by Steve Elkins
It was Mark Twain who said, “Clothes make the man…Have you ever seen a naked salesman?” A pitiful picture, yet there are plenty of preachers and well-meaning Christians who stand improperly dressed as they share the Gospel! Here’s a thought to keep you from being found in such an embarrassing posture.
After giving the Ten Commandments, the Lord immediately provided a sacrificial system (I wonder why?). Concerning the altar (Exod 20:25)—a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice—the law said no one was to put a “tool” on it. It’s God’s work. He’ll get the glory. It doesn’t need our fingerprints (cf. 1 Cor 1:29-31). Then He adds, “nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it” (Exod 20:26).
A good friend was sharing the gospel before a group. Doing a good job, he shared both the bad and good news. He was clear that Christ had died in their place and paid the sin debt in full. Now, he moved to his evangelistic close. He brought up the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Departing from the passage that wonderfully paints the poverty of the prodigal and the forgiveness of the father, a glaze came over his eyes. “Now you’ve got to ‘come home,'” he said. “How do you come home? You must come on His terms. That means full surrender. He wants to be Lord of all, or not at all! It will cost you everything [where was that in the story?]. Coming home is as simple as ‘ABC,’ ‘A’—Admit you’re a sinner; ‘B’—Believe Christ died for you; and, ‘C’—Come home!”
Most of us wouldn’t do such harm to the story of the prodigal son (better, “The Forgiving Father!”). But how many of us have made “steps”—like ABC—a part of our Gospel close? No doubt we’ve been well-meaning (but remember what the Lord said about steps?). My friend was adding steps to God’s altar, and his “nakedness [was] exposed” immediately. His contradictions were embarrassingly obvious (Christ paid it all/He didn’t pay it all, you still owe everything!).
Later, my friend looked unclothed as his confused audience asked for answers about assurance. His system offers none. How sad that he couldn’t, with extreme joy and conviction, answer with the simple words that carry assurance on their very face: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use an outline, such as Need, Provision, Appropriation. Only that once you’ve presented the “altar”—that Christ’s death has paid the sin debt in full—no “steps” should be given except that one believe. The audience has heard and individuals either believe it or not.
If any step is suggested, other than the biblical one of simple faith in Christ’s finished work, the embarrassment of contradiction is unavoidable. Remember that “Every word of God is pure…Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar” (Prov 30:5-6).
Mark Twain was right: Clothes do make a difference. Make sure you’re clothed properly when you share the Gospel of God’s Grace.