As we mention in the first part of our free Discipleship·org eBook, Evangelism or Discipleship: Can They Effectively Work Together?, the root word for “evangelism” is euangelion. It is also the root word for “the gospel.” Euangelion simply means, “good news.” In a sense, evangelism is “good news-ing people,” telling them about Jesus, who is Himself, the “Good News.” Following this logic, evangelism and the gospel point us to Jesus.
A proper understanding of Jesus as the gospel helps us connect evangelism and conversion to discipleship. The way we present the gospel often causes a separation between evangelism and discipleship. It is easy for us to start at the cross and ask for a decision, while skipping the life, the teaching, the resurrection and current reign of King Jesus, to say nothing of His teaching on what it means to be a disciple. Some actually think that a gospel of the cross is all that is necessary for evangelism.
Granted, just explaining what Jesus did on the cross and asking for a response or decision is a simpler approach. But it leaves the impression with too many people that conversion is the finish line, not the starting line. In this chapter, we want to suggest a fuller gospel presentation and an invitation to a fuller, covenant-making response that will link evangelism and discipleship. Let’s take a brief look at how this coupling works, using three passages from the Gospel of Mark.
Lets start with the concept of the gospel. What is it and what does it mean to present the gospel to others? A brief look at the Gospel of Mark indicates that the gospel is much more than just the cross.
Mark begins his Gospel by saying that the gospel is summed up in Jesus, as everything about Him is the gospel:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, ESV).
The whole book of Mark is about Jesus, who in His person is the gospel. Evangelism, Mark shows us, is a proclamation of the kingdom of God and the invitation to repent and believe in the gospel.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
When Jesus makes this invitation, He has yet to die for the sins of people, but He still invites them to believe in the gospel. Here, the gospel is about Jesus, His kingdom and the need for repentance.
Then Mark tells us that the gospel includes the call to make radical decisions of obedience. We cannot be true disciples unless we are willing to lose our life for the gospel:
“Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35, NIV).
The gospel, as Jesus teaches us here, is unconditional loyalty to Him. As humanity’s true king, he deserves full surrender and loyalty.
So evangelism, as Scripture shows, is the invitation of the gospel to come to Jesus for both salvation and discipleship. Both parts are integral. Again, Mark (and the rest of the New Testament) teaches us that evangelism is an invitation to come to Jesus by faith for a relationship grounded in a willingness to surrender all to be a disciple.
The coupling of these teachings is the whole gospel. At the same time, we want to fully acknowledge that there is a core gospel focused on His grace through the cross. We want to emphasize both.
Over the last 10 years, I (Bill) was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Dallas Willard before he died. It was Dallas who first pointed out to me that one of the reasons why we have a discipleship problem today is because of the way we often present the gospel. Too often, we teach and share a transactional gospel that does not explicitly necessitate obedience to Jesus and a life of being formed into His image. So moving into a more holistic linking of evangelism and discipleship starts with a broader understanding of the gospel.
The Storyline of the Bible
The storyline of the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with humanity and God’s long promised kingdom, as outlined in the Old and New Testaments.7
This comes from the free eBook Evangelism or Discipleship, which you can download here.
Below, we’ve summarized the key movements of that story.8
- CREATION: God is holy and loving; He created us for Himself in paradise.
- FALL: We rebelled against God, under Satan’s influence. We are now all separated from Him, gravitating to sin in thought, word and deed; yet God graciously promised Abraham that He would bless the world through him. Abraham believed God and became the father of the nation of Israel and God’s promises, including a future kingdom that would never end.
- REDEMPTION: God sent Jesus into the world to establish His kingdom as the Messiah of Israel and our King. This incarnational move fulfilled the promise to Abraham and the prophecies in the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus took the penalty for our sin on the cross, rose from the dead, and defeated Satan. He is The Way we restore our relationship to God and enter the kingdom. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He now reigns. He is the Savior, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
- RESTORATION: Jesus redeems those who turn from their sin (repent), trust and follow Him, and obey all of His teachings (by faith). They enter His kingdom now. He will come back to judge the living and the dead and will take His obedient children into His eternal kingdom, the renewed created order or paradise of God.
This summary illustrates the broad story line for the gospel. All of God’s promises for humanity are fulfilled in Jesus. Within the story of the Bible and the kingdom is the gospel—His life, victory over sin and death for the sake of humanity through the cross, and kingdom reign.
The Heart of the Gospel
Let’s look at the core gospel of Jesus’ cross. Our eternal destiny depends on whether or not we are saved by God through Jesus in His cross—in His death, burial, and resurrection. 1 Cor.15: 1-6 shows us that this focus is the key or foundational item of our faith:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received … ” (ESV).
Paul’s language is clear—your faith in Jesus and His work on the cross is the basis of your standing with God. You are saved through it, and there is nothing more important! The passage goes on to summarize the core gospel:
“Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the 12. Then He appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (ESV).
Here, the gospel focuses on Jesus Christ’s death for our sin. But even this gospel is not just His death—it includes His burial and resurrection—and how they are in accordance with the broader story of Scripture. Jesus is God’s son, and He conquered sin and death. He is now the reigning king of humanity, and His kingdom will be fully consummated when He returns.
This focus offers the broader picture assumed throughout the Bible and in Paul’s letters to the church in Rome (Rom. 3:24-25) and Ephesus: “… by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8, ESV).9 John 3:16 also sums it up: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV).
This core gospel is fundamental to Jesus, but He is more than just His cross. He came to proclaim a kingdom and invite us into salvation and discipleship.
Please note this truth: This gospel of Jesus requires discipleship. Jesus does not just want a transaction where He takes away our sin—He wants to take away our sin and transform our lives. He doesn’t just want to give us life in eternity; He wants to give us a new life in this world. The invitation is salvation and life under His kingship, where we are transformed. It is a response for now and for eternity. As leaders, we must teach this whole gospel.
As those seeking true discipleship in His kingdom, we must surrender to King Jesus. To fully surrender, we need help. God leads us to Jesus and promises to be present by His Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). But we also need people to enter into our lives to help us make the decision to commit our lives to trust and follow Jesus—and to help us obey all of His teachings.
8 Bill Hull describes this slightly differently in Christlike: The Pursuit of Uncomplicated Obedience (NavPress: Colorado Springs, 2010), p. 44. For the sake of collaboration in this work (and in the ministry of discipleship.org), he was willing to use this summary.
9 Robert Picirilli does a great job of showing how the emphasis that we are saved “by grace through faith” and discipleship coalesce. Discipleship: The Expression of Saving Faith (Nashville: Randall House, 2013).
Written by Bill Hull and Bobby Harrington
Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the Church return to its disciple making roots. He considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 years of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books Jesus Christ Disciple Maker and The Disciple Making Pastor have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add a third in the popular trilogy—The Disciple Making Church—and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.
Bobby Harrington is the Executive Director of Discipleship.org, a national platform, conference, and ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of several books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick).