In a conversation with Billy Graham, I asked him what he thought needed to be changed in how we preach to people today compared to the way we preached to people in the 1950s. I expected him to reply with a profound analysis of our culture and the need to contextualize our message. I was surprised, then, when he replied simply and straightforwardly: “Nothing has really changed in terms of the needs of people. Wherever or whatever you preach, you must remind people of their sin, speak to them of heaven and hell, show them to the cross, and urge them to come to the Savior.”
He’s right, of course. The message is the same. The problem is, the receptivity of our culture has changed dramatically. The fundamental tenets of heaven, hell, sin, and the Savior are no longer familiar concepts in our culture. And, generally speaking, people quite frankly don’t really want to hear what we have to say about these matters. Why would they, when popular philosophy teaches us that nothing is wrong or right and that we are entitled to believe whatever we wish since there really is nothing that is truly true?! In a no-sin, no-true truth world that cringes when we claim that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), it’s easy to give up and lose our nerve. But a lack of urgency in sharing the gospel can lead to tragic consequences for those who need to hear the good news.
Which reminds me of the lesson that D. L. Moody, the Billy Graham of the 19th century, learned.
After proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a crowded hall in Chicago, the evangelist closed his message by encouraging the attendees to go home, consider the claims of the gospel, and return the next week to settle the matter in their lives. But that night Chicago heard the ringing of fire alarms and the clatter of horse-drawn water wagons being hurried through the streets. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow had kicked the lantern, and the Great Chicago Fire swept the city—hundreds of lives were lost. Because of that, D. L. Moody committed himself to never again forget to urge people to receive Christ immediately—before it is too late.
As Moody learned that night, we can’t afford to wait to share the good news of the gospel in light of the urgent needs of those who are living without a Savior and heading toward a godless eternity in hell. Jude had this sense of urgency when he wrote to the early believers: “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3), instructing them to “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them” (Jude 1:22-23).
Having been snatched from the fire ourselves, how fitting that we too should seek to rescue others. This is the message that has been “entrusted” to us. Let’s pray that the Lord will put a fire in our belly to start sharing His message with urgency! And in the face of a secular, doubting world, remember that we need not be ashamed of the gospel since it is the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). No amount of doubting can thwart the power of God to save those to whom we carry the gospel!
- Do you agree with the statement: “Nothing has really changed in terms of the needs of people”?
- What are some reasons why people resist the message of sin and their need for a Savior?
- How have you responded to the gospel? If you haven’t responded yet, what are you waiting for?
- What is your attitude regarding sharing the gospel? If you lack a proper sense of urgency, pray and ask the Lord to reignite the fire in your belly for the gospel!