The Effect of the Gospel, Pt. 4

This week I want to address the truth that one of the manifestations of the Gospel in our lives is that we will have a heart for the poor and marginalized. Edwards addresses a several scriptures that seems to make our care of and concern for the poor the basis for God’s judgment on the Day of the Lord. Matt 25:34–46 teaches that people will be accepted or condemned by God on the last day depending on how they treated the hungry and homeless, the marginalized and stranger, the ill, and the broken. The quest that often arises from this passage is , “How is this possible if Paul teaches that we are accepted on Christ’s work alone, not on our works?” Before we attempt to answer that, let gleam more wisdom from Edwards. Edwards also points out that in the Old Testament giving to the poor is an essential mark of godliness. The famous verse Micah 6:8 requires that a man “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

So, according to Bruce Waltke, that this requires that a truly Godly man will be involved in the plight of the poor. Waltke goes on to say that both “do justice” and “love mercy” mean to be kind to the oppressed and marginalized and active in helping people who are financially and socially in a weaker condition.” If you’ve read the Bible then you know that this emphasis is not only in the Old Testament. Care for the poor is “a thing so essential, that the contrary cannot consist with a sincere love to God” (1 John 3:17–19). From this, Edwards concludes that doing justice and mercy is not the way we ‘earn’ God’s acceptance, however, doing justice and showing mercy for the poor is one of the proofs that someone has been saved by grace.

Another version of the teaching of Matt 25:34–46 is found in the book of James. Many have wrestled with the teaching of James 2. James 2 seems to indicate that really we are saved by works, but the truth is James 2 simply is showing us the type of faith Christ infuses us with. Here is what James is saying, “We are saved by faith alone—HOWEVER true faith does not remain only faith! In fact, faith that doesn’t produce a life of works is not faith at all. On top of this, notice the ‘works’ that James claims to be the product of ‘faith’ is not staying away from ‘R’ movies, ‘bad-people’, alcohol or secular music, but rather caring for widows and orphans (1:27), showing the poor respect and treating them equally (2:2–6), and caring for the material needs of food and clothing (2:15–16). James is pretty black in white in saying that those who claim to have faith but close their hearts to the poor are mistaken or liars (2:15–18). James concludes, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy…” (2:13). The “mercy” James speaks of here is strong concern and help for the poor. Here again we have the teaching: you will not find mercy from God on judgment day if you have not shown mercy to the poor during your lifetime. This is not because caring for the poor saves you, but because it is the proof you have been saved!

The major premise: a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor and marginalized is the result or manifestation of true faith. By deeds of service, God separates true love of himself and those who know how to ‘look and sound’ as if they love him. (cf. Isa 1:10–17). Matt 25, in which Jesus identifies himself with the poor (“as you did it to the least of them, you did it to me”) can be compared to Prov 14:31 and 19:17, in which we are told that to be gracious and generous to the poor is to literally give to or ‘lend to the Lord’ himself and to oppress the poor is to insult God. Basically, this means that on the day of Judgment God will know a person’s heart is by what a person’s heart toward the poor and marginalized is. If there is pride, hardness, contempt, and superiority, it exposes that the person has not truly embraced the truth that he or she is a lost sinner saved and freed by grace alone.

Edward concludes his survey of the biblical material with Proverbs 21:13: “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” Edwards adds, “God hath threatened uncharitable persons, that if ever they come to be in calamity and distress they shall be left helpless.” Then according to Tim Keller, “Edwards brings home the Bible’s demand that gospel-shaped Christians must be remarkable for their involvement with and concern for the poor. We should literally be “famous” for it. That is the implication of texts such as Matt 5:13–16 and 1 Pet 2:11–12.

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