In the last post we looked at why this question is important. Before answering the question, I think it will be beneficial to address some gospel substitutes. By that, I mean false-gospels.
The gospel is not just how we get saved. It is not just for unbelievers. Many people believe that the gospel is this door you go through to be saved and then it closes behind you as you move on to other things. This belief says that as you grow, you graduate from the gospel, because you need more.
Timothy Keller says, "We never get beyond the gospel in our Christian life to something more advanced....The gospel is not just the ABCs, but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.”
The truth is there is nothing more than the gospel. The same gospel that is the “power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) is the same gospel that Christians need daily. The gospel is vital for Christians. If not, the Bible would have ended with Moses. But it didn’t. The gospel should daily affect how a Christian lives.
Here is another substitute for the gospel. You are probably familiar with the catchphrase “love God, love people." For many today, this is their definition of the gospel. We have already seen that the gospel is news. This is extremely helpful. If the gospel is news, then we know it is something we must communicate. It must involve spoken or written words.
“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
This quote is pretty popular. Every now and then it will make its way onto Facebook or Twitter. This statement is almost always attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. Who said this phrase is not necessarily important. But I do want to make sure and point out that there is actually no evidence to show that St. Francis ever said this.
Just in what little we have already seen, we should be able to deny any truth to this statement. Since the Gospel is news, words will always be necessary. We cannot live the Gospel. Am I saying there is no action involved with the Gospel? I am absolutely not saying that. You can live a life in light of the Gospel. You can live because of the Gospel. A Christian life should daily be a display of a life completely changed by the Gospel. Our actions or inactions should be powered by, evidence of, and informed by the Gospel.
There could be a temptation right now for you to say “Jay, now you're just playing word police. This is just semantics.” There are many professing Christians out there who have bought into this falsehood of living the Gospel. Let me give you an example to help illustrate why this is vitally and even eternally important.
A while back, I was invited to help a group of professing Christians who were going to be feeding the homeless and impoverished. I arrived and got my marching orders for the afternoon. I was on bread duty. That might not sound too difficult, but given my love for carbohydrates, now temptation was involved. We began serving the food to individuals and families. It was awesome to see so many people come together to serve those in need.
At some point in the afternoon I asked someone in charge when we would have the chance to share the Gospel. Their response was “We are.” I responded, “Great. But when? Like, what time?” She then said, “That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re sharing God’s love with them. We are giving them the gospel.”
There was no plan to share the good news with these people. Sadly, this is far too common. I don’t know which is worse, that someone would knowingly leave out the Gospel or that, like in my example, a group of professing Christians could be so wrong in their definition and understanding of the Gospel that they did not even realize it was absent.
“Love God, love people” was the gospel being put on display. And there are numerous problems with this false-gospel.
In my story we were meeting people’s physical needs. I don’t think that is a bad thing. I think that is a great thing. The church is called to love, serve, and minister to those in need. But the primary problem for human beings is not physical but spiritual. Our biggest need is to be forgiven of our sins. If all we do is attempt to meet physical needs, with no attempt to tackle someone’s biggest need, then that is far from loving.
As Kevin Young once said, “We must prepare our people to die well far more than we strive to help them live comfortably.”
What is truly ironic is that the “love God, love people” catchphrase is actually the opposite of the gospel. It’s a summary of the law.
Now make sure and hear me on this. We absolutely still love God and love people. But this is not the Gospel. Our loving God and people is evidence and a product of the Gospel. The Gospel is how we are able to love.
That is not the only problem either. If we work to meet the physical needs of others without pointing them to Christ, then who gets the glory? Who does the person that was helped thank? Who do they praise? Us. You. Me. Man. For the record, that’s not good. (In fact, it’s blasphemous, but we will touch on that in part 3) Look at what Scripture says here.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
We were made to glorify Him, to reflect His glory, and proclaim it to all of creation. Once again, let’s go the Word.
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
So the gospel is not just how we are saved. The gospel is not “love God, love people.” The Gospel can’t be lived. Words are necessary. So what is the Gospel?