When Christians share the gospel they must make sure that they communicate faithfully and clearly what Scripture teaches about the good news. Among other things, believers should emphasize that sin separates people from God, that eternal punishment is real, that Christ died for sinners and that he alone provides hope for forgiveness. Nevertheless, along with faithfully communicating these truths Christians also need to provide clear, simple instructions regarding how a lost person must respond to the gospel. In other words, people must be told what God requires of those who desire to become a Christian. Asking Jesus into one’s heart (an action not found in Scripture) or promising not to make the same “bad decisions” or “mistakes” (watered-down definitions of one’s sinfulness) are not appropriate responses to the gospel.
What, then, does a Christian tell those who wish to become a believer?
God demands that people respond to his offer of salvation through Christ with repentance, faith, obedience and wholehearted love. Repentance, a foundational element of an appropriate response (Matt 4:17; Acts 2:38; 3:19), may be defined as a change of mind about one’s sin that results in a willingness to change one’s behavior. Repentance entails acknowledging that what Scripture says about our sinful human condition is true and right. One does not argue with God or measure himself against others. The prodigal son (Luke 15:18-19) serves as a model of repentance, as does Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8).
A second element of an appropriate response is to place one’s faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:43; 13:39; 16:31; Rom 10:9). People must trust in Jesus as God’s Messiah and Son whose death saves them from their sin (Matt 16:16; Luke 1:77; 2:11; Mark 10:45; John 20:31). Another important element of an appropriate response is to obey God’s commands (e.g., Matt 7:21-23; see also 28:20). Obedience refers not to a cold, blind allegiance or mere lip service. Rather, obedience entails submitting to God the Father’s divine will as revealed in Scripture.
This leads us to the final element, a wholehearted love for God (Matt 22:37). Such love is greater than one’s love for others, whether family, friends or even self (Luke 14:26). We might also understand this love as putting God and his kingdom first (Matt 6:33).
I am not arguing that our explanation of how to respond to the gospel must include all four elements precisely as I have described them. Nevertheless, believers need to reflect on what to say when a lost person asks how he or she must respond to the gospel. Our instruction should be clear, simple and firmly grounded on Scripture.