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!