If you only one chance to share the good news of Christ with someone what would you say? What should you say? Should you talk about heaven and hell?
While it’s common to hear preachers appealing to heaven and hell, I was surprised by what I found while teaching through the book of Acts. Acts is the best place to discover how the first Christians presented the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers. And that’s because the Gospels conclude too early and the Epistles are letters written to believers. Only in Acts do we find examples of the first Christians presenting their messages to non-Christians.
So how did they do it?
Peter and Paul’s Sermons in Acts
For the sake of brevity, let’s go straight to the call to action in the following messages delivered by Peter and Paul in the book of Acts:
- Peter’s address to the international crowd in Jerusalem: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38 ESV).
- Peter’s message to the astonished crowd at the temple in Jerusalem: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (3:19).
- Peter’s appeal to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house in Caesarea: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (10:43).
- Paul’s address in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia: “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (13:38).
- Paul’s speech to the high court of Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (17:30).
According to Peter and Paul, everyone should repent from their sins and receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus.
Did they mention Heaven and Hell?
In answering the why question, modern-day preachers tend to insert a heavy dose of heaven and hell. We should repent, so that instead of suffering in hell, we will enjoy the bliss of heaven. But you won’t find that approach used in the book of Acts. The apostles end their talk of the future with the day of judgment.
- Peter said, “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (10:42).
- Paul declared, “because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (17:31).
Notice that Peter and Paul don’t go into detail about the life to come. Their gospel presentation stops at the day of judgment. Of course, they probably said much more than we have recorded in Acts, but the record was left behind for a reason.
So the first preachers didn’t scare people with hell fire and they didn’t ask, “Do you want to go to heaven?” Who doesn’t want to go to heaven anyway? Who doesn’t want to avoid hell? The gospel is not ultimately about heaven and hell but about being reconciled to God. The first preachers believed that they had received the ministry of reconciliation, and therefore, they implored people, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
When we share the gospel we don’t have to give a tantalizing view of heaven like placing a carrot on a stick in front of a rabbit. We also don’t have to scare our audience by describing the horrors of hell. There may be a time and place to mention heaven and hell but in any presentation of the gospel the emphasis should be on getting right with God.