3 Principles for Passing on the Gospel

Their stricken faces said it all. The men and women of the U.S. Olympic 400-meter relay teams were disqualified and in disbelief.

The U.S. had owned the 400 relay in years past. Now, in 2008, the teams hadn’t even qualified.

In just a thirty-minute span, both teams’ hopes were dashed at the fumbling of the third and final baton handoff. When you’re running a relay, the handoff is critical. Runners take extra care to ensure a smooth handoff because when they drop the baton, they don’t finish the race.

Christians have an even more important handoff to make: passing the gospel on to the next generation. Paul, arguably the most skilled believer aside from Christ to ever hand off the gospel, once instructed his young protégé Timothy in how to pass it on well, saying, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Paul is challenging Timothy to pass on what he has heard to faithful men and women who also are able to pass it on. What has Timothy heard from Paul? The gospel. The truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

By this time in their relationship, Timothy would have seen Paul testify to this gospel hundreds of times. He also would have seen Paul pass it on hundreds of times. Paul understood the gospel does the next generation no good if it never receives it. The gospel is like a relay race; we’re either fumbling the handoff or ensuring it’s passed on with care.

In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul summarizes his most critical advice for passing on the gospel in three principles.

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The Missing Component in Most Discipleship Strategies

Forget all the discipleship books you’ve read. Forget all the conferences you’ve attended and blueprints you’ve adopted.

None of them matter. Not really.

What matters is how Jesus made disciples. So how did he do it? What was his strategy?

At first glance, it might appear that Jesus didn’t have a strategy. His strategy “is so unassuming and silent that it is unnoticed by the hurried churchman,” writes Robert Coleman in his classic The Master Plan of Evangelism.

Yes, Jesus had a strategy for making disciples. And “when his plan is reflected on, the basic philosophy is so different from that of the modern church that its implications are nothing less than revolutionary,” says Coleman.

So what was Jesus’ plan for making disciples?

Read the rest of my article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

Self-Denial in an Age of Self-Fulfillment

Everyone you know—including your Christian friends—has been seduced by the siren song: “Be true to yourself.”

David Kinnaman has said that seventy-six percent of practicing Christians in the U.S. now think the best version of themselves can be found by looking inside.

Studies show that each generation in America is more anxious and depressed than the last. Suicide rates are skyrocketing even though we have more doctors and treatments available than ever. We’re looking inside for meaning, but finding emptiness instead.

As believers, time spent searching our hearts for truth and meaning numbs us to what it means to live like Jesus, who says we can’t follow him unless we deny ourselves.

But what does that mean?

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Dying to Self, Living in Christ

This is part 4 in the series “What ‘Following Jesus’ Really Means.” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In this series, we’ve been looking at what it really means to follow Jesus by breaking down each phrase of Greg Ogden’s definition of a disciple:

“A disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call to follow Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is a lifelong process of dying to self while allowing Jesus Christ to come alive in us.”

Last time, we saw that following Jesus is a lifelong process. Today, we’ll look at the two competing forces that process consists of—1) dying to self while 2) allowing Jesus to live in us. It’s necessary to see how each of those work separately before we see how they fit together in the process.

Dying to Self

The concept of denying one’s self comes directly from the teachings of Jesus, most notably his call to discipleship in Luke 9:23-24 where he says,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

For a long time, I struggled with understanding what Jesus meant by “deny himself.” What am I supposed to deny myself? I’ve come to see that denying myself means to reject myself or to refuse to give into myself. In effect, it’s like saying, “I don’t know myself.”

That sounds strange until you realize our sin is borne out of our desire to be our own gods. That’s the lie Adam and Eve believed in the garden, that they could be their own gods and determine the rules for themselves. Each of my sins is rooted, somehow, in that same insidious lie. Each time I give into the idea that I can be my own lord, I deny the Lordship of Christ and set myself in rebellion against God.

Darrell Johnson, a professor of pastoral theology, puts it this way:

“To deny yourself means to deny your self-lordship. It means saying no to the god who is me, the reject the demands of the god who is me, to refuse to obey the claims of the god who is me. [It means we say] a decisive no—‘I do not know the lord Me—I do not bow down to him anymore.’ Jesus calls us to say no to ourselves so we can say yes to him.”

Saying no to ourselves so we can say yes to Jesus brings us to the second force at work in our lifelong process of following Jesus—allowing him to come alive in us.

Allowing Jesus to Come Alive in Us

As we deny ourselves and crucify (kill) our own desires, we make more and more room for Jesus to take up residence in our hearts and minds. The violent words—crucify, kill—are appropriate because following Jesus isn’t always easy. Jesus promises to give his followers abundant life (see John 10:10) but he makes it clear that following him is costly and difficult.

That’s not the narrative many of us are telling ourselves. We want the abundance Jesus offers without accepting the cost and making the sacrifices. We want the resurrection without the crucifixion. But that’s not how it works.

Johnson writes,

“Just as there would be no resurrection for Jesus without crucifixion, so there would be no resurrection for the disciples without crucifixion. . . . A man on his way to public crucifixion ‘was compelled to abandon all earthly hopes and ambitions.’ Jesus calls his followers to think of ourselves as already dead, to bury our earthly hopes and dreams, to bury the plans and agendas we made for ourselves. He will either resurrect our dreams or replace them with dreams and plans of his own. . . . This is a hard but liberating saying. . . . Freedom comes when we lay down the ill-gotten false crown, when we say no, when we live as though the gods who are us have already died.

A disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call to follow Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is a lifelong process of dying to self while allowing Jesus Christ to come alive in us.


Most of us have fallen for the lie that life is supposed to be easy; that life should involve as little pain as possible. Sometimes we come to Jesus thinking he’ll make that happen.

But that’s not what he promises.

If anything, Jesus promises the opposite. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Not “might be.” Not “those who follow me in certain countries.” But everyone who follows him.

If that sounds hard to you, remember this. God who overlooked our open rebellion against him, our allegiance to Satan, and sent his Son to die in our place so we could be restored and renewed, today and in the life to come.

Following Jesus means we count the cost, we understand the difficulty, and we keep following anyway. Not because we’re promised a good life or an easy life, but because we’re promised Jesus—and he’s enough.

Following Jesus means giving up the things we want for the thing we want even more—Jesus Christ.

Following Jesus is a Lifelong Process

This is part 4 in the series “What ‘Following Jesus’ Really Means.” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

In this series, I’m breaking down each phrase of Greg Ogden’s definition of a disciple so we can see what it really means to follow Jesus. Ogden’s states,

“A disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call to follow Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is a lifelong process of dying to self while allowing Jesus Christ to come alive in us.”

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Even though our salvation is immediate upon responding in faith to Jesus’ sacrifice, it takes a lifetime to conform our lives to his example. Following Jesus is what Eugene Peterson refers to as “a long obedience in the same direction.” Responding in faith to the call to follow Jesus means we enter into a pattern of recreating our lives to look more like his.

Almost every metaphor for spiritual growth in the Bible is a gardening one. That’s because growth takes time, and much of it is out of our control. Just like with gardening, we will experience seasons of growth, seasons of drought, and times of harvest. There will be times to celebrate and times to grieve.

If you’re feeling exhausted or disappointed with your spiritual growth, then take heart. You’re in the same boat as everyone else. We’re all in the process of killing off sin patterns while cultivating new life-giving ones. That’s not going to happen overnight.

Crockpot Faith in a Microwave World

The slow process of spiritual growth can make us frustrated when we’re used to Amazon bringing whatever we want to our doorstep within two days. We’re programmed to want immediate satisfaction, but that’s simply not how spiritual growth works. We all want a microwaveable faith, but the one we’ve been given is a crockpot faith. Low and slow is the key—and it’s how you get that unmistakable flavor of someone that has simmered in Christ.

As followers of Jesus, what we’re after is a life that’s more and more obedient to Jesus each and every day—even if we have trouble seeing the change each day.

And the good news is, we’re promised that God will see through the growth he has started in us. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he writes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6 ESV). Even though we’re guaranteed to screw things up along the way, God will see through the work he started in us when he saved us.

That process unfolds over a lifelong process. But what does the process consist of? Dying to self while allowing Christ to come alive in us. That’s what we’ll cover in part 5, as we wrap up this series.