1. Don't Say: Jesus came to make you a better person.
This is the false gospel of sin management. Does Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection justify you, cleanse you of your sin, and declare you to be holy? Yes! Absolutely. Will following Jesus make you a better person? Dear goodness, I hope so! But if we reduce the Gospel down to simply caring about our sin, it becomes individualistic. If we reduce the Gospel down to simply managing our sin, it makes us a vampire Christian who wants Jesus for His blood (we want Him as Savior), and then can do our own thing after salvation (we don't want Him as Lord). Or it can lead a work-righteousness, where we no longer depend solely on God's grace, but on our own effort.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: JESUS HAS DEFEATED THE POWERS OF SIN AND DEATH.
This statement focuses on the already-accomplished work of Christ. It's not about what you have to do to become a better person. It's about what Christ has already done on the cross and through the resurrection. Remember, the Gospel is not good advice. It's good NEWS!
Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
2. Don't Say: Do you want to go to heaven/hell when you die?
This is the false gospel of afterlife insurance. While Christians firmly believe in "our blessed hope," there is not a single gospel presentation in the New Testament that includes an element of afterlife insurance. Gospel presentations throughout the ministry of Jesus and the book of Acts focus squarely on what Jesus did and our response today.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: GOD IS RE-CREATING THE WORLD INTO THE PLACE WHERE HIS WILL IS ALWAYS DONE. AND HE WANTS TO USE YOU TO ACCOMPLISH THAT MISSION!
C.S. Lewis wrote:
For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.
This may be frustrating to us, but the alternative is a world without free will or agency. God allows His creation to fail. But, through His Holy Spirit, He also empowers His people to succeed! The Gospel is that God is going to make all things right - and His people (the Church) is His primary way of doing it! Heaven is not merely a location we go when we die. It is a description of the world as it should be. Heaven is making its way down to earth. And we, as the body of Christ, are God's "agents of reconciliation."
Philippians 3 says that our citizenship is in heaven. But the very next words are "We eagerly await a savior from there." We're not waiting to go to heaven. We're waiting for heaven to come to us!
Philippians 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
3. Don't Say: Believe in Jesus, and your life will get better!
This is the false gospel of health and wealth. Do I believe that following Jesus is the best possible way to live? Yes! Do I believe that following Jesus and gathering with other believers helps lessen the burdens of life? I do! But does following Jesus mean that we will never struggle, suffer, or stumble ever again? Of course not!
This is perhaps one of the most unnecessary stumbling blocks for young or new believers. If they believed a false gospel that promised a roller coaster that only goes up, they will unnecessarily deal with doubt and despair the first time their roller coaster dips into sickness, pain, or loss.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: JESUS SUFFERED ON EARTH, AND SUFFERS ALONGSIDE US NOW.
Christians don't believe in an unreachable, unintelligible, unmoving God. Rather, we believe in a God who came down to earth, suffered all the temptations that humans suffer, went through humiliation, pain, and death, and promises to never leave us or forsake us. The answer to the problem of pain is that not God is unable or unwilling to fix it. The answer is that God suffers too.
Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are---yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.