How do you present the gospel at a funeral? Does your approach change if you don’t know the deceased personally? Does your presentation change if you don’t know about their spiritual condition while they were alive on the earth?
Years ago, I made a commitment that I would always present the gospel whenever I performed a wedding or a funeral. Both audiences tend to include a wide range of people—religious, irreligious, god-fearing, agnostics, Christ followers, and atheists. The occasion might be the only time the individual will be in church. I don’t want them to leave without hearing even the briefest mention of how to have a relationship with God.
This past week I was invited by a local funeral home to perform a graveside service. Outside of the person’s name, I knew nothing else about the individual—background, interests, spiritual beliefs, nothing. In order to share the gospel, I would have to be gentle and gracious. I could not promise whether the individual was in heaven or hell. But I wanted to be clear, nonetheless, about how the living could be prepared to face eternity.
I came across a helpful volume on planning funerals entitled, Leading Today’s Funerals: A Pastoral Guide for Improving Bereavement Ministry, by Dan S. Lloyd. I was able to adapt some of his material into the following thoughts I shared during the committal service.
I began by reading Psalm 23, a familiar passage about how God cares for us. As I was reading, I noticed one of the family members quoting the psalm silently as I read. I then read John 14:1-6. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples shortly before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. They speak of the hope of heaven. Following the Scripture readings, I shared these thoughts.
If _______ could be present today, I believe there is something she would want us all to know. Let me preface that statement with these comments. _______ as a person is not dead. Her body has stopped functioning, but she is still very much alive in the spiritual world. She is therefore no longer limited by time and space. The Bible teaches that the first thing _______ did when she entered that dimension was to give an account of her life to God—an exit interview, if you will. I do not know what happened at that meeting. None of us knows. But _______ knows and God knows. Because of that meeting, there are some things _______ would want you to know before you give your answer to God for the way you lived.
I think _______ would want us to know four facts. Each of these facts begins with one letter of the word FACT.
The letter “F” stands for the fact that heaven is a free gift. Jesus said that God is preparing a place for each one of us in heaven. God wants people to go to heaven. The Bible says heaven is a free gift. No one earns their way into heaven. That’s the good news. Now here’s the bad news.
The letter “A” stands for the fact that all have sinned. Not everyone gets into heaven, and for good reason. Simply stated, sin blocks the way. Sin is not believing in or obeying God. The Bible says that every one of us has done something wrong, and God is going to hold us accountable for our actions and attitudes. For us sinners, that’s bad news. However, there is more good news.
The letter “C” stands for the fact that Christ died on the cross to forgive our sins. We recently celebrated Good Friday and Easter. Those events remind us that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. That’s really good news.
The letter “T” stands for the fact that if we want to go to heaven, we have to trust Christ. In John 14, Jesus said that no one comes to God except through Jesus. We have to admit that we are helpless apart from him. We need to ask Jesus to forgive our sins.
These facts demand a response. We can either accept them or we can reject and ignore them. The best way I know to express faith in Christ is to pray a prayer of faith.
“Dear Lord, I want to go to heaven. I know I can’t get to heaven because my sins are blocking the way. I know that Jesus died on the cross to forgive all my sins. Please forgive my sins and allow me to enter heaven because of my faith in Jesus. Thank you for forgiving me and making me part of your family.”
As it turned out, three of the people in attendance were from my church. One thanked me for how I presented the gospel. He said he made mental notes and wanted to use a similar approach in sharing with another person.