Question: Should the conditions set forth for discipleship be mentioned prior to (or during) a gospel appeal? Since the NT designates every Christian as being a disciple, and Jesus said to “count the cost,” would it not be appropriate to do so? I know that repentance doesn’t necessarily have to be mentioned for the Holy Spirit to effect repentance in the heart, and perhaps discipleship doesn’t either. I’m just concerned that people who “believe” the gospel, may be just giving mental acquiescence to the facts of it and are in fact resting in a false assurance.
Response: It is instructive to study both the gospels and the book of Acts to see the example of how Jesus ministered to people and how the apostles and early Christians presented the Gospel.
Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent,” when his disciples asked “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” (Jn:6:28-29). Furthermore, both Jesus and the apostles spoke to the people “where they were.” In other words, they began with an individual’s understanding, corrected any misunderstandings, and confronted wrong attitudes. At times discipleship was emphasized; at other times, repentance; and sometimes the Lord so prepared the individual that the Gospel presentation was simply (so to speak) “bare bones.” We often don’t know how the Lord has been preparing an individual to hear the Gospel.
For example, consider the jailer in Acts:16:29-31: “Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” This man had sat through Paul and Silas singing the praises of the Lord, and then the Lord threw in an earthquake!
To the “rich young ruler,” Jesus said, “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mk 10:21-22). This man loved his possessions more than he loved the certainty of eternal life.
He was unwilling to follow the Lord or observe the Lord’s condition that directly answered his question about the greatest obstacle in his life that was keeping him from salvation.
In conclusion, the Gospel presentation can be given only at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. There really isn’t a checklist. Clearly, we are given the example of being attentive to the other person and responding to them at their point of need. For this reason, we agree with your concern that too many are simply giving a mental assent to whatever is said without the heart being engaged.