We need boldness to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ—a certain willingness, confidence, courage, and strength. Without such, we will shrink back from fear. The apostles prayed for boldness: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). Paul inquired his churches to pray “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). The mystery was that it was always about Christ; specifically, the mystery was that in Christ both all peoples have access to God—both Jews and Gentiles. Proclaiming such a ‘mystery’ took boldness. It required valor.
This is decently well known. Christians recognize the need for courage, willingness, and confidence in proclaiming the gospel. This is exceptionally so in our post-Christian culture. We discern the demand for boldness.
But what about clarity?
An Equal Need for Clarity
Gospel clarity is discussed less in modern evangelicalism. It seems it is assumed. We suppose we know the gospel. There’s an assortment of reasons for this. But I believe the main is that we have so whittled the gospel down to “God loves you and Jesus died for your sins” that we see little need for further clarity. Contrarily, we denigrate any who add more details to the gospel message. We claim that they’re adding to the gospel, or making it too perplexing for the average person to receive. We embrace a one sentence gospel, and push away more specific propositions. Thus, there’s little need for speaking about clarity.
Yet the apostle Paul said he needed prayer for clarity. The apostle Paul! This is the man who received from Jesus himself the gospel (Galatians 1:11-12). He penned the epistles Romans and Galatians, strong systematic letters explaining the gospel in detail. He preached in city upon city. He thought he needed clarity?
Yes. This should make us pause.
“Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, [or, “that I may proclaim it clearly,” NIV] which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4). Why such a request? Here’s a handful of reasons, albeit there’s many more:
Without clarity, there’s vagueness. People cannot receive, know, trust, or love Christ until they clearly understand who Christ is, what he did, why it matters. Due to an atmosphere of anti-intellectualism in evangelicalism, we downplay propositions. Hence the desire for a whittled down gospel. But do we see how this impacts our receiving, knowing, trusting, and loving of Christ? If the gospel is vague, so will our trust be. If he isn’t displayed as manifoldly lovely, how could our love be robust?
Without clarity, there’s confusion. Being news, there must be a proper recitation of the news facts and why they matter. This takes distinct forms for different audiences—as shown by how Paul and Peter preached differently to the Jews and Gentiles in Acts. But in whatever setting, there must be clarity to avoid confusion. People must see why this is, how it affects them, what they must do. If these are not spelled out with an apt level of preciseness, confusion will follow. “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). People will struggle to embrace a confusing gospel.
Without clarity, there’s lack of conviction. Coupled with the presence of confusion, there will be absence of conviction. In order to repent, people must understand clearly what it means. They must feel the weight of their unrighteousness—their desperate need of repentance. With whittled down gospel declarations, the sense of conviction can be leapfrogged, leaving churches full of people who happily accept Christ, but have never turned from their sins (Luke 8:13). There’s a serious danger. It was to good purpose that Paul, before getting into the meat of gospel, began Romans with three chapters on sin.
Without clarity, there might be unnecessary stumbling blocks. Paul became all things to all people that he might win them over to the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). In evangelistic zeal, he sought opportunities to witness about Christ in every sphere he could. If we lack clarity, however, in these spheres we may place unintended stumbling blocks. For example, image evangelizing to a Muslim and presenting the gospel as, “The Son of God died to forgive your sins.” This is true and right. But if we stop there—if we lack more clarity—we will place a stumbling block. Many Muslims assume that either a) Jesus is the result of God and Mary having intercourse; or b) Christians therefore are not monotheists. Clarity thusly is needed.
Without clarity, there might be unnecessary aversion to the gospel. Take for example Paul’s preaching of the mystery that by faith the Gentiles are now fellow heirs with the Jews. On the one hand, the Jews disliked this because of their cultural pride. They thought they alone were the promised people. Gentile acceptance was hated. This was not a fault of wrongly or unclearly preaching the gospel; in fact, it was a result of accurately doing so. But what if Paul did not explain it well? What if he simply said, “Gentiles are now part of God’s people,” and did not go to lengths to explain that it is by faith? Without this clarity, he would’ve brought unnecessary aversion to the gospel. There’s reasons why Romans 4, 9-11 and Galatians 2-4 are so concerned with this. Paul is at pains to show that salvation has always been by faith, and those of the promise have always been those of faith. He strives for such clarity to avoid unnecessary revulsion. Revulsion comes, but it is a result of the gospel, not a result of murkiness.
Without clarity, we might speak a different gospel. This is more extreme, but it happens. Vague preaching can be so vague that it isn’t the gospel. With the major emphasis the apostles and Jesus put on repentance, we sometimes might fall close to this with our “God loves you; Jesus died to forgive you” message. Without clarity, we may leave out important aspects of the good news; and so it might be a different news altogether.
The gospel is too important to be spoken of vaguely. It is one thing to be succinct, especially when required. But always, clarity is needed. Without it, we will not be speaking the gospel accurately, and therefore, we will not be loving people well. Sure, clarity can seem cumbersome at times—it’s comfortable to preach “God loves you” with no qualifiers—but it’s indispensable.