“This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
John 15:12-14 (CSB)
“I love you!”
It was a bold statement. She said it before I did. And it changed everything!
My wife and I met in seminary. I was studying to be a youth pastor and she, a marriage and family counselor. We met my last year and her first in our pursuit of our Master’s Degrees. One weekend, most of our friends on campus were invited to participate as small group leaders at a youth event in the area, but for some reason the two of us were not. I chalk it up to God’s divine, sovereign will in bringing us together as a married couple and not any lack of spiritual maturity or leadership ability on our part at the time (at least that is what I keep telling myself).
Since we were acquaintances, and I thought she was “smokin’ hot,” I reasoned that this would be a good time to make my move and ask her out. To my surprise, she agreed, and we started a journey together that continues today. After that spring semester, I helped drive her home to meet her parents and family (and to interview for a youth ministry position nearby). The night before the trip ended, I was on the verge of falling asleep in the guest room, when a still small voice spoke into my ear. It said in full, “For what it’s worth, I love you!” I bolted up, thinking that I should probably respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). About that time, I felt a kiss on my forehead and the sound of retreating feet.
Convinced it was my girlfriend, and not the Lord, I settled back into bed to consider such a bold and potentially life-changing statement. The next day, we went to the airport and before I left, I acknowledged her words from the previous night’s “sneak attack” and responded in kind. A year later we were married and now celebrate over a quarter century together.
It’s amazing what happens when we are bold with our love. At some point, if we are Christ-followers, someone was with us. Whether it was the gentle love of a Christian parent, a kid’s/youth pastor’s or small group leader’s consistent witness, a pastor’s faithfulness to preach each Sunday, or some other way, someone stepped out in love to share the ultimate love with us, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, what is the gospel? Good question. We spend a lot of time on this in The Bonhoeffer Project because we truly believe that the gospel you proclaim determines the disciples you produce. As such, we must clearly understand the message of the gospel and be bold in our declaration of it to those who are far from God.
As Bill Hull and Ben Sobels say in The Discipleship Gospel: What Jesus Preached We Must Follow, the gospel is a combination of declaration, response, and benefits. In Mark 1:14-17, Mark says, “After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ As he passed alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told them, ‘and I will make you fish for people.’” In this text, and in many others (Mark 8; Acts 16; 1 Corinthians 15, etc.), we see both a gospel declaration and a gospel response. Hull and Sobels summarize these elements from Mark 1 in this way:
The Kingdom of God has come
Jesus Christ is the King
Jesus died for our sins
Jesus resurrected on the third day
Repent of sin
Believe the gospel
As a result, those who repent, believe, and follow Jesus inherit several gospel benefits that can be found throughout the New Testament, including…
Forgiveness of sins (Matt. 6:14-15; Acts 3:19; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:9)
Reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18; Col. 1:20)
Adoption into family (Jn. 1:12; Gal. 4:5-7; Eph. 1:5)
Justified (Rom. 4:25; 5:1-2; 8:28-29; Eph. 2:8-9)
Called to service (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-12)
Gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:15-17, 26; Acts 2:38; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16)
Eternal life (Jn. 3:16, 36; 5:24; 17:3; Rom. 6:23; 1 Jn. 5:11-13)
Promises of God (Phil. 4:9; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Pt. 1:4)
Sanctified (Jn. 14:15; Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:28-29; 1 Thess. 4:3; 1 Pt. 1:2; 2:21; Rev. 14:12)
New Creations (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Jn. 3:9)
…and much more.
Jesus proclaimed a bold gospel, and, therefore, requires a bold response. Unfortunately, many in the western, evangelical world have so watered down the good news of Jesus, producing an “easy believism,” or what we in The Bonhoeffer Project call “The Forgiveness Only Gospel,” that requires little more than a prayer or a walk down an aisle (though that is becoming more and more rare). Such “decision-based” evangelism racks up huge numbers in certain sectors, but many times it only produces shallow converts who divorce conversion and discipleship, making following Jesus optional and sharing Jesus and discipling others a non-starter.
The great British pastor and theological, John R.W. Stott, draws attention to this in his classic book Basic Christianity. He says,
“Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If he offered men his salvation, he also demanded their submission. He gave no encouragement whatever to thoughtless applicants for discipleship. He brought no pressure to bear on any inquirer…The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half-built towers—the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called “nominal Christianity.” In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism…The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or modified his conditions to make his call more readily acceptable. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.”
So, how do we summarize all of this? The invitation to Jesus is the starting line of faith. It is not the finish line. As such, Christ-followers are to call people beyond an initial decision to receive Jesus through repentance and belief (which is critical and necessary for salvation), into a life of following after Jesus as their King. The invitation to follow Jesus is not just a call away from something (sin, death, Satan, etc..), but a call to something (new life in Jesus and all the benefits that come from that life). And it is to be received whole-heartedly, forsaking all to follow Him.
Jesus’ love is bold, and he calls for a bold response of love for others. We even see this in the immediate response of the fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Mark says this regarding Andrew and Peter, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18), and regarding James and John, “Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:20). And we are to do the same!
In other words, in the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, God is saying, “For what it’s worth, I love you!” And in the end, it is worth everything!
This post originally appeared at: The Starting Line — The Bonhoeffer Project
 Bill Hull, Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other, Zondervan (2016), 13.
 John R.W. Stott, Basic Christianity, IVP Books, (2019) 131-133.