Motivations to Believe the Gospel

I was reading today in Timothy Keller’s excellent book Center Church-- Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City and I was greatly helped by this section. There is a tendency in evangelism to want a cookie cutter one-size-fits-all formula for sharing the gospel. Keller simplifies an article that he read by theologian and scholar D. A. Carson.  I have included it here. “Carson argues that the biblical authors use a range of motivations what appealing to their readers to believe and obey the truth. They do not seek to persuade in just one way.”

Six Motivations To Use When Appealing To Non-Christians To Believe The Gospel

1.     Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of fear of judgment and death. Hebrews 2:14 – 18 speaks about Christ delivering us from the bondage of the fear of death. In Hebrews 10:31, we are told it is a terrible thing to fall under the judgment of the living God.

2.     Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of a desire for release from the burdens of guilt and shame. Galatians 3:10 – 12 tells us we are under the curse of the law. Guilt is not only objective; it can also be a subjective inner burden on our consciences (Psalms 51). If we feel we have failed others or even our own standards, we can feel a general sense of shame and low self-worth. The Bible offers relief from these weights.

3.     Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of appreciation for the “attractiveness of truth.” Carson writes:” The truth can appear wonderful…[they can] see it’s beauty and it’s compelling nature.” In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul states that the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. Yet, immediately after this statement, Paul argues that the wisdom of the cross is the consummate wisdom. Paul is reasoning here, appealing to the mind. He’s showing people the inconsistencies in their thinking (e.g., “your cultures wisdom is not wisdom by its own definition”). He holds up the truth for people to see its beauty and value, like a person holding up a diamond and calling for people to admire it.

4.     Sometimes the appeal is to come to God to satisfy unfulfilled existential longings. To the woman at the well Jesus promised” living water” (John 4).  This was obviously more than just eternal life—he was referring to an inner joy and satisfaction to be experienced now, something the woman had been seeking in men.

5.     Sometimes the appeal is to come to God for help with a problem. There are many forms of what Carson calls “a despairing sense of need.” He points to the woman with the hemorrhage (Matthew 9:20 – 21), The two men with blindness (Matthew 9:27), and many others who go to Jesus first for help with practical, immediate needs. Their heart language is, “I’m stuck; I’m out of solutions from my problems. I need help for this!” The Bible shows that Jesus does not hesitate to give that help, he also helps them see their sin and their need for rescue from eternal judgment as well (see Mark 2:1 – 12; Luke 17:11 – 19).

6.     Lastly, the appeal is to come to God simply out of a desire to be loved. The person of Christ as depicted in the Gospels is a compellingly attractive person. His humility, tenderness, wisdom, and especially his love and grace drop people like a magnet. Dick Lucas, Long time pastor at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate in London, has said that in the Bible God does not give us a watertight argument so much as a watertight person against whom, in the end there can be no argument. There is an instinctive desire in all human beings to be loved.  A clear depiction of Christ love can attract people to want a relationship with him.

In conclusion Carson argues, “We do not have the right to choose only one of these motivations in people and to appeal to it restrictively.”