“God loves you and Jesus died for you.” Is this the gospel message we must proclaim?

In his interview with SBC Today, Johnny Hunt (now president of the Southern Baptist Convention) spoke about the need for an emphasis on personal evangelism within the Convention. Hunt is concerned that Southern Baptists do not take opportunities to speak of the gospel with non-Christians. As an example of how we can be more faithful to take such opportunities, Hunt talked about seeing a couple of young men at a funeral; being previously aquainted with the youths, Hunt knew that they were not Christians. Not having much time to speak to them (due to preaching and counseling others at a funeral), Hunt simply told the young men, “God loves you and Jesus died for you, and I want to talk to you later.” In the interview, Hunt mentioned his sharing the statement, “God loves you and Jesus died for you,” as an example of evangelism. Based on what he said in the interview, Hunt certainly recognizes that this phrase is not the extent of the gospel that must be proclaimed, but he does believe this to be an accurate summary of the gospel.

My questions for readers today- and these are honest questions, which I hope lead to a good discussion- are these: 1. “Is the statement, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you,’ an accurate summary of the gospel?” 2. Given a very brief amount of time to explain the gospel, should we tell non-Christians, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you’?

I want us to think about these questions particularly in light of John 3:16, where Jesus seems to make a similar statement to a man that was (in that moment) apparently not yet a Christian.

The purpose of this post is not to invite criticism of Johnny Hunt (in fact, if comments tend too far in that direction I may delete them), but to think of how we should practice evangelism. Think about these questions in terms of your own life; at the end of a conversation on the phone with a non-Christian family member, would you be willing to say, “God loves you and Jesus died for you and I want to talk to you about this later”? Why or why not? How is your response shaped by the biblical text, particularly by John 3:16 as understood in context?

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31 Comments on ““God loves you and Jesus died for you.” Is this the gospel message we must proclaim?”

  1. Pat McGee Says:

    It is not accurate. There are places in scripture where it is made clear that God does not love everyone. John 3: 16 refers to the quality of God’s love rather than the quantity.

  2. Bill Blair Says:

    I don’t have a problem with the statement, but then again I would not have a problem with someone saying “God is angry with you and I want to talk to you about it later” (Thinking of “Sinners int he hands of an angry God”). The main thing is that whatever is said needs to lead to a deeper discussion of the gospel. I think it is impossible to reduce the gospel to a sound-bite, so anything to spur further conversation works for me.

    Is it accurate? I think it depends on whether you believe that Jesus died for everyone or just the elect. People debate that one. The key is to get to a point of explaining the need for sinners to repent and believe. If the statement gets you there, great. If not, then you need a better approach.
    Good questions!

  3. Sam Hughey Says:

    Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. —Matthew 7:21-23

    1. Did Jesus die for those in this text? If so, why did He say I never knew you, and if Jesus loves them, why did He say depart from me? Depart from me doesn’t sound like a message of love, coming from one who died for or in the place of the world which (whom?) He loves.

    2. The statement, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven certainly makes it clear that even IF Jesus died for ALL, then not ALL will enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, merely proclaiming that God loves you and Jesus died for you cannot grant those who hear the words the security of eternal peace, unless one is merely attempting to do just that, grant a false sense of eternal security, whether they actually have eternal peace or not.

    Furthermore, Jesus plainly stated why anyone has eternal security, he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Can an unconverted child of Satan do the will of the Father merely because he/she is told God loves them and died for them?

  4. Ryan Says:

    That sort of language makes me uncomfortable.

    Not that God loves someone who may not be one of his people or that Christ’s death and resurrection secured something non-redemptive for Joe Schmoe. I guess i just want to give an accurate representation of the gospel. This is probably converted to idolatry in my life somehow.

    I think that a more biblical example is the one that Jesus himself gave us. In Matthew 3:2 he says 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Not “I love you, bro! Trust me!” You wanna convey the seriousness of the sin situation, but at the same time communicate the satisfaction and joy that WILL BE found in Christ IF you believe. Jesus died for sinners – a brand which we all claim.

    Though i feel a tension. Many times when i read these sorts of conversations in reformed camps (of which i do indeed have a tent and some clothes drying out on the line), i get a vibe of uncompassionate orthopraxy – one that would die for the truth! but not live intentionally which an eye towards evangelism.

    so…

    1) no.
    2) no.
    :-D

    I’ll be the first guy to tell you, i struggle IMMENSELY with this.

  5. Dan Church Says:

    My first and short response is simply this:

    Is that ‘summary’ by Hunt one that we see used anywhere by the Apostles when the Church begins according to the N.T. – especially Acts?

    Should our evangelism not pattern those that ‘turned the world upside down’ and are sovereignly placed in the Scriptures?

  6. Darrin Says:

    Agreed, brothers – it would appear that, since we don’t know whether the one (or several) we are witnessing to are among the elect, the statements made by Pastor Hunt are not solid facts. Therefore it would be better to make use of that which is scripturally known without doubt, such as, God commands men to flee from the wrath to come, God has provided salvation by grace through faith in Christ to all who believe in Him, etc. We don’t know the ground in which we are sowing seed, but we know that the seed is the word of God, not a humanistic conjecture about God’s plan for that person.

  7. ABClay Says:

    It seems that a funeral is an appropriate time to make the wayward youths consider their condemnation and mortality rather than make them feel good about themselves by telling them that “God loves you and Jesus died for you”.

    How can this be summed up in several words? “You are a sinner and you are going to die the same as this man (the one in the casket). I want to talk to you later about this.”

    Just my .02.

    Grace and Peace Brothers…

    ABClay

  8. Dan Church Says:

    I agree that the Gospel does affect the non-elect in non-redemptive ways and so I have no problem saying that God loves every individual. Because it is only out of His mere grace and mercy that anyone is giving a moment to live.

    (D.A. Carson explains this well in his book “The Difficult Doctrine of God’s Love” -I think thats the title.)

    This is more of an outworking of God’s common grace I suppose. Perhaps this is why God has chosen to incorporate different words and meanings for Love – ie. agape, phileo, etc in most languages.

    Still, the point remains that this “God loves you and died for you” mantra is NOT USED by the Apostles when the Church begins – ever!

    Gosh part of me would love to stand up at the majority of ‘church growth’ conferences and say that their methods will always be wrong because they don’t have the message right to begin with. Who’s with me?

  9. Paul Bollen Says:

    What about: God loves the sinner, but hates the sin? What does the Bible say about that?

    Psalms 5:5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity

    Psalms 7:11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry [with the wicked] every day.

  10. Joe Says:

    For God so love the World. I know that some will argue that the world means the pre-destined, but there is no evidence for that type of interpretation. The world refers to the people of the earth. The Bible also says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He didn’t say he did it because he hated some and loved others. We choose to reject the gift that he gives us out of love and we continue to be separated because of our own sin, not because he doesn’t love us. Sure he rejects us, if we never accept the gift of salvation. And yes, there is choice. How else could one explain Joshua 24:15

    But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

    We get to choose? Yep. Sleepy now and off to bed.


  11. ABClay:

    Your response might seem harsh to some people, but I think you make a good point, especially in light of Jesus’ reaction to tragic events in Luke 13:1-5.

    Everyone else [except Joe :) ]:
    Good discussion so far! This is really what I was hoping for when I posted this. I especially appreciate Ryan’s honesty concerning his struggle, which I think is appropriate in wrestling with the text and the reality of having compassion on others in a biblical way.

  12. Paul Bollen Says:

    Hey Joe:

    Read this and give me your comments. Look at what the Word says about this.

    http://www.apuritansmind.com/Arminianism/AWPink%20Reprobation.htm

  13. Arthur Sido Says:

    Joe, He calls His own by name and they follow Him. Others don’t not hear His voice because they are not His sheep. If Christ died for the whole world, than wouldn’t the whole world be saved? Or is it our decision that makes the difference? In that case, don’t we really save ourselves?

  14. Darrin Says:

    Joe, indeed, we choose, but we will choose that which is consistent with our desires, as your passage from Joshua shows. Scripture states that we have no natural inclination toward God, and only those to whom He gives a new heart will come to Him. Joshua, like the preacher, puts forth the external call, and those who are internally called will respond positively.

  15. Barry Says:

    I know I’m going to get some venom thrown at me for this but I think there also exists the desire of NT writers (and especially subsequent writers) that really helps to throw the biggest spotlight of all on the figure of Jesus by declaiming that he died for “our sins”.

    This is no small issue. But was it true? Or made up?

    I’m thinking that if I was around Thomas More with this posit that he would have personally strapped me to a pile of sticks.

  16. Cap Pooser Says:

    Joe
    , Joshua does not say choose God or idols. He says,choose whom you will serve, the idols of your fathers, Verse2, or the gods of the Amorites (idols) . Fallen man can choose which idol he will serve, but to choose the LORD requires a changed heart, brought about by the new birth. BTW I think it is proper to say to someone, Christ loves sinners, and Christ died for sinners. The problem is the un-regenerate don’t think they are sinners.


  17. Johnny Hunt’s passing effort at getting the attention of the two young men could result in their avoiding him rather than desiring to hear more. However, with Hunt’s warm personality and appeal and apparent sincerity, his “invitation” to further discussion could be effective. He has some knowledge of these two young men and sees that as an open door for possibly presenting the gospel to them. My question is, did Johnny Hunt conduct the funeral? I am assuming that he did not or else he would have mentioned that he presented the gospel during the funeral.

    Telling the unregenerate that God loves them and Jesus died for them could possibly send the message to the lost that they are already right with God since He loves them and Jesus died for them, they can then just go on their merry ways. But, this is not the end of the matter if Hunt does indeed follow up with the gospel.


  18. Johnny:

    You raise some good points.

    Barry:

    [No “venom” here.] If I understand your question correctly, you are asking if the good news that Jesus died for our sins is true or made up. I would say that the issue of Jesus’ physical death on the cross is unquestionably true from a historical perspective, as attested by eyewitness accounts in what we know as Christian Scripture and also by extra-biblical accounts in (for example) Tacitus or Josephus. Even “Jesus Seminar” scholar John Dominic Crossan who believes that the body of Jesus was most likely eaten by wild dogs understands that Jesus did historically die on the Cross.

    And so the question becomes whether the spiritual significance of this event as declared by Jesus and His apostles was true or made up. I would point to the resurrection as evidence that it was true- if Jesus returned from the dead after crucifixion, I think it is safe to view Him as a spiritual authority. But was the resurrection, like the crucifixion, historically true? Scholars like Crossan, mentioned above, would say “no”. But I believe that the resurrection is the best explanation for why the early church did not cease with the death of Christ, but grew exponentially, with members often suffering martyrdom, based on the proclamation that Jesus died for the sins of those who believe and conquered sin and death in His resurrection.

    Aside from the historical question, there is the matter of faith. If one wishes, doubt can be found no matter how great the evidence. The proper response to the gospel is to turn away from sin- including the sin of doubting God- and to turn to trust in Christ as satisfying the wrath of God against sin, granting eternal life to all who believe.

  19. Tom Butler Says:

    How about, “Jesus died for sinners just like you,” or “…for sinners just like you and me.”


  20. If anyone is still visiting this conservation.

    John 3:16 could possibly be the worst starting point for evangelism in all of Scripture, unless in the process the evangelist realizes the importance of context and continues reading through to v.21. The repeated usage of the words – “condemned” in various forms (“already condemned”), “darkness,” and “evil,” should broaden one’s understanding of why the gospel is “good news;” because there is definitely very “bad news” for the unbeliever (“condemnation”). Of course, the good news is rejected by some in the context (v.19).

    Joe’s question/argument about the “world” in Jn. 3:16 is a very familiar one to all of us and an important one to address. But building one’s understanding of the meaning of “world” based solely on this one verse leads to a misrepresentation of the gospel, the nature of fallen man, justification, and the nature of God.

    In John 17, this same gospel where we have 3:16, Jesus specifically says that He is not praying “for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours” (v.9). That should give one pause to think of how the word world is used and what it means in the context of Scripture. In both occurences we find the word “kosmos” for world.

    In I John 2:15, John writes “Do not love the world or the things in the world,” and employs kosmos both times. This world (kosmos) is under the realm of “the god of this world” (aion, 2 Cor. 4:4), “the god of this age,” age referring to the mind-set and practices of this fallen world, this era, epoch. The kosmos is laboring under the god of this aiov; and willingly so (Jn.3:19-20). This is why Jesus would not pray “for this world.”

    Without the intervention of God the entire world would perish. But out of this darkness God has chosen to save some and to allow the rest to go where we all rightfully deserve to go and where those who do end up there not only deserve to be but chose to be. That is grace and it is just; it is God’s doing and not man’s. It is sovereign God’s call and not ours.

    Paul’s argument (Bollen, that is) is important: Why in the world would we ever want to tell an unregenerate soul that “God loves you. Its your sin He hates?” Talk about finding false security…and our freely giving it!

    So why evangelize? Because we love both our enemies and our friends. And because we are commanded to. We are to approach each unbeliever with Paul’s admonition in 2 Tim. 2:25-26, it may be that God will grant them repentance and that they may escape the snare of the god of this age.


  21. Johnny,

    Again, you make some great points especially in regards to what not to say and in regards to understanding John 3:16 in context. But what are we to say? IOW, if John 3:16 “could possibly be the worst starting point for evangelism in all of Scripture,” then what verse or passage would be a better starting point (assuming that the admonition in 2 Tim. 2:25-26 would come at some point other than the very beginning of a gospel conversation)?

    I ask not because I disagree with you- I think I do heartily agree- but only so that we might think carefully through issues of evangelism.

    -Andrew

  22. Cap Pooser Says:

    Andrew
    I think how we evangelize and what we say initially depends on the situation There is no CWT or FAITH or EE formula which is right for each situation. Some people don’t know who God is. In that case, I start in teaching the Biblical doctrine of who God is and what He requires. Some don’t know who man is, so I teach the doctrine of man. Some don’t know who Christ is, His Person and Work. So that must be taught. Some don’t know what repentance and faith are, so that must be explained. Sometimes I have used the EE questions for a starting point. Some don’t believe in heaven or hell. I then ask What do you mean by that, How do you know that , and have you considered this alternative to your belief.
    It is also necessary to remember that some plant, some water, but God must give the increase. Just some observations on the subject.
    Cap


  23. Andrew, you may have missed my point about context when you ask what better place to start. Remember that I said keep Jn. 3:16 in context. It is a great place to start if we keep it in context. Alone 3:16 is just a platitude, a cliche. Every wino I have ever shared the gospel with quoted Jn. 3:16. I once had a member who told me “All I know is Jn. 3:16″ in defense of his ignorance and lack of depth during a discussion in Sunday School.

    No one knows vv.17ff. And in context this passage could possibly be the best place in all of God’s Word to begin; I mean, this is the gospel.

    2 Tim. 2:25-26 has to do with the attitude and heart of the evangelist. This is how we are to approach those who oppose us and the gospel.

    Andrew, thanks for this opportunity to talk about evangelism. Evangelism done right is vital. The foundation laid determines how the building is built. And if we want disciples to stay right we must start right.

  24. Barry Says:

    Evangelizing sure has changed over the years.

    We’ve gone from a wide variety of pulpit orators to quiet friends who show by example. Today, it is hard to know what to think. I’ve seen people with tattos of crosses on their chest, on their neck and God only knows where else. I have a nephew who has got to have the strangest aberation of a devotional sign I’ve ever seen: on his back a basketball with a cross superimposed in the middle. It’s enough to make one shudder.

    Is this evangelization or just not-so-bright people wanting to be chic?

    It’s kind of annoying to see people with crosses the size of a volkswagon around their neck or a tatto. Are we supposed to use this as an outward sign that they are humble believers?

  25. Pat McGee Says:

    We are to evangelize to everyone precisely because we do not know who the elect are. We are to be faithful to preach the word… to proclaim the word. God is responsible for the harvest. He will bring in whom He has chosen. We simply proclaim and live the Christian life in front of the world.
    The great evangelistic movements throughout history have been led (humanly speaking) by Calvinists.


  26. re: Johnny, “you may have missed my point about context when you ask what better place to start.”

    -Your right, I didn’t quite understand your point. Thanks for the continued clarification!


  27. Barry:

    Your comment reminds us that unbiblical evangelism may not necessarily be any better than no evangelism at all.

  28. Barry Says:

    Andrew,

    What a thought-provoking reply.

    No evangelism touted as a potential benefit over what? Millions of signs and displays and words from people who want to give us their take on what we should do and why. This contrasted with people being left alone with their bible to read, believe and understand for themselves.

    So, evangelism may take many guises. And, the one with no visible outward sign may well-neigh be preferred.

    How novel.


  29. […] Our friend Andrew has asked a couple of good questions over at StrangeBaptistFire in his post “God loves you and Jesus died for you.” Is this the gospel message we must proclaim? The title of the post is very telling as to what his questions are. 1. “Is the statement, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you,’ an accurate summary of the gospel?” 2. Given a very brief amount of time to explain the gospel, should we tell non-Christians, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you’? […]


  30. Andrew, in case you may have missed it, Jerry Vines Ministries is holding a “John 3:16 Conference” at Woodstock BC this coming November. The add guarantees it will not be an “anti-Calvinist” meeting. With the line-up of speakers, I’m sure that’s true. If you go I feel sure all your questions will be answered.

  31. Mike Larsen Says:

    In John 3:16, I am convinced that Jesus’ use of the term world is because the gospel is to be for not just the Jews only, but also the gentiles.

    As to the purpose of the death of Christ, it is clear from the verse that He was given “in order that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Therefore, we see that His death on the cross actually gives everlasting life to a specific group of people, namely believers.

    No as to who believes, it is clear that it is those who have been born again.

    But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

    As to the others, as we read in John 12:37-41, we find that they were unable to believe, having been blinded and hardened by the Lord. This is not the action taken by one who loves another, but by a sovereign God:

    But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.


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