I have heard the phrase “live the Gospel” and “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessaryuse words“* a lot recently.  This idea has been around for some time however I personal have not run into it in a way that made me look at its meaning. I have listened to friends on both sides of the debate, listened to renowned speakers, read books and what it all comes down to is the question what is the Gospel? Your understanding of the Gospel will lead you down one of two paths, a Gospel of good ethics and practices or a Gospel that saves us all from judgment. Is the Gospel living in community? Christ is an example to how we should live. As the song by the Beatles states “All we need is love”. Or is it the saving work of Christ? Christ came to save souls for eternal gain above all else. What is the Gospel?

What Would Jesus Do

The Social Gospel is concerned with applying Christian Ethics to social problems. How did Christ live and who did he work with? The answers to these questions are applied to issues of the world such as poverty, equality, justice, human rights, etc. In essence it tries to correct the fallen state of this world through the actions of man. If we the church can live as Christ lived then we can correct these issues. Rick Warren once said “I’m looking for a second reformation. The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs.  This one is going to be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what is the church doing.” (Read the full interview here).

This mentality has one very dangerous pitfall in the fact that it believes we can actually live as Christ lived. We can be in essence a type of Christ to those we are reaching out to. We are setting the other person up for failure. Why? It looks more to Christ’s humanity and negates his deity. This view says “I can be like Christ”.  The world will see  the person reaching out to them as a Christ figure who is doomed to fail for only God is good and all are sinful. If we teach people that we are to live as Christ lived and be Christ to the world we are shaping them for failure because they will always fall short. The effects of a social gospel are utter failure and  self-empowerment  and we will repeat the Tower of Babel. If Christ is merely an example we are then saying that we can be the Savior of the people we are reaching out to. It has been said that it takes 5 positives to counter 1 negative experience. Therefore, how can we expect to be positive examples of Christ’s work?

What Did Jesus Do

If preaching the Gospel is not by living it or being it then what is the Gospel? How do we preach it to all the world? Christ is the Gospel and the only one that can live it. He has proven that by his life, death, and resurrection. When Christ is the Gospel salvation is the focus. It is about reconnecting men to God. The Gospel is about truly dying to self to gain reconciliation with God. It acknowledges the fact that without Christ in the centre all things are meaningless. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Matthew 16.26). Social justice is not at the center of the Gospel. Christ saving the eternal souls of men is at the center.  Therefore, since humanity cannot save themselves the Gospel cannot be demonstrated through the actions of man.

Preach the Gospel Always

If we expect that we can live the Gospel we are setting ourselves up for failure. Preaching is defined as “to advocate or inculcate (religious or moral truth, right conduct, etc.) in speech or writing.” You may be emotionally moved by something like the movie The Passion of the Christ, but you will never find people who heard the Gospel message and turned to Him solely from watching the movie because it does not preach why He suffered. It shows actions, good and evil, it shows faithfulness, it shows injustice, but it does not show justification, atonement, or the separation between God and mankind. The Gospel cannot be understood without words. For God so loved the world…

Preach the Gospel, always use words!

* Often accredited to Saint Francis yet is not in any supporting sources. Googling it can lead to some interesting reading.

Suggested resources:

The White Horse Inn – This tends to be a ongoing topic with them. 
We Believe – Book by Michael Horton
The Cross of Christ – Book by John Stott
Wikipedia article about the Social Gospel Movement & misquotations