Children at my church made a “wordless” gospel bracelet as a project. It consisted of five beads threaded onto a suede strap and tied off to make a bracelet. The beads were different colors, organized to tell a story.
BLACK – All have sinned
RED – Jesus’ died for sinners
WHITE – Jesus washes away sin
GOLD – Eternal life is found through faith
GREEN –Grow now in spiritual life with Jesus
This color scheme can also be used to make a wordless booklet. It is wordless in that the color communicates the content, without written text.
But for the bracelet to actually communicate, words are needed. The biblical truth of a particular color needs to be explained, and the flow of the story strung together in the logic of the gospel.
Perhaps you’ve heard the maxim: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” This saying stresses the importance of a life lived for Christ. We are to be living epistles, reflecting the lordship of Jesus by our behavior, values, ethics, priorities, and all that involves the gospel of the kingdom, as Jesus called it.
But as important as Christ-like living is, it is inadequate to communicate the gospel. Preaching the gospel involves words, beginning with the Word incarnate. It is good news. The Bible is a redemptive document, pointing us to Jesus—and it is full of words.
If we preach the gospel without words through our behavior, what we end up doing is pointing to ourselves instead of Christ. We communicate a salvation by works. Words are necessary to qualify our behavior and point others to Christ.
In his second letter to the Corinthians (2:12-17) Paul says we give off the aroma of the gospel, the fragrance of grace as God leads us in our life-spheres, “in our going,” as Jesus puts it in the Great Commission. You would think the metaphor of a fragrance would support the idea of wordless witness.
But how do we give off the scent of the Savior (v. 15)? Paul says we spread the fragrance of grace by words, by the imparting of information. It is through communication of God’s word (v. 17) that the gospel is preached. Paul identifies the action of speaking (v. 17) to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ found in the gospel (v. 15). Like a fan pushes out the heat of a furnace, our words carry the truth of the gospel to others, made effective by the saving purpose of God (vv. 15-16; cf. Mark 4:12).
Not only is wordless witness inadequate, so is threadbare witness. To simply say, “Friend, you need to accept Jesus” is like giving a “therefore” without any “whereas.” People need to know the bad news, to be convinced of their need, to be emptied of their ability, to repent of their sin—and their righteousness, and to be pointed to Christ as He found in the gospel, the “good news” of what God has done to save sinners.
I’ve written an evangelistic booklet. It is full of words, words that lay out the logic of the gospel while displaying the illogic of grace that gives sinners what they do not deserve, enough words to sketch out the whole picture. It is not a scratch and sniff book, but as its words communicate the gospel, it is the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved…, the fragrance of life to life” (vv. 15-16).