A few months ago, I led my church in a community evangelism effort. Our outreach was a little old-fashioned: we knocked on doors and talked to people, hoping the Lord would draw some to himself through the gospel.
Executing door-to-door, “cold call” evangelism has many challenges in the modern context. Rejections of the gospel run the gamut from angry to flaky: One man told me that he hated religion, hated religious “zealots” like us, and believed hell was built especially for those of our ilk. Another woman said that she adhered to Jewish religion in which her father taught her that faith in any object, “even a rock,” would punch her ticket to heaven. None of my questions about the monotheism of the Old Testament and the Torah’s prohibition of worshiping idols made a dent in her rejection of Christ. I even told her that the Scripture called Jesus the rock, but she at last politely said goodbye and returned inside the door to her cats.
Still, I am thankful that God’s gospel can subdue the rebellious heart, whether seething or silly.
Use of Means
For training purposes, Christian leaders have long sought a good outline to help us recall the gospel when we are witnessing to lost people. Indeed, many thoughtful, careful, and biblical outlines have been used effectively—Two Ways to Live and Evangelism Explosion come immediately to mind, and I know there are others.
But recently, in my regular reading of C. H. Spurgeon’s sermons, I have discovered an excellent and pithy approach to the gospel, one that is fully biblical and establishes both man’s universal dilemma and God’s antidote in Christ: Spurgeon’s “Three R’s”: ruin, redemption, and regeneration. I like Spurgeon’s outline for several reasons: it is simple, the alliteration makes it easy to remember, the biblical texts all surround the number three (another aid to memory for the throes of nerve-busting, face-to-face evangelism).
Also, the three R’s cover three things a gospel presentation needs to establish: the problem, the solution, and the response. Spurgeon told young students in his pastor’s college that these three doctrines must permeate their evangelism and preaching. I agree and thus commend it to modern readers. Spurgeon was a gifted, tireless evangelist whom God used to win untold thousands to Christ.
Three Core Doctrines of Evangelism
Spurgeon called them “three doctrines that must be preached above all else,” and he drew as texts for them “three third chapters (of Scripture) which deal with the things in the fullest manner.” Let’s consider Spurgeon’s three R’s.
Ruin (Gen. 3:14-15). This is what man has done. “How did man get in this miserable condition?” Spurgeon asks. R. C. Sproul frames it another way, and his question is one I hear often in gospel conversations: “Saved from what?” In our post-postmodern culture, we must begin here with creation and the fall. Biblical illiteracy appears to be spreading, thus many have never considered that there is something desperately wrong in our world. Beginning here establishes the problem into which God has launched his rescue mission: Man has rebelled against his maker, broken his law, and now lives under a curse that will one day incur the white-hot, unmediated wrath of God. But in the second half of verse 15, we hear the faint promise of God’s solution, one that will grow louder as history advances and as the redemption story of the Bible unfolds. The seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent. The serpent will bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring, but this promised one will deal the death blow to the snake, killing him as one must a serpent: a smashed head. As Spurgeon pointed out, this background leads quite naturally to the good news of God’s rescue mission.
Redemption (Rom. 3:21-26). This is what God has done. This is the good news that trumps the bad news. In the scope of five verses, Paul articulates what some commentators have called the thesis of Romans or the magna carta of salvation. In these glorious verses, Paul establishes the demands of God’s law, the futility of salvation by works, the law’s definition of sin, the righteousness of God received by faith in Christ, justification by faith through the redemption of Jesus Christ, and his satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin. This paragraph contains the entire matrix of the work of Christ that he accomplished on the cross, work that provided full pardon from the guilt of sin for every sinner who believes. It is perhaps the most glorious paragraph in human history.
Regeneration (John 3:1-8). This is what God must do in sinners to enable them to believe. Spurgeon, along with Reformed evangelicals throughout the ages, taught that regeneration precedes faith. In other words, God changes the sinful human heart, sets it free from bondage to sin, and enables it to believe that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth, and the life. Regeneration, like the entire work of salvation, is a unilateral work of grace. It was a central theme of Spurgeon’s preaching and evangelism, and it must be foundational to ours as well, particularly as we think through issues of “results” in evangelism. The reality of regeneration urges us to call sinners to repentance and faith while resting in the work of God who alone opens blind eyes and unstops deaf ears. It removes the pressure from us and frees us to boldly share the gospel while knowing that the results are in the hands of a sovereign, benevolent God. Out of a biblical understanding of regeneration, we may call on sinners to repent and be reconciled to God while leaving the results to him. Thus, I hold out hope for the lady with the Jewish background and all others whom I have engaged over the years.
Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” whether you use them or not, should undergird all our evangelism. And like Spurgeon, pastors today should make certain that these three doctrines regularly appear in the diet of biblical exposition they feed to hungry sheep.