When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 New Living Translation).
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9: 19-23, English Standard Version).
What if the gospel could be stripped down to simply Jesus? No cultural traditions. No extra man-made additions. Just Jesus –a naked gospel.
A lot of times we add our own culture into the mix when spreading the gospel. We may even have Bible texts to back up or cultural traditions, but that doesn’t mean that they are right or expedient. Instead of encouraging new believers to lean on manmade structures we must encourage them to lean on Christ. Like Paul told the Corinthians: “And I, when I came to you, brothers did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (ESV)…. And my message and my preaching were very plain… I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God (NLT).”
I think the conversation that got me thinking about the concept of the naked gospel was one with a conservative friend. She was bemoaning the fact that our postmodern generation didn’t believe in absolute truth. It seems like a stumbling block to reaching them with the truth. Then the words tumbled out of my mouth, “We don’t have to convince them that Jesus is right for everyone; we just need them to see that Jesus is right for them.” That’s where it starts. The naked gospel transcends culture.
A conversation with a man on the street while canvassing reminded me that spreading the gospel means using words that the people can understand. I had asked him if he minded if I prayed with him. He didn’t. I asked him if he had any petitions. He looked at me quizzically.
“Something that you would like to talk to God about,” I explained.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, there is. I lost my wallet.”
His words struck my heart. Crossing out the word petition made the situation more real to me. We could talk to God about the lost wallet. The naked gospel uses the simplest, most untainted words.
I had just canvassed a young store clerk in my work as a literature evangelist. She had agreed to pray together. After the prayer, I asked questions about her spiritual journey. She shared that she was Muslim. I responded that my friend had just converted to Islam. Then the fact that I was thinking about going to the Middle East as a missionary tumbled out. Her face immediately twisted up in concern. I realized how those words must sound to a Muslim; it was time to build bridges. I told her about the similarities between our religions –we don’t drink, smoke, eat unclean meats.
“Some Muslims call themselves Seventh-day Adventist Muslims instead of Seventh-day Adventist Christians!” I explained. I told her that it’s my desire to go to those lands asking the question: How can I help you in your journey?”
“That’s awesome! I like that,” she said.
I was reminded that it is the Holy Spirit that convicts and converts. The naked gospel is not about selling or pushing Jesus but sharing Him.
My friend recently shared about a missionary in Cambodia who runs a church without any chairs. The congregation sits on the floor. In that country, worshipers in the local temple sit on the floor. For these people sitting in chairs equals school while sitting on the ground equates to worship. That church is the biggest in the country. Telling people about Christ is more than just speaking their words, but also telling the story of Jesus in actions and traditions they understand. The naked gospel is relevant.
To be effective with spreading the gospel we must clear ourselves of any extraneous, manmade thing. We must realize our weakness and rely on the Holy Spirit alone. We must “become all things to all men” or in other words “try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything [we] can to save some (NLT).” But most of all we –ourselves—must know nothing except Christ and him crucified. Only then can we share the naked gospel.