What is the Gospel?
Before we can talk about its effect, I think we need to begin to address what the Gospel is, and how it is to affect our ministry/life if we are to create a community around this very gospel that will also shape it.
So, first the gospel is the message of the entire Bible and centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and tells us that sin is an offense against God and that salvation from sin and to God and his mission is the work of God, not man or will. Once we get this basic foundation, we can then begin to understand that the gospel is passed on to us by Jesus’ disciples, not as some sort of advice or philosophy on how to find God, but rather good-news of what God has already done in history to save us. The realization of these two truths results in us wrestling with the truth that the Gospel must be and is transforming to us on a personal level as it must be personally relied upon, while at the same time it is for the transformation of every culture on earth. So in summary the gospel is the truth of our depravity, God’s response of love through the work and person of Jesus Christ in his birth, life, death, and resurrection. Second it is not a list of to-do’s but rather the exciting message that it is to be proclaimed, and third, just like any activist, when we fully believe in a message with all our heart and soul, it dramatically changes us, but also moves us to be activists of that message in our world!
The majority of references to the gospel in the NT speak of communicating the gospel through words, however, as a steward of the gospel, Paul’s responsibility was not solely to broadcast it to non-believers, but if you read many of Paul’s writings, especially his letters to the Corinthians, we find that Paul found it necessary to provoke, hammer, and instruct the lives of those in his churches, on what the manifestation of that gospel should look like in every area of their lives.
After stressing that the gospel is made known primarily through proclamation, D.A. Carson writes, “yet something else must also be said. [In 1 Corinthians 15 toward the] end of [this] book that repeatedly shows how the gospel rightly works out in the massive transformation of attitudes, morals, relationship, and cultural interactions. As everyone knows, Calvin insists that justification is by faith alone, but genuine faith is never alone; we might add that the gospel focus on a message of what God has done and is doing, and must be cast in cognitive truths to be believed and obeyed, but this gospel never properly remains exclusively cognitive. The Gospel must also transform the business practices and priorities of Christian in commerce, the priorities of young men steeped in indecisive but relentless narcissism…and often the guilty pleasures of single fold who pursue pleasure but who cannot find happiness, the tired despair of those living on the margins and much more. And this must be done, not by attempting to abstract social principles from the gospel, still less by endless focus on the periphery in a vain effort to sound prophetic but precisely by preaching and teaching and living out in our churches the glorious gospel of our blessed Redeemer.”
So if a community is to have the gospel as its center we must first be committed to the proclamation, teaching, and preaching of it. In today’s society, the gospel is marginalized, compromised or at best made a second issue, by many of the new ‘Emergent’ pastors of our day, because they say only true Biblical exegesis is found in how we live and how we love community. In fact they love to champion the old Saint, St. Francis of Assisi, by pontificating his mantra, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words!,” though I love this statement, I do not believe that Francis’ point was to discount the proclamation of the gospel. The truth is Christian community is a crucial and powerful witness to the truth of the gospel as are the lives we live, but we must remember that it cannot and should not replace preaching and proclamation, but rather compliment and back up the very message we proclaim!
Now that we’ve have established the that truth, we must move on to understand that the power of the gospel also means that it is the basis and foundation for Christian practice, individually and corporately. Along with preaching and proclamation for the purpose of embrace and belief, the gospel is also for teaching and shepherding of believers so that it shapes the entirety of their lives resulting in lives that are being made daily into the image of Christ. So, if a community is to be gospel-centric, and that begins with the proclamation/preaching of it and the teaching and shepherding with it so that their life is wholly transformed by it, then it the Gospel WILL, effect our relationship to the poor – period!
One of the, if not the best introduction to how the gospel moves us to minister to the poor is from Jonathan Edward’s discourse, “Christian Charity.” Edwards concludes that giving and caring for the poor is a crucial, non-optional aspect of ‘living-out-the-gospel.’
So let’s summarize: The gospel is the truth about the reality of sin and death and our current condition, and God’s response to that condition through the work and person of Jesus his son. Second that truth is the gospel that is to be proclaimed. Third, it is a message that affects us in every area of our life. Fourth, it moves us to love and serve the marginalized and poor of society.
For the next several weeks or month (depending on my schedule) I will attempt to answer the following questions…
(1) The Gospel will move us to care for the Poor:
(2) Ministry to the Poor is a Sign That we Believe the Gospel
(3) What is the relationship of Gospel proclamation to Ministry to the Poor?
Until then, may we begin to shape our lives around the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom!