Encountering God’s Love in the Gospel
When the guys that I (Ben) grew up with in Australia later found out I was a Christian, they laughed. When they learned I’d become a pastor, they fell to the ground in hysterics. Of course, I wasn’t the church-going type growing up. When people tried sharing the gospel with me—and a few of them did—I ignored them. If they had persisted (which no one ever did) and told me that I was a sinner to my face, there’s a good chance I might have punched them in their face. I didn’t want anything to do with God, and I definitely didn’t want anyone pointing out my sin. I was one lost soul—that is until I was a caddie for my friend, Dean, on the PGA tour and discovered that Jesus had died for my sins. Let me tell you the story.
Dean had been my best friend growing up in Australia. He earned a college scholarship to play golf in the United States and in his final year of college qualified to play golf on the PGA golf tour. He also became a Christian so that when he came back to Australia the Christmas before his rookie season on tour, it was obvious: his life had changed a lot—for the better! At the time, though, I couldn’t put my finger on what had changed about him, but there was a new sense of purpose and a peace that wasn’t in his life before.
During the holidays, Dean asked me if I would go to the United States to be his caddie on the PGA Tour. It was a no brainer. “Yes!” I said without a second thought. So we spent a year in the United States on the golf tour together. The noticeable change in my good friend’s life began to open me up to the gospel.
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During our first week on tour, Dean invited me to a Bible study led by Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A number of the professional golfers and their wives attended the study. I had never heard of people studying the Bible, but trusting Dean and being intrigued by the change in his life, I went anyway. I kept everyone at arm’s length for two months, but I listened carefully. As I looked on, I was impressed by their faithfulness to go to the Bible study every week. I was even more impressed by their lives outside of the Bible study.
Then on Easter Sunday, Dean took me to church, and the pastor preached the gospel. When the preacher told me I was a sinner, I found myself agreeing with him. That was a first! I had always known deep down that I was a sinner, but I’d never been willing to acknowledge it until that day. Then, when the pastor told me of Christ’s love—that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and that he would forgive my sins—I was overwhelmed. Jesus overwhelmed me. I had never heard of such love, and the truth that Christ died so that my sins might be forgiven was stunning to me.
The pastor had preached the full gospel that Easter Sunday. While I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I listened to a recording of that sermon later, and he had preached all seven elements of the gospel! When he called people to repent, believe, and begin following Jesus, I did just that. My conversion was a Romans 5:5 experience, where God poured his love into my heart by the Holy Spirit. For someone who wanted nothing to do with God just a short time before, it was a radical turnaround. I began following Jesus by faith that Easter Sunday, and I still haven’t quite recovered. I hope, by the grace of God, I never do.
I share my story with you here to give you an example of the amazing power of preaching Christ’s death without reservation. Do for others what was done for me: preach Christ’s death—all the implications of it. Tell of his love and don’t leave out sin. Help people understand that the call to believe in Christ’s death is a call to live a new life of denying themselves and taking up their own cross daily. When you say this, you communicate that the ongoing reality of our faith in Christ’s death is dying to sin each day of our lives. This death to sin frees us from our sin to live a new life in Christ’s resurrection power, which we get into in detail in The Discipleship Gospel. We’ll cover more on the blog next week.