10)
"For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep;
he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed.
But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
"Therefore, my brothers, I want you
to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.
Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.
Take care that what the prophets have said does
not happen to you:
"‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’" (Hab 1:5)
The history lesson Paul starts off with reminds us of Stephen's speech in Acts 7, after which Paul as an unbeliever at the time was involved in stoning Stephen to death. Interesting here though that he kind of copied Stephen's technique. Then he mentions some scripture that Peter also mentioned earlier in Acts when preaching to the Jews.
Principle: Even Paul followed examples of preaching he learned from other Christians which he now have recorded in the BibleAgain he mentions the death and resurrection of Christ - always mentioned when the gospel is preached. And also very significantly justification through faith and the forgiveness of sins, which was the main point of his message as the "Therefore" indicates.
Principle: For Jews and god-fearing Gentiles show the historical continuity from Old to New Testament through Christ's fulfillment of OT prophecy.
Principle: Always remember to include the main course - the main point of the gospel. What makes the gospel "good news"? Justification by faith and forgiveness of sins.That should be obvious, but a presentation of "a gospel" is circulating these days whereby a person is simply asked to pray Jesus into his heart if they need guidance or fulfillment or abundant life, without reference to sin, justification and forgiveness. And having prayed such a prayer such people are then declared to be "Christian." Such a gospel is inconsistent with the way the Bible preaches the gospel.
Notice also that Paul ends with a warning. One is reminded of Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus. Some may say that Jesus never dealt with the issue of sin in his discussion and only spoke of being "born again." But in fact we note Jesus ends with a warning, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." (John 3:18-20)
Principle: Present the bad news (all have sinned and are subject to accountability), then the good news (such people can be justified freely through faith in Christ), then the bad news (If you don't respond properly to the message, you're going to hell)
He (the Jailor) called for lights and sprang in, and, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house. He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was immediately baptized, he and all his household. He brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his household, having believed in God.
We don't know how much the jailor had heard of the gospel prior to this. But from the jailor's question we can infer that he was aware of aspects of the gospel. And besides, do you think Paul and Silas would have been silent in prison? Notice that the jailor was aware that Paul and Silas's message had to do with salvation and that he grasped the idea that he needed to be saved.
Many today answer the "how to" question before even presenting the essence of the gospel, let alone telling them "how to" before they express any personal need for salvation. We can infer from the jailor's question that Paul either hadn't gotten around to the "how to be saved" part of the gospel by that time, or he hadn't emphasized it at this point.
What constitutes the answer? Paul says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." This was of course just a summary. For he no doubt elaborated upon this - like Jesus who? And what is meant by Lord - when he spoke the word of the Lord to his household. But this is in stark contrast with those today who may answer this question saying, "Just pray Jesus into your heart", with no reference to faith, sin, repentance, the atoning work of Christ, his resurrection, and so on. It seems today the "how do be saved" has come down to an experimental technique rather than a substantive and informed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
"and your household" - Those who are of an Augustinian theology - namely Catholics, Orthodox, and Reformed Protestants interpret this to justify infant baptism - or more generally the idea of genetic salvation. But what Paul was saying was that the believing in the Lord Jesus for salvation applies to everyone. If he believes, then he will be saved. If his household believes, then they will be saved. And indeed we note all his household came to believe. In answer to those who hypothesize that there may have been babies in the household, it says, "They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house." It is implied that all in the house were of such an age that they could understand the language and ideas he was communicating. Or if they allege that adult members of the household were not required to believe to be baptized we note that it says that his whole household greatly rejoiced - implying of course that his whole household came to believe. So this passage cannot be used to justify genetic salvation. Not to mention such an idea is contrary to very principle of salvation by faith in contrast to that of Law and circumcision.
Principle: Telling people how they may be saved is not the first priority in preaching the gospel. Preach first the impending judgement and of the atoning work of Christ and his resurrection - then they themselves may ask what they may do to be saved. Keep the "how to" question for the end.
Principle: The universal answer to the how to be saved question is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, though it may have to be elaborated upon. There are not exceptions to this in all the world. Anyone so believing will be saved.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone— an image made by man’s design and skill.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.
This sermon is particularly interesting in that unlike the previous sermons in Acts it was preached to the uninformed. However we should not presume it was Paul's complete presentation, but more of an introduction. For Paul's presentations was cut short after he mentioned the resurrection. But it is informative as to what are the important elements one may first present to the curious but uninformed.
Unlike the previous sermons in Acts Paul here spends most of the time talking about what God is like. He shows himself aware of their viewpoint, but corrects their misconceptions about God. In some cases he corrects them simply by way of proposition - propositional truth. Propositional truth is presented in a take it or leave it fashion. In addition he uses "reasonableness" to try to convince them of their error. And at times combines this with ideas they already accept to convince them via the argument "if you believe this, then it logically follows that you should believe this other thing."
What he told them about God's nature:
What he told them about God's Will for them.
In addition to what Paul mentioned of God's desire that they seek Him and reach out for Him, Paul speaks of repentance. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. While it may be open for debate as to what exactly was the scenario prior to this time concerning the basis of God's judgement upon Gentiles, what is clear is that in the present situation people everywhere are commanded to repent in view of the impending judgment. He doesn't specify here as to what constitutes repentance, as his speech was cut short. But certainly we can infer that they need to change their concept of the nature of God and seek Him.
Paul then alludes to the resurrection of Christ as evidence affirming these propositions. This we see is common to most all presentations of the gospel - including of course the four gospels themselves, as John wrote concerning miracles, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."John 20:30,31
God's Will (or desire - what God wants):
That you seek him and find Him
That you repent
Conspicuously absent is any explicit statement concerning the atoning work of Christ or the basis of the forgiveness of sins, or even the mention of Jesus by name. But again this was probably because his speech was cut short and most weren't willing to hear further.
Principle: When preaching to the uninformed start from where they are at. Start with the nature of God.
Principle: Before getting to Christ bring them to an understanding of impending judgement and their role in seeking God and turning to God in the realm of ideas. Then, if they haven't cut you off, introduce Christ and the essential elements of the gospel of Christ.
This is how Paul introduces his gospel in his letter to the Romans. His gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. So right up front he reveals his gospel is about salvation and faith. Most of the first 5 chapters are devoted to the issue of justification by faith. Chapters 6-8 are devoted to sanctification and glorification in the Christian life. Then 9-11 about Israel. And after that 12-16 about particular applications of the Christian life.
Romans 1:18-3:20 is all about the fact that people are guilty because they sin, which in view of God's judgement is a condition from which they need to be saved.
Principle: Start off the gospel with the need for salvation in view of God's judgement and people's sinfulness.Romans 3:21-31 is all about being justified through faith in Jesus Christ, and this in contrast to being justified by one's performance.
Principle: Answer the question as to how a person can be saved - namely through faith in Christ.Romans 4 elaborates about the quality of faith that saves using Abraham as a model, namely that it is an unwavering confident conviction based upon the promise of God, as opposed to placing one's confidence is one's performance, fleshly rituals, upbringing or genetic relationships. Some Christians may need to take note of this, if you think that you are saved because you were baptized, or because your parents were Christians, or because you go to church, or because you're a "good" person. Neither faith in these things is indicative of saving faith, nor faith in the promise of God PLUS faith in these things. Saving faith is to be exclusively faith in the promise of God - namely the promise of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. And for that faith to be valid it is not to be a mere experimental faith - "Let's try this Christian thing out and see what happens" - but rather saving faith is an unwavering confident conviction in the word of the Lord. As such, you have to be convinced that what God said is actually true. Biblical faith is a confidently convinced faith, and as such not purely a decision of the will.
Principle: Next focus on the legitimate qualities which characterize saving faithRomans 5:1-11 speaks of the effects of being justified by faith. Namely that we will be saved from God's wrath; we have peace with God, and as such we have joy in these facts. And not only so but we rejoice in our new perspective in life as we grow in character through the difficulties in life.
Principle: Elaborate also on the benefits of salvation
The Gospel of John
Just to contrast the emphasis of the material, while there is overlapping material the synoptic gospels focus primarily on the Lordship of Christ and the quality of faith we are called to. The gospel of John focusses on Jesus as Savior, upon faith, salvation and the grace of God. I generally find it useful to start one off with the material in the synoptic gospels which leads one into a conviction of the need for salvation and then move on to the material in the gospel of John to answer the "what must I do to be saved" type of questions.