Have you noticed?
Christian organizations everywhere are emphasizing the importance of engaging in practical ways with the poor and needy. The talk is of ‘impacting people’s lives for the Kingdom’ and ‘responding to Jesus’ call to look after the poorest and most vulnerable’.
This is a good thing, surely? Is this not simply following the example that Jesus set? And does not Paul exhort the Galatians to ‘do good to all’ (Gal. 6:10)?
This short video makes a pertinent observation. (For best results, choose ‘720p’ and view full screen.)
Try this experiment:
Pick a few well known Christian organizations that work to meet the practical needs of those in their community or further afield. Visit their websites. Find out what they say they are about. What they do.
Is anything missing?
How prominently does the proclamation of the Gospel figure in their mission?
Is the Gospel message of ‘Christ crucified for sinners’ even mentioned?
And even if the word ‘gospel’ itself is used, what does the context show is meant by that term?
All too often, the Gospel has been redefined to mean showing God’s love to other people in practical ways. The mainstream liberal denominations did this in the 20th century. And now, the same thing is happening in mainstream evangelicalism. Yet the love that we owe to our neighbour (and to God) is the epitome, not of the Gospel, but of the Law:
‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Matt. 22:37–40, NKJV
The primary purpose of the Law is to show us that we are all guilty before a holy and just God, for none of us is able to keep it.
The Gospel, however, is Good News to be proclaimed to all those who, like us, have been condemned by God’s Law:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
1 Cor. 15:1–8, NKJV
The Gospel is not what we do, but what Christ has done for us. It is the Good News of His reconciling to the Father those who are by nature children of God’s wrath (Eph. 6:4). His death for our sins. His perfect life put to our account. His resurrection for our justification.
As I make clear in the video, the message that the Church has been given to proclaim in the name of Christ is ‘repentance and remission of sins’. Meeting physical needs is useless if we fail also to proclaim the only message that can meet people’s greatest need of all – to be saved from the just wrath of a holy and righteous God.
The Great Commission is not that we should ‘go into all the world and be nice’, but that we should make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to hold fast everything that Christ has commanded:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.
Matt. 28:18–20, NKJV
We are to proclaim the same message as Jesus:
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’
Mar. 1:14–15, NKJV
The same message as St. Peter:
Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’
Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Acts 2:38–41, NKJV
The same message as St. Paul:
‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’
Acts 17:30–31, NKJV
Now, the fruit of the Gospel in the lives of those who believe is most certainly good works. But never confuse the fruit of the Gospel with the Good News itself.
For more discussion about what this Gospel message is, and is not, you might like to read some of my other recent blog posts:
- The power of the Gospel
- The point of the ‘sheep and the goats’ passage is NOT that we should try harder to do good works
- What is a sermon for, and is it right for us to judge a poor one?
Back to our experiment. Try looking at the websites of, say, your local Christian youth outreach ministry. Or even a local church.
How did they do? Do they understand that their mission is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ?
Leave a comment and let me know what you find. Don’t forget to leave a link to any websites you discuss!
44 thoughts on “The mysterious case of the disappearing gospel”
Hmmmm. Deep subject…Gospel. And an essential subject for the world. Good post.
I’ve always seen the Law as the beginning of Christ’s redemptive act..which was the completion of filfilling of the Law. Seemingly…our redemption is fulfilled as we allow Christ to fill us with the Holy Spirit so we are equipped to keep the Law. Make sense :smile:? Maybe :smile:. Either way…Redemption and Gospel is a complex subject…and likely..a life-long experience.
Again, very good post. Thanks.
Carolyn / internetelias.wordpress.com
Hi Carolyn, thanks for visiting again! You were quick off the mark 🙂 And a great comment, again!
Let me see whether I can respond sensibly to what you’ve said…
Christ lived a perfect life, and thereby most certainly fulfils the Law for us. His perfect sacrificial death in our place, bearing the punishment demanded by the Law, makes propitiation for our sin before the Father.
When we are saved, we are ‘buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.’ (Rom. 6:4, NKJV)
We thus become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), our sin being wiped away and Christ’s perfect righteousness being put to our account. So, Christ’s fulfilling of the Law on our behalf is most certainly part of His work.
Still, there is a now-but-not-yet aspect to our salvation. Paul talks about the Gospel being the ‘power of God’ to those ‘who are being saved’ (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15). Being saved is thus an ongoing process for us in this life. Paul writes to the Philippians that ‘He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6).
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Christ has bought our sanctification (our being made holy) on the cross: ‘By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Heb. 10:10). Yet, that same writer says just four verses later that ‘For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified’ (Heb. 10:14). So, we are at one and the same time sanctified and being sanctified. There is a now-but-not-yet aspect to our sanctification, as well.
Now, as believers we have been given the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit certainly equips us with everything we need. We’re told, too, that:
‘No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.’ (1 Cor. 10:13)
So, when we sin, we are without excuse and entirely responsible before God.
So, we should be able to live a life free of sin, right?
But I don’t.
And neither did Paul.
Rather, he writes of himself:
‘For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.’
(Rom 7:18-20, NKJV)
What does Paul say of himself? Simply that ‘how to perform what is good I do not find’. Paul does not have it within himself to keep the Law perfectly, even though he wants to. And be in no doubt that Paul is talking about his life as a Christian, for he says: ‘I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.’ (Rom. 7:22) – only a believer could say that.
Remember, the demand of the Law is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And to love your neighbour as yourself.
If I am honest with myself, there’s not even a single second of a single day where I keep either of those commands. Love God with every fibre of my being? No, sorry. I want to, but I don’t.
And I hate this fact.
Do I despair, then? No, with Paul, I cry out in repentance, ‘O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’
And, immediately, I know the answer: ‘I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Rom. 7:24–25a)
Christ has lived a perfect life for me. There is nothing I can do to earn favour with God, because Christ has already perfectly done everything for me! And He has borne away all my sin – past, present and future. What love! What grace! What joy! What freedom!
And with the reminder of this Gospel, my faith in Christ alone is strengthened. As the Holy Spirit works in me to apply Christ and His righteousness to me through my hearing the Gospel, the fruits of that Gospel will inevitably begin to manifest themselves in my life.
Paul concludes, ‘So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’ (Rom 7:25b)
In this present life, this is also our state. We are both declared righteous and, at the very same time, still sinners. Dr. Martin Luther coined a Latin phrase for this: ‘simul iustus et peccator’ – at the same time righteous and a sinner. There is a war going on in our lives, but He who has begun the work will finish it! All glory be to God alone!
If you are interested, you can read more about ‘simul iustus et peccator’ here:
I hope this helps. Please visit again!
Excellent. My thoughts & concerns exactly.
Thank you for the encouragement, Patte.
The local organization in my area is The Ramp http://www.theramp.org They are closely linked to Dutch Sheets & Lou Engle. I’d love someone other than I to help in revealing the false teaching flowing from this place.
Hi Dave, thank you for that link. I purchased a Lou Engle book a few years back, not knowing who he was. It was truly dire, so I sympathize with your predicament.
Perhaps someone who reads this might take up your plea for help?
I know of Dutch Sheets – he and his organization are in my area. I remember there was some very disturbing stuff happening at his church last year before the elections… prophecies about Sarah Palin that did not come true, and a lot of political activism that has to do with, I believe, their beliefs about ushering in the kingdom on earth. They were “hosting God’s presence” for 90 days as well, with a 24-hour a day worship service, which was a very strange interpretation of some Bible passage about hosting the ark of the covenant (ref?). Also, I think Sheets has some decidedly gnostic leanings – I’ve heard people who follow him talk about having “special knowledge” etc.
I’m not an expert on him, but I could probably get you some more specific information if you want it. Try out his website for more info on what he teaches: http://www.dutchsheets.org.
Thanks for the info and link, Tiffany!
I just watched 2 episodes from the ramp. I was edified. They talked about repentance. I pray that God would use those young people to bring glory to His name.
Thanks for this, not enough people talk about repentance being a necessary ingredient of salvation. People usually don’t want to hear my opinion on these things even when backed up with Scripture but they can not argue with a person’s personal experience so I send them a copy of my testimony. Feel free to check it out on my blog.
Hello, Megan – welcome! I shall certainly check out your blog, thank you for the reference 🙂
The theological pendulum swings perpetually it seems, one aspect being underemphasized and the other overemphasized to correct.
The social surging of the Church that became fruitless because it was not enjoined to the proclamation of the gospel and did not depend on the fruit of the gospel to transform lives was tragic. So the church overreacted and “neglected the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faithfulness” and described them as legalism or dismissed as liberalism.
In Luke 10 and Matt 10 Jesus enjoined proclamation to the works of healing the sick, cleanse lepers, etc. and remaining with the receptive in relationship.
Ephesians 2:10 says that the result of the gospels work is that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Eph 2:10 (ESV)
I appreciate your post and heed it’s warning.
Our missional community website is http://www.crosswind.ms While we go to the subsidized apts complexes in love, the first thing we do is set up Bible Studies designed to enjoin the gospel to our loving care. If you’ve ever met the poor you know the only hope for their stabilization is the gospel which strips away the personal poverty caused by the sin done against these people and the sins they walk in. It strips away the poverty of community and adds the to the family of God and therefore many times relieves material poverty caused by the above.
Be aware of the pendulum, warn against possible overreactions to a faithless church who has neglected justice, but please teach and encourage the saints that the outflow of the gospel is always a life of love mercy and justice.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Bobby. I shall look at your website with interest.
By the way, you describe Crosswind as a ‘missional community’. May I ask how you would define the word ‘missional’? It’s something that I’ve been trying to get a handle upon, so having someone here who would know is an opportunity that I shouldn’t like to miss!
To me missional means simply that the saints are focused on pastoral care of those outside the gathered inside. Like the diocese concept, a missional community takes serious the mission of the churchto the whole city not just the gathered few.
Here’s an example that may be helpful: we have five staff, two are full-time missionaries to our city, one to administrate the church as they move out and the other to do the ‘one on one’ care that happens while others are at work. We have that INSTEAD OF a youth person and children’s person who we believe replace the role of godly parents. We teach our parents to be godly and raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and not depend on someone else’s parent or a 20 somethin year old to disciple their children for two hours a week. By doing this we can focus the churches attention on our lost city.
We believe that mission is just as vital as corporate teaching and small group discipleship. And it must be as vigorously staffed and administrated as Sunday and small groups.
There’s more but that’s a taste. Thanks for asking.
PS Your blog/sermon on Matt 25 is the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve said it that way, but not near as good, not even close. I may just read that one week at our corporate meeting.
Thanks Bobby, that was extremely helpful. I’m very interested in where you’re coming from, particularly since you don’t seem to fit one of the standard moulds – I shall definitely be spending some time on your website. Do you happen to be on Facebook? It would be good to stay in touch…
With respect to Matt. 25, thank you. You’re very welcome to use anything from this site.
Just bobbycapps on facebook or twitter. I found you from PirateChristian Chris’ tweet.
PS This whole missional thing is better understood by guys like Reggie McNeal, Alan Hirsch, etc. We’re just experimenting with a radical (from our ‘church cultural’ perspective) focus and interest on becoming missionaries to our city. And we are merely a blip on the radar screen in what God is doing in this regard. But there is a helpful newish book out called “When Helping Hurts” written by PCA’s Covenant College profs that have been most helpful in incarnating the gospel in our city.
THX again, BC
Thanks Bobby – I appreciate the book recommendation, too 🙂
I think the comments by Bob Capp is disturbing in a sense that he doesn’t fundamentally disagree with the proposition of the church’s primary mission is on meeting people’s physical needs. Yes, it sounds like a moderate “middle ground” position but only if you shift the middle ground to where the middle of the postmodern evangelical movment circa 2010 is sitting!
In a sense, it is a classic “middle ground” logical fallacy, which very often, does not apply when it comes to God’s Word. Either the primary function of the gospel is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, or a mix of human efforts. And lest we go on and say, “No, they are the ‘and’ parts of the mission” I think a thorough reading of Acts 6:1-7 would be a good reading.
Hello Joel, thank you for your thought-provoking comments. The Acts 6 reference you make is highly relevant to this topic. Indeed, it ties in nicely with the partial Gal. 6:10 quote that I made in my article (‘do good to all’). The full verse is, of course:
‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.’
In my article on the Sheep and the Goats passage from Matt. 25, I make this application:
‘Although your good works can’t earn favour with God, your neighbour really does need them. Is he hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or in prison? Serve him! And notice that the good works spoken of here were done ‘to the least of these My brethren’. And who are Christ’s brothers and sisters? Your fellow Christians. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t serve non-Christians with our good works – we certainly should. But let us especially serve our bothers and sisters in the Lord (cf. Gal. 6:10).’
Now, Bobby is particularly interesting to me because, although he describes himself using the word ‘missional’, which is usually a warning flag to me of exactly the kind of problem that I am trying to highlight here (all charitable works and no gospel), he does seem to care very much about the gospel message of Christ crucified for sinners. There’s an unusual mix of perspectives going on there!
Bobby, I wonder whether you’d care to respond to Joel, and perhaps interact with some of the Scripture passages that have been raised here?
Joel …I don’t think any disagree that the Body of Christ is to serve the ‘plate’ of the Gospel to the world. But, I suspect, there is some disagreement on ‘how’ to accomplish the Gospel in the world. Since ‘pure and undefiled religion before God is to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction’….none can fault Bobby Capp on their missional endeavor. Christ’s idea of ‘church’ and our contemporary view seems quiet different. Christ ‘lived’ the Gospel….in Love, Power, and Service. He went about doing ‘good.’ He sent the deciples house to house…..without purse of script…and without extra clothing. God never intended the Church to be the ‘house of worship.’ Our bodies are Temples of God….the Body of Christ…made up of ‘lively stones fittly joined together.’ We are in the last days. God is directing the hearts of sincere Christians to serve and to ‘love ones neighbor as oneself.’ Love, REAL love from the heart of God does nothing but SERVE. Love of the God-kind sees and is driven to help those who struggle……those in the highways and hedges. God said ‘they will come.’ I clearly see your concern. But when we see the Gospel being lived amidst those in the ‘highways and hedges’….our hearts can rejoice knowing the Good News of the Gospel is going forth. ‘Love never fails’. Loving God and loving others completely ‘is’ the Gospel. Christ demonstrated the depths of the God love when He gave Himself….body and soul …to redeem us from spiritual death which began at Eden. He didn’t ‘tell’ us about the Father’s love. He ‘showed’ us the Father’s love. And nothing we can do or say is more powerful than the ourpouring of service to others…fueled by the force of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. That ‘force’ is love. God is love.
Carolyn / internetelias.wordpress.com
Since your comment is addressed to Joel, I’ll leave him to respond to the substance if he wishes. I did just want to jump in on one thing, however.
It’s true that Christ demonstrated the wonderful depths of the love of God when He bought us with His blood on the cross. That is the Gospel – Christ crucified for sinners.
‘Loving God and loving others completely’ is not the Gospel, though. This is rather a statement of the Law – an obligation upon us that we are unable to fulfil. The Gospel is not what we do, but what Christ has done for us – His perfect life, death and resurrection for us.
Of course, as the recipients of God’s love in Christ, the fruit of the Gospel in our lives is certainly a practical (but imperfect) outworking of love for God and our neighbour. As St. John writes:
‘We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.’ (1 John 4:19–21, NKJV)
We love God because He first loved us. Our love for our brother then flows inevitably and necessarily from the love of Christ applied to us by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
Although I deal with the distinction between Law & Gospel in my article above, the other blog posts of mine that I link to near the end cover this ground in greater detail, and might possibly be helpful to you. If you don’t already, I’d also recommend listening to Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith programme for at least a couple of weeks (you can get it as a podcast) – he deals with Law & Gospel in just about every programme, and if you listen to him for very long things should start to become very clear!
++++++Loving God and loving others completely’ is not the Gospel, though. This is rather a statement of the Law – an obligation upon us that we are unable to fulfil. The Gospel is not what we do, but what Christ has done for us – His perfect life, death and resurrection for us. +++++++
Thanks for the response. Always good to consider aspects of the Word. Please don’t think I am arguing with you….don’t intend that at all. But I have to disagree with you, somewhat, concerning ‘love’ being part of the Gospel. The Gospel is God. It is Christ. It is the Holy Spirit. They performed the deed which delivered us from spiritual death. The deed was not the deliverance. The person of Christ….He is our deliverance by way of giving Himself to Death on our behalf. God is Love. God is Christ. Christ is God. They and the Holy Spirit are one. Can’t be separated. Since ‘they’ are the Gospel…then the Gospel, too, has as its catalyst…Love…Agape Love which is given us by way of the Holy Spirit. We are commanded to Love. God would not command what we could not do. Without ‘love’ of God in our hearts…we cannot see God. We are called to be ‘one’ with He and the Father. They are the Gospel in living form.
Joh 10:30 I and my Father are one.
Joh 14:20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
Ro 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
Mt 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Mt 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
Mt 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Mt 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Ro 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
1co 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Mt 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
The transforming of our temporal hearts and minds is a supernatural work of God by way of the Holy Spirit. As the power of His grace redeems us from death…the transforming and ‘renewal’ of our minds move us from death to live and we ‘live’ the Gospel. Christ is the gospel. It is He within us which ‘loves’ and accomplishes the ‘fruits’ of grace…nothing of ourselves.
Again, please don’t receive my comments as being contentious. I don’t intend it that way …AT ALL 🙂
Hi Carolyn, I wouldn’t dream of thinking you contentious, and I appreciate your willingness to ask sensible questions and discuss these points 🙂 It is not at all contentious to disagree in the way that you are doing it.
And I am no unquestionable authority on these things – in fact, no authority at all – just a fellow believer who is trying to understand these things for myself. Everything I say is open to challenge and should be compared with what Scripture teaches. If I have something wrong, I need (and want) to be called out!
Now, back to what you say: ‘But I have to disagree with you, somewhat, concerning ‘love’ being part of the Gospel. The Gospel is God. It is Christ. It is the Holy Spirit. They performed the deed which delivered us from spiritual death.’
I agree fully with this!
Here’s a question that might be helpful to raise at this point, as a summary of the very question under discussion: ‘Love – is it Law or Gospel?’
The answer to this question depends upon whose love we are talking about. If we are considering the love of God, then the answer to this question is undoubtedly ‘Gospel’. For ‘God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8). The Gospel of Christ crucified is thus itself a demonstration, indeed, the ultimate demonstration, of God’s love toward us.
However, if we consider our obligation to love, then this is clearly Law. It is something we are commanded to do. Jesus Himself said that ‘all the Law and the Prophets’ hang on the two commands to love God and to love our neighbour. (Matt. 22:40)
This immediately raises the question of what the Law is for. The Reformers came up with a simple three-fold summary of why God gave the Law:
1. As a restraint (a curb), to stop us from killing each other, stealing each other’s stuff, and so on.
2. As a mirror, to show us our sin when we look upon the Law and compare our conduct with its demands. This use of the law acts as a guardian, pointing us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The kind of ‘guardian’ in mind in that verse is one with a big stick who makes sure we get to school on time!
3. For Christians only, as a guide, to show us what is pleasing to God and how we ought to live.
Use (1) is easy to understand.
Use (3) is fairly easy to grasp, too (but has its dangers when misapplied, as we’ll see). The new nature in us (the result of the Gospel!) longs to do what Christ commands.
Use (2) is the most important one, and perhaps the least intuitive. We think that God gives us the Law so that we can keep it. But Paul talks about the Law like this (best to read the argument in context from the middle of Rom. 1, but here goes anyway):
‘Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.’ (Rom. 3:20)
Doing the things the Law commands will not make anyone justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight. Why? Because all the Law brings is ‘knowledge of sin’. This is the law as a mirror, showing us what we are really like. Whenever we seriously consider the Law, we realize that we don’t, can’t, meet its standards. We therefore need a Saviour, someone who can deal with our sin and who has kept the Law on our behalf.
Well, we see that what Paul says in Rom. 3:20 is true for unbelievers. But what about believers? Again, if we are really honest, how well do we do as believers in loving God with every fibre of our being, all the time? And in loving our neighbours as ourselves?
Yes, we now want to keep these commands, and we strive to do so, because the new nature that has been created within us loves God’s law and delights in it (cf. Rom. 7:22; 2 Cor. 5:17).
Our desire to keep the Law, to love God and our neighbour, thus comes directly as a result of the Gospel at work in our lives – I suspect that this might be part of what you were getting at, too. We love, because Christ first loved us.
And this is where use (3) comes in – it shows us what to aim at. We love Christ’s commands and strive to fulfil them, so we look to the Law to find out what He would have us do. Not to try and earn favour with God, but because we have been shown such grace and love that, in our new nature, it is now our pleasure and delight to do what God commands.
But even here, the more we come to understand the full depth of the Law’s requirements, that it demands that we be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48), the more we realize that we continue to fall short.
The more mature we become in Christ, the more we thus realize how dreadfully sinful we really are, and how amazing it should be that Christ laid down His life for us. And this drives us afresh in wonder and repentance to the cross – to trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins, and in His righteousness put to our account for our favour before God. So we see that use (2) of the Law is also true for us as believers. And this use of the Law is good, because it brings us daily in repentance to Christ.
But there is a danger in use (3), if we forget that we fall short in keeping the Law’s demands. This is why Paul, writing to the Galatians, says:
‘O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? —just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”’ (Gal. 3:1-6)
Again, it’s better to read the whole of Galatians to get the context, but the idea is clear. We are saved by faith alone, not by works. And we are to continue in the same way – trusting in Christ’s merits alone, and not putting any confidence at all in our own keeping of the Law. Having begun in grace, we are to continue in it.
We therefore need the Holy Spirit to work use (2) of the Law in us, to remind us of our sinful shortcomings and thus keep us from taking our trust away from Christ. If we forget use (2) of the Law, it is very easy for us to begin putting our trust instead in our own good works. We then start to think that we are keeping the Law, and that this somehow earns us merit before God. We start to think that God owes us something because of what we do. In short, we become Pharisees.
And so, for us as Christians, use (3) is important, but use (2) continues to be necessary to keep us from pride or confidence in our own works.
Well, it is late now, so I don’t know whether I have helped to clarify things! Let me finish on another point of total agreement between us:
“The transforming of our temporal hearts and minds is a supernatural work of God by way of the Holy Spirit. As the power of His grace redeems us from death…the transforming and ‘renewal’ of our minds move us from death to live and we ‘live’ the Gospel. Christ is the gospel. It is He within us which ‘loves’ and accomplishes the ‘fruits’ of grace…nothing of ourselves.”
You have no argument with me there! Glory be to God alone!
Thank you again for contributing here 🙂
Hi Daniel, you have said basically most of what I wanted to say and you have said it much better than I ever would. Another thing I want to add is some would argue that we are to use “Love your neighbor as yourself” as an initial pre-evangelism tool. Indeed the Salvation Army and a lot of Christian charities were founded with these claims.
But it is still not the gospel at all. Yes, they are good works Christians should not oppose after they are born again, but nowhere has the Bible commended that we must use charity as a pre-evangelism tool. (it would be a stretch beyond its original context to argue 1 Peter 3:1-4 and 1 Peter 3:13-16 supports this “good works lead to presentation of the gospel).
I’m originally from East Asia and I’m forever grateful of the pioneer missionaries of the gospel who went to the East from Europe and North America in both the 19th and 20 centuries and spread the gospel and also founded schools, hospitals, orphanages, charities. But looking back, the church has also attracted some (not a majority, but enough that even the unbelievers have taken notice) people who wanted to go to church “for the free milk powder” i.e. for material gains and never truly born again. This is a lesson we must not forget.
Thank you, Joel – good points.
Rom 2:4 says “the kindness of God LEADS TO repentance”. No, the kindness of God is not the gospel unless God’s love for the world so that he sent His Son is considered kindness, etc. etc.
There is a foolish non-pragmatic disconnect with the theological proposition of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-3 type) and the reality of Jesus living loving and dying for our sins et al. Jesus said prepare the city a certain way (Luke 10 and Matt 10) which included acts of kindness and the development of relationship. Look at Luke 10:5 FIRST SAY, peace to this house and then after meeting human needs he says in v9b THEN SAY the Kingdom of God has come near you. Clear order in the text.
Look, I’m not hung up on this at all as some ‘formula’ or ‘only way’ to present the gospel but Jesus prepared EVERY town that he was going to visit this way.
Friend, the gospel is the story of what Jesus did, present it however you want, just make sure you do. Our ministry has no confidence that anything else is the power of God unto salvation. No gospel, no faith by hearing and hearing by the word, no salvation. But if you don’t think the kindness of God leads to repentance please observe the life of Jesus who “went abt doing good” in Acts 10 a passage with a proclamation sandwich (context).
Abt Acts 6: the apostles role in prayer and ministry of the word is what God directed. It seems that these widows were “their widows” so that this good work was the work of the church (Gal 6:10). And even in the gopel passages I mentioned it was the 70(2) who prepared the city, not the 12 and Jesus who were coming later.
I appreciate the concern, however it seems like nuances that people who don’t actually engage in ministry chat about behind desks. When we commit our lives to the salvation of our cities these texts come alive as a wonderful way to “preach the gospel to the poor” (Jesus’ mission statement).
Thanks for your further clarification and thoughts, Bobby – much appreciated.
As Adam KNEW Eve and life came forth as offspring, so it is when we KNOW Christ…personally…that fruits of Love come forth as offspring. The fruits of the Spirit are all those things needed to serve others. Wrapped up into a package…these fruits are called Love. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount described the ‘perfect’ Christian after the carnal has been made new by the indwelling Spirit of God…meek, merciful…and so forth. The fruits of the Spirit are all ‘loving’ attributes. Humility and contrition are traits of the heart filled with God. We are to be TRANSFORMED into His likeness…by His power…and nothing of ourselves.
I follow you completely on the explanation of Gospel. But as the Law was completed in Christ…the offspring of such a union is Grace. Another word for Grace is Love….therefore Love is the fulfilling of the Law. God IS Love. Love never f ails. And when that Love indwells our hearts…hearts transformed by the power of God…softened and made ‘loving’….as His heart…we will prefer others before ourselves…love our neighbor as ourselves…and love God with all our heart, soul, and mind….with the ‘whole’ of our inner spirit man. God is Spirit. They that worship (Love) Him must worship in ‘spirit’ and in ‘truth.’ The carnal heart cannot worship (love) God with a its darkened ‘spirit’ man. Only the heart filled with the presence of the precious Holy Spirit of Truth..sent from God to us…can worship(love) God.
Peter identified Christ as the Son of the Living God. Christ told Peter that the ‘only’ way Peter could know such a thing for sure….is because it was revealed or confirmed to Peter by the Father. Then Christ said, ‘And you are Peter. On this rock I will build my church……..’The ‘rock’ is ‘fellowship’…personal communication between the Father and those who ‘believe.’ Abraham ‘believed’ God. ‘Belief’ is POWERFUL. ‘Belief’ is personal fellowship and communication…’knowing’ God…because we have fellowship with Him by the Holy Spirit. ‘Believing’ was counted as righteousness because Abraham ‘knew’ God. He loved God. He honored God. He kept God’s Law because it was ‘good.’ Abraham was faithful to God. He and Sarah ‘believed’ God for Isaac. I know many accuse them of plotting..etc concerning Ishmael. But scripture shows that Ismael (who also was intended by God to have life) came before the angels came to Sarah and told her she would bare a son. I continue to be disappointed at how we judge God’s men of honor out of our own carnal spirits. Abraham was called ‘liar’…but Sarah was his sister. God gave Abraham the knowledge and wisdom to turn Abimelech from his wickedness. As He was with Abraham, He is present with us. God is not way off beyond the universe. He is ‘nigh’..even in our hearts. We can’t leave the power and presence of Christ out of His own Gospel. The church of Ephesus did that. They were doing a lot of good things. But the one thing they could not do was ‘love.’ Because they did not have the ‘first love’..Christ in their hearts. He is Love. He is Compassion. He is forgiveness.
God has brought me to a place I never knew existed. He brought me to an encounter with Christ. ….in 2005….and He bathed my spirit with His ‘charity.’ I am not a preacher, pastor, nor theologian. I know only what He has taught me. I am the ‘dumb’ called to confound the wise :smile:. Christ is the ‘life’ of the Gospel. It is His Gospel. He ‘carries’ it to men…from within our Temples. ‘Telling’ without ‘loving’ is fruitless. Gospel without ‘love’ is only words and ‘lifeless.’ the Gospel is the POWER of God unto Salvation. And God is Love.
Well, again, that my opinion. Opinions are a dime a dozen…everybody has one..:smile:.
Love ya in Christ,
Hi Carolyn – just two or three quick points before I escape to do some work 🙂
1. With regard to the rock on which Christ will build His church, here is that verse in context (Matt. 16:13–18, NKJV):
‘When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”’
The traditional Reformation understanding of this passage is that the ‘rock’ upon which Jesus will build His church is Peter’s solid confession of faith in Christ. Indeed, this understanding certainly pre-dates the Reformation. Jan Hus (c. 1372–1415) said: ‘Christ is therefore the foundation by whom primarily and in whom primarily the holy catholic [universal] church is founded, and faith is the foundation with which it is founded – that faith which works through love’.
2. ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ The Greek verb here translated ‘believed’ is pisteuo – ‘it means to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one’s trust’ (BDAG). Abraham thus trusted in God and His promises. And it was this trust that was put to his account for righteousness. Abraham wasn’t accounted righteous because he acted righteously, but rather God declared Abraham righteous because of his trust in Him.
3. What is trust (or faith – they’re different words for the same thing) in the Christian life? Trust in itself is meaningless. Trust must always have an object – I can’t simply ‘trust’, I have to be trusting in someone or something. And I can have a powerful trust in someone, but my trust counts for nothing if I am let down by that person. For the Christian, the object of one’s trust, faith and belief is Christ and the promises of God in Him. In Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection for us.
Now, it is important to be clear that this trust/faith is not something we do, but is instead a gift from God. Furthermore, Luther said that faith ‘clasps Christ as a ring clasps its jewel’. Calvin said that faith is ‘an empty vessel into which Christ’s righteousness is poured’. Both of them were trying to convey the idea that faith itself is not what is important, but that the object of our faith is everything. J. I. Packer writes of faith:
‘Faith is our act, but not our work; it is an instrument of reception without being a means of merit; it is the work in us of the Holy Spirit, who both evokes it and through it ingrafts us into Christ in such a sense that we know at once the personal relationship of sinner to Saviour and disciple to Master and with that the dynamic relationship of resurrection life, communicated through the Spirit’s indwelling. So faith takes, and rejoices, and hopes, and loves, and triumphs.’
May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!
Excellent discussion. There is always a cation in me that we so defend the purity of the gospel that we act like it has no effect. Gospel with no effect hasn’t been appropriated by faith. Having said that I still see Joel’s “go to church for the free milk powder” comment as problematic. Jesus healed 10 lepers. Why? So they would be saved? No, because they had leprosy. Only one came back to thank him. Jesus did many other works that concluded with the phrase many believed yet some doubted. When Jesus turned the water into wine the Bible said as a result of that act of simple kindness to extend marriage ceremony that he manifested His glory and his disciples began to believe in him.
I dunno, but I think we are missing it to say that good works don’t lead people to believe the gospel once proclaimed. There is a connection it seems, in Jesus’ good works at least.
What I appreciate abt the post overall and all the discussion is a fierce effort to stay faithful to proclamation and not become 70’s social workers and act like that is either Christian or Gospel.
Again, thoughtful comments, thank you 🙂 Let me think out loud and off-the-cuff here… (That’s a warning that what follows isn’t going to be a carefully formed statement of considered doctrine.)
I guess the thing with Jesus is that what He was primarily doing was demonstrating His credentials as the promised Messiah. The question then becomes, what did He commission the Church to do? And first and foremost, it is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name, making disciples, baptizing and teaching them to observe everything He has commanded.
Now, having said all that, I agree with you entirely about the effect of the Gospel. The fruit of the Gospel truly at work in anyone’s life is most certainly going to be good works and loving one’s neighbour. And ‘everything He has commanded’ also includes loving our neighbours. So we can’t (and shouldn’t want) to escape from that. But we don’t love our neighbours out of obligation, or to try to earn (or keep) favour with God, but rather because we believers have been shown such love and grace that we could do nothing else.
I wonder whether there is a distinction to be made between what the church (collectively, as the gathered assembly) is to do, and what individual believers are to do? Of course, there is overlap, and everything that the gathered church does is through individual believers, but I’m not sure there aren’t useful distinctions to be made.
There is also a discussion to be had about what constitutes a good work, of course, and I would go along with Luther there – it includes especially the mundane everyday stuff (changing diapers, serving one’s neighbour through one’s job, etc) . And I would further argue that passages such as Matt. 5:1–20 that are primarily referring to the ‘good works’ of Gospel proclamation (as opposed to the ‘charitable deeds’ of Matt. 6 that are to be done in secret), but that is probably a study for another time.
In summary, I am very happy for the church to get involved in the community in practical ways (as long as people are not coerced, and as long as these things are not turned into duties or obligations that are somehow needed to keep favour with God), and I think that can be a helpful way of building relationships and creating avenues for the Gospel message of ‘Christ crucified for sinners’ to be proclaimed.
But such activity should never be a substitute for proclaiming the Gospel, which is the problem I am seeing all too frequently in the UK and in much of the US. My video and post here are really trying to speak to that error. The last thing I want to do is to berate anyone for serving and loving their neighbour! That’s why I had the word ‘also’ in my script, and I started by commending the charitable deeds 🙂
Amen and Amen
My post, The power of the Gospel, is a follow-up to this one.
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