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Really interesting questions. It seems to me that the apostles preached more along the lines of “repent and believe,” and Jesus preached more along the lines of “follow me” (though Jesus did preach repentance from sin (e.x. John 8:1-11, emphasis on verse 11) and belief in him (e.x. John 3:1-21), too). However, I don’t think that these two emphases in preaching need be mutually exclusive. Perhaps following Jesus includes, but is not limited too, repenting from our sins and trusting in him as not only Lord, but Savior. And I don’t think this necessarily needs to include a prayer, though I don’t see any reason that it can’t start with one. Fundamentally, however, this call to repent and believe seems to me to be representative of a call to a reorientation of the heart from sin to Jesus (and all that that reorientation includes and entails: trusting in him to save us, submitting to and following his teaching, communing with fellow believers, sharing this message of hope and redemption with others, etc.).
So, perhaps the best way to share the gospel with someone is to present it as an invitation to follow Jesus, one that is open to all and that we all should take advantage of if we want to be right with God. Then, perhaps we can explain what following Jesus entails. That’s my initial thought, anyway.
“But if Jesus, our high priest, has already died once for all sins, then what really keeps someone from having a relationship with God and entering into the new life He desires for them to experience?”
That is a really interesting question. Does “All will be saved” follow from “Jesus died for the sins of all”? If Jesus paid the price for all sin, then why would anyone be punished for their sins on judgment day? These are questions that I have had before.
After some reflection, it seems to me that since Jesus did pay the price for all sin, then the only thing that people may still deserve judgment for is rejecting HIM. Since he is God, this seems to me to be the gravest of sins, and one that God cannot let go unpunished.
So, perhaps, at the end of it all, the only thing that will keep people from Jesus is their rejection of his every effort to save them. Though such a rejection will undoubtedly merit the punishment God gives for it, it won’t be something forced upon anyone but a result of their own choice. I have a hunch that C.S. Lewis was on to something when he suggested that judgment day may be something like this: Some will say to God, “Thy will be done,” and God will say, “Come.” And God will say to others, “Thy will be done,” and away they will go.