Bringing the Gospel to Gen Z
What is the gospel? Prior to the last few years, I would have defined the gospel as the message of salvation—how one enters into a relationship with Jesus and receives forgiveness for sins.
It’s the message I grew up with and what I traditionally believed through most of my thirty-four years on staff with Cru. After all, the gospel is what you tell people who don’t yet know Jesus. Right?!
Through the gospel-centered preaching at College Park Church, my own journey, and my role with Cru, I have come to understand that the gospel is much more than this. It’s like a multi-faceted diamond or an onion with layer after layer. As we study and “rehearse” it, we see things we didn’t see before; the deep, richness of God’s mercy, the beauty of true forgiveness, the ripple effects of being at peace with God.
Bringing the Gospel to Gen Z
Over the last few years, the Innovation Lab on which I serve with Cru undertook a project to create a resource containing the gospel that would resonate with the heart of students from Generation Z. After studying research and doing some of our own, we realized we needed a new language to communicate effectively with today’s students.
Rather than take a current tool and rework the language, we went back to the basics: defining the gospel. We asked, “What are the foundational elements we need to know or believe in order to be at peace with God?”
What Is The Gospel?
It was a fascinating journey. We brainstormed the various elements of the good news of Jesus and considered which aspects would be considered good news to this generation. Then, we read through and pulled from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and teaching. We analyzed the various letters to the churches to see how Paul, Peter, and others described this “good news.” We looked back at Old Testament prophecies and narratives that foretold the coming redemption.
From the poetic beginnings of Genesis to the apocalyptic ending of Revelation, the redemptive story of God’s love and desire to “make a way” is repeated with resounding echoes. I began to see aspects of the gospel that I had never seen before. Nuances that made me say, “What?!” or “How did I miss that?!”.
One thing that really stood out to me was the description of The Word in John 1. After describing the Word, John says that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. He literally “tabernacled” among us. These words are an echo of God’s glory filling the tabernacle in the wilderness. Why would the King of creation, King of kings and Lord of lords, choose to become like us? He chose it because it was the only way that we could ever hope to walk with God without fear, shame, or guilt.
Paul reiterates this beautiful truth in Philippians 2, “although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men …” (vv. 6-8, New American Standard Bible, emphasis added).
For years, I took that truth for granted. Yes, I believed Jesus came down to earth and lived among us, died, and rose again; but I had never truly pondered the realities of “the Word became flesh,”—that Jesus is forever the God-Man!
How the Gospel Became New to Me
As our team continued crafting a message about this beautiful redemption story, the gospel worked its way into my soul more and more. In our journey to communicate this beautiful message to a new generation, we were learning to speak it anew to ourselves.
The world needs to know how much God loves them and wants to rescue them. But they also need to know that none of us deserve his love, nor can we earn it. Because of our rebellion against God’s rule, we stand, like Adam and Eve, naked and ashamed in our guilt before a holy God. But God, in his great kindness and mercy, covers our guilt, shame, and fear with the blood of Jesus. Just as he covered Adam and Eve’s sin with the animal sacrifice and skins, so he now covers our sin by the blood of Christ. He made a way.
Recently, our team was discussing what we were learning in the book of Genesis, and something from chapter 3 jumped out at me:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” — therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken” (vv. 22-23, NASB).
I had always seen God’s actions here as a harsh punishment. But, it was an act of mercy. What if Adam had eaten from the tree of life and lived forever? Then there would be no remedy for sin. God was preparing the way for the coming Messiah who would once and for all pay the penalty that we each deserve for our sin. He accomplished victory over sin, death, and the grave.
So… What Is the Gospel?
The gospel is good news! Good news that my soul needs to hear every day. When Jesus rose from the dead, he began making all things new. It’s the promise that we will one day truly thrive and live in perfect peace with God, other people, and all of creation.
In the words of Horatio Spafford, my heart sings at that redemptive truth,
“My sin, O, the bliss
of this glorious thought.
My sin, not in part, but the whole.
Is nailed to the cross
and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O, my soul.”
Made To Thrive, the resource referred to in this article, was developed to reach today’s high schoolers and college students with the gospel. It is now available at crustore.org.