Student Series: Gospel Motivations in My College Ministry

I was recently thrown into the 30,000-person mission field that is a state-school university. After graduating high school, I felt like I had wasted countless opportunities to make an impact, so I was so excited about the chance to evangelize in college. My freshman year was filled with so many incredible opportunities of ministering to people. Over the course of the year, many would reach out to me for advice on how to get closer to God or wanting to get back on track spiritually. From the seats of Chick-Fil-A to the rows of Jordan Hare stadium, I would urge them to “do more for Christ.” Read your Bible more. Go to church more. Pray more. Be more holy. Stop drinking. Stop talking to that girl.

This ongoing cycle of a “do more” spirituality went on for months and months, but everyone I ministered to seemed to remain the exact same. The struggling Christians continued to struggle. Frustrated in my pursuits, I put my pain in the Scriptures and found two certain passages in 1 Corinthians that pierced my heart like a double-edged sword.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Paul, one of the greatest ministers of Christ, desired to know nothing else except Christ and him crucified, and his first importance to preach is that Christ died for our sins. How could this be? What about inspiring lukewarm Christians to be hot! What about motivating Christians to be obedient! Surely there must be something more Paul wants to say. I kept looking in the Bible in Titus 3:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his great mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”

I found it so fascinating how of all the topics Paul could have told Titus to stress on (church history, apologetics, church doctrines) he tells him to stress the story of Christ, the Gospel, the greatest news ever told: that sinners can become right with God by the graceful, merciful blood of Jesus spilled on the cross. Paul instructs Titus to stress the Gospel, so that people will do what is good. He implies that the Gospel is the heart and root of all obedience to Christ.

I realized that my efforts of preaching a “do more” Christianity were accomplishing nothing because there is very little Christ or grace in that message. People need to have a clear understanding of the Gospel of grace. The most important news someone can ever hear is that they/we are a sinner, someone deserving a death, but Jesus Christ died while we were sinners, so that we could be welcomed in to His family (Romans 6:23 and 5:8). We must continue to stress to people that the blood of Jesus Christ brings us near to God (Ephesians 2:13); Jesus gave the best of Himself and took the worst of us. He died, so we could live. Although He was rich, He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This wonderful news of Jesus is the Gospel, and the Gospel is the heart of all ministry and the call of every Christian.

“Men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 9:13)

“This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:8)

If we plant the seed of the Gospel into the world, the fruit will be obedience to Christ. A person who thinks grace and the Gospel allows them to sit around and do nothing is someone that does not understand Biblical grace. I am in no way discrediting personal obedience to Christ. Rather I am saying, the question “How should we live as Christians?” is always a result of the answer to “Why we are Christians?” I am not saying you shouldn’t read your Bible more or pray more or seek out purity, but the Gospel will be the only sustaining motive to do such things. Other motives like guilt, family, or social status will only get you so far. Why we live as Christians is because of the innocent blood spilled for undeserving people. Why do we try to treat all people with love? Because of the love Christ displayed on the cross. Why do we try to live holy and perfect lives? Because Christ lived a Holy life and received a cruel punishment for a crime He did not commit.

Holiness is the effect and the Gospel is the cause. Once people know the Gospel, the only appropriate response is to live a life worthy of it (Philippians 1:27). Nothing will cause more glorifying work for His kingdom than a clear, full comprehension of the Gospel and the cross.

As Christians we are ambassadors for this very Gospel. We must let it pump through our veins. Preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified. We do not need to preach with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that the faith of the world does not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power (2 Corinthians 2:4). I hope that verses like John 3:16 will never become mundane or ordinary to a minister of Christ. Let us be confident in this Gospel and the cross. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess (Hebrews 10:23). Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold (2 Corinthians 3:12). We must boast in nothing but the saving cross of Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

I used to think telling people a checklist of spiritual activities would help, but I am so glad that by the grace of God, He reminded me of a message so powerful, so wonderful, so transformative, all I had to do was tell it and hope and pray that those who have ears will hear it.

Will Leitner is a rising senior at Auburn University studying Mechanical Engineering. He is from Birmingham, Alabama where he lives with his two younger sisters. Will spent this summer interning in Atlanta, and he loves being at the lake, reading, and playing guitar with his friends. He is a member of Christ Presbyterian Church in Auburn.

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