Tag Archives: Gospel

The Centrality of the Gospel

by Timothy Keller

• Principle

In Galatians 2:14, Paul lays down a powerful principle. He deals with Peter’s racial pride and cowardice by declaring that he was not living “in line with the truth of the gospel”. From this we see that the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life– spiritual, psychological, corporate, social–by thinking, hoping, and living out the “lines” or ramifications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving. The implications and applications of Galatians 2:14 are vast.

 Part I – THE GOSPEL: IMPLICATIONS AND APPLICATIONS IMPLICATIONS

 Implication #1

The power of the gospel. First, Paul is showing us that that bringing the gospel truth to bear on every area of life is the way to be changed by the power of God. The gospel is described in the Bible in the most astounding terms. Angels long to look into it all the  time. (I Peter 1:12). It does not simply bring us power, but it is the power of God itself, for Paul says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation” (Rom.1:16). It is also the blessing of God with benefits, which accrue to anyone who comes near (I Cor.9:23). It is even called the very light of the glory of God itself–”they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…for God…has made his light shine into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor.4:4,6)

It has the life of God. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I gave you birth through the gospel”! And then, after it has regenerated us, it is the instrument of all continual growth and spiritual progress after we are converted. “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” (Col. 1:6). Here we learn:

1) That the gospel is a living thing (cf. Romans 1:16) which is like a seed or a tree that brings more and more new life–bearing fruit and growing.

2) That the gospel is only “planted” in us so as to bear fruit as we understand its greatness and implications deeply–understood God’s grace in all its truth.

3) That the gospel continues to grow in us and renew us throughout our lives–as it has been doing since the day you heard it. This text helps us avoid either an exclusively rationalistic or mystical approach to renewal. On the one hand, the gospel has a content–it is profound doctrine. It is truth, and specifically, it is the truth about God’s grace. But on the other hand, this truth is a living power that continually expands its influence in our lives, just as a crop or a tree would grow and spread and dominate more and more of an area with roots and fruit.

Implication #2

The sufficiency of the gospel. Second, Paul is showing that we never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced”. The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal.3:1-3) and are renewed (Col.1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom.1:16-17). It is very common in the church to think as follows. “The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.” But Col.1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you–it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32)

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel–a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine….Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.” (on Gal.2:14f) The gospel is not easily comprehended. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not “get” it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel–seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.

 APPLICATIONS

The two “thieves” of the gospel. Since Paul uses a metaphor for being “in line” with the gospel, we can consider that gospel renewal occurs when we keep from walking “off-line” either to the right or to the left. The key for thinking out the implications of the gospel is to consider the gospel a “third” way between two mistaken opposites. However, before we start we must realize that the gospel is not a halfway compromise between the two poles–it does not produce “something in the middle”, but something different from both. The gospel critiques both religion and irreligion (Matt.21:31; 22:10).

Tertullian said, “Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.” Tertullian meant that there were two basic false ways of thinking, each of which “steals” the power and the distinctiveness of the gospel from us by pulling us “off the gospel line” to one side or the other. These two errors are very powerful, because they represent the natural tendency of the human heart and mind. (The gospel is “revealed” by God (Rom.1:17)– the unaided human mind cannot conceive it.) These “thieves” can be called moralism or legalism on the one hand, and hedonism or relativism on the other hand. Another way to put it is: the gospel opposes both religion and irreligion. On the one hand, moralism/religion” stresses truth without grace, for it says that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, “relativists/irreligion” stresses grace without truth, for they say that we are all accepted by God (if there is a God) and we have to decide what is true for us. But “truth” without grace is not really truth, and “grace” without truth is not really grace. Jesus was “full of grace and truth”. Any religion or philosophy of life that de-emphasizes or lose one or the other of these truths, falls into legalism or into license and either way, the joy and power and “release” of the gospel is stolen by one thief or the other.

“I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe” (vs. antinomianism) “I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope” (vs. legalism)

 The moralism-religion thief.

How does moralism/religion steal joy and power?

 Moralism is the view that you are acceptable (to God, the world, others, yourself) through your attainments. (Moralists do not have to be religious, but often are.) When they are, their religion if pretty conservative and filled with rules. Sometimes moralists have views of God as very holy and just. This view will lead either to a) self-hatred (because you can’t live up to the standards), or b) self-inflation (because you think you have lived up to the standards). It is ironic to realize that inferiority and superiority complexes have the very same root. Whether the moralist ends up smug and superior or crushed and guilty just depends on how high the standards are and on a person’s natural advantages (such as family, intelligence, looks, willpower). Moralistic people can be deeply religious–but there is no transforming joy or power.

The relativism-irreligion thief.

How does relativism steal joy and power?

Relativists are usually irreligious, or else prefer what is called “liberal” religion. On the surface, they are more happy and tolerant than moralist/religious people. Though they may be highly idealistic in some areas (such as politics), they believe that everyone needs to determine what is right and wrong for them. They are not convinced that God is just and must punish sinners. Their beliefs in God will tend to see Him as loving or as an impersonal force. They may talk a great deal about God’s love, but since they do not think of themselves as sinners, God’s love for us costs him nothing. If God accepts us, it is because he is so welcoming, or because we are not so bad. The concept of God’s love in the gospel is far more rich and deep and electrifying.

 What do both religious and irreligious people have in common? They seem so different, but from the viewpoint of the gospel, they are really the same.

 They are both ways to avoid Jesus as Savior and keep control of their lives. Irreligious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through irreligion, “worldly” pride. (“No one tells me how to live or what to do, so I determine what is right and wrong for me!”) But moral and religious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through religion, “religious” pride. (“I am more moral and spiritual than other people, so God owes me to listen to my prayers and take me to heaven. God cannot let just anything happen to me–he owes me a happy life. I’ve earned it!”) The irreligious person rejects Jesus entirely, but the religious person only uses Jesus as an example and helper and teacher–but not as a Savior. (Flannery O’Connor wrote that religious people think “that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin…”) These are two different ways to do the same thing–control our own lives. (Note: Ironically, Moralists, despite all the emphasis on traditional standards, are in the end self-centered and individualistic, because they have set themselves up as their own Saviour. Relativists, despite all their emphasis on freedom and acceptance, are in the end moralistic because they still have to attain and live up to (their own) standards or become desperate. And often, they take great pride in their own open-mindedness and judge others who are not.)

They are both based on distorted views of the real God. The irreligious person loses sight of the law and holiness of God and the religious person loses sight of the love and grace of God, in the end they both lose the gospel entirely. For the gospel is that on the cross Jesus fulfilled the law of God out of love for us. Without a full understanding of the work of Christ, the reality of God’s holiness will make his grace unreal, or the reality of his love will make his holiness unreal. Only the gospel–that we are so sinful that we need to be saved utterly by grace—allows a person to see God as he really is. The gospel shows us a God far more holy than the legalist can bear (he had to die because we could not satisfy his holy demands) and yet far more merciful than a humanist can conceive (he had to die because he loved us).

They both deny our sin–so lose the joy and power of grace. It is obvious that relativistic, irreligious people deny the depth of sin, and therefore the message “God loves you” has no power for them. But though religious persons may be extremely penitent and sorry for their sins, they see sins as simply the failure to live up to standards by which they are saving themselves. They do not see sin as the deeper self-righteousness and self-centeredness through which they are trying to live lives independent of God. So when they go to Jesus for forgiveness, they only as a way to “cover over the gaps” in their project of self-salvation. And when people say, “I know God is forgiving, but I cannot forgive myself”, they mean that they reject God’s grace and insist that they be worthy of his favor. So even religious people with “low self-esteem” are really in their funk because they will not see the depth of sin. They see it only as rules breaking, not as rebellion and self-salvation.

A whole new way of seeing God.

But Christians are those who have adopted a whole new system of approach to God. They may have had both religious phases and irreligious phases in their lives. But they have come to see that their entire reason for both their irreligion and their religion was essentially the same and essentially wrong! Christians come to see that both their sins and their best deeds have all really been ways of avoiding Jesus as savior. They come to see that Christianity is not fundamentally an invitation to get more religious. A Christian comes to say: “though I have often failed to obey the moral law, the deeper problem was why I was trying to obey it! Even my efforts to obey it has been just a way of seeking to be my own savior. In that mindset, even if I obey or ask for forgiveness, I am really resisting the gospel and setting myself up as Savior.” To “get the gospel” is to turn from self-justification and rely on Jesus’ record for a relationship with God. The irreligious don’t repent at all, and the religious only repent of sins. But Christians also repent of their righteousness. That is the distinction between the three groups–Christian, moralists (religious), and pragmatists (irreligious).

Summary.

Without a knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform. But without a knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us or move us to deny and repress it. Take away either the knowledge of sin or the knowledge of grace and people’s lives are not changed. They will be crushed by the moral law or run from it angrily. So the gospel is not that we go from being irreligious to being religious, but that we realize that our reasons for both our religiosity and our irreligiosity were essentially the same and essentially wrong. We were seeking to be our own Saviors and thereby keep control of our own life. When we trust in Christ as our Redeemer, we turn from trusting either self-determination or self-denial for our salvation–from either moralism or hedonism.

A whole new way of seeing life.

Paul shows us, then, that we must not just simply ask in every area of life: “what is the moral way to act?” but “what is the way that is in-line with the gospel?” The gospel must be continually “thought out” to keep us from moving into our habitual moralistic or individualistic directions. We must bring everything into line with the gospel.

The example of racism.

Since Paul used the gospel on racism, let’s use it as an example:

The moralistic approach to race.

Moralists/legalists would tend to be very proud of their culture. They would fall into cultural imperialism. They would try to attach spiritual significance to their cultural styles, to make themselves feel morally superior to other peoples. This happens because moralistic people are very insecure, since they look a lot at the eternal law, and they know deep down that they cannot keep it. So they use cultural differences to buttress their sense of righteousness.

 The relativistic/hedonist approach to race.

But the opposite error from cultural imperialism would be cultural relativism. This approach would say, “yes, traditional people were racists because they believed in absolute truth. But truth is relative. Every culture is beautiful in itself. Every culture must be accepted on its own terms.”

The gospel approach to race.

Christians know that racism does not stem so much from a belief in truth, but from a lack of belief in grace. The gospel leads us to be: a) on the one hand, somewhat critical of all cultures, including our own (since there is truth), but b) on the other hand, we can feel morally superior to no one. After all, we are saved by grace alone, and therefore a non-Christian neighbor may be more moral and wise than you. This gives the Christian a radically different posture than either moralists or relativists.

 Note: Relativists (as we said above) are ultimately moralistic. And therefore they can be respectful only of other people who believe everything is relative! But Christians cannot feel morally superior to relativists.

The example of a physical handicap.

Let’s come down from something sociological (racism) to something psychological. Imagine that through disease or an accident, you lost your eyesight—you became blind. How would you bring the gospel to bear on this pain and grief?

The moralistic person will either

a) despair, because the handicap takes away something which was his/her “righteousness” or

b) deny, refusing to admit the new permanent limitation.

The hedonistic person will also either

a) despair, because the handicap takes away their ability to live a pleasure-oriented life, or

b) deny, because his/her philosophy cannot bear it.

 But the gospel will lead to

a) resist the handicap, yet

b) accept it too. Too much resistance is denial and too much acceptance is despair. The gospel is real about both sin and grace, and thus can give the handicapped person the same balance.)

Part II. – THE GOSPEL: THE KEY TO EVERYTHING

We have seen that the gospel is the way that anything is renewed and transformed by Christ–whether a heart, a relationship, a church, or a community. It is the key to all doctrine and our view of our lives in this world. Therefore, all our problems come from a lack of orientation to the gospel. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts and thinking and approaches to absolutely everything.

A. The Gospel and the individual.

1. Approach to discouragement.

When a person is depressed, the moralist says, “you are breaking the rules–repent.” On the other hand, the relativist says, “you just need to love and accept yourself”. But (assuming there is no physiological base of the depression!) the gospel leads us to examine ourselves and say: “something in my life has become more important than God, a pseudo-savior, a form of works righteousness”. The gospel leads us to repentance, but not to merely setting our will against superficialities. It is without the gospel that superficialities will be addressed instead of the heart. The moralist will work on behavior and the relativist will work on the emotions themselves.

2. Approach to the physical world.

Some moralists are indifferent to the physical world–they see it as “unimportant”, while many others are downright afraid of physical pleasure. Since they are seeking to earn their salvation, they prefer to focus on sins of the physical like sex and the other appetites. These are easier to avoid than sins of the spirit like pride. Therefore, they prefer to see sins of the body as worse than other kinds. As a result, legalism usually leads to a distaste of pleasure. On the other hand, the relativist is often a hedonist, someone who is controlled by pleasure, and who makes it an idol. The gospel leads us to see that God has invented both body and soul and so will redeem both body and soul, though under sin both body and soul are broken. Thus the gospel leads us to enjoy the physical (and to fight against physical brokenness, such as sickness and poverty), yet to be moderate in our use of material things.

3. Approach to love and relationships.

Moralism often makes relationships into a “blame-game”. This is because a moralist is traumatized by criticism that is too severe, and maintains a self-image as a good person by blaming others. On the other hand, moralism can use the procuring of love as the way to “earn our salvation” and convince ourselves we are worthy persons. That often creates what is called “codependency”– a form of self-salvation through needing people or needing people to need you (i.e. saving yourself by saving others). On the other hand, much relativism/liberalism reduces love to a negotiated partnership for mutual benefit. You only relate as long as it is not costing you anything. So the choice (without the gospel) is to selfishly use others or to selfishly let yourself be used by others.

But the gospel leads us to do neither. We do sacrifice and commit, but not out of a need to convince ourselves or others we are acceptable. So we can love the person enough to confront, yet stay with the person when it does not benefit us.

4. Approach to suffering.

Moralism takes the “Job’s friends” approach, laying guilt on yourself. You simply assume: “I must be bad to be suffering”. Under the guilt, though, there is always anger toward God. Why? Because moralists believe that God owes them. The whole point of moralism is to put God in one’s debt. Because you have been so moral, you feel you don’t really deserve suffering. So moralism tears you up, for at one level you think, “what did I do to deserve this?” but on another level you think, “I probably did everything to deserve this!” So, if the moralist suffers, he or she must either feel mad at God (because I have been performing well) or mad at self (because I have not been performing well) or both. On the other hand, relativism/pragmatism feels justified in avoiding suffering at all costs–lying, cheating, and broken promises are OK. But when suffering does come, the pragmatist also lays the fault at God’s doorstep, claiming that he must be either unjust or impotent. But the cross shows us that God redeemed us through suffering. That he suffered not that we might not suffer, but that in our suffering we could become like him. Since both the moralist and the pragmatist ignore the cross in different ways, they will both be confused and devastated by suffering.

5. Approach to sexuality.

The secularist/pragmatist sees sex as merely biological and physical appetite. The moralist tends to see sex as dirty or at least a dangerous impulse that leads constantly to sin. But the gospel shows us that sexuality is to reflect the self-giving of Christ.

He gave himself completely without conditions. So we are not to seek intimacy but hold back control of our lives. If we give ourselves sexually we are to give ourselves legally, socially, personally–utterly. Sex only is to happened in a totally committed, permanent relationship of marriage.

6. Approach to one’s family.

Moralism can make you a slave to parental expectations, while pragmatism sees no need for family loyalty or the keeping of promises and covenants if they do not “meet my needs”. The gospel frees you from making parental approval an absolute or psychological salvation, pointing how God becomes the ultimate father. Then you will neither be too dependent or too hostile to your parents.

 7. Approach to self-control.

Moralists tell us to control our passions out of fear of punishment. This is a volition-based approach. Liberalism tells us to express ourselves and find out what is right for us. This is an emotion-based approach. The gospel tells us that the free, unloseable grace of God “teaches” us to “say no” to our passions (Titus 2:13) if we listen to it. This is a whole-person based approach, starting with the truth descending into the heart.

 8. Approach to other races and cultures.

The liberal approach is to relativize all cultures. (“We can all get along because there is no truth”.) The conservatives believe there is truth for evaluation of cultures, and so they choose some culture as superior and then they idolize it, feeling superior to others in the impulse of self-justifying pride. The gospel leads us to be: a) on the one hand, somewhat critical of all cultures, including our own (since there is truth), but b) on the other hand, we are morally superior to no one. After all, we are saved by grace alone. Christians will exhibit both moral conviction yet compassion and flexibility. For example, gays are used to being “bashed” and hated or completely accepted. They never see anything else.

9. Approach to witness to non-Christians.

The liberal/pragmatist approach is to deny the legitimacy of evangelism altogether. The conservative/moralist person does believe in proselytizing, because “we are right and they are wrong”. Such proselyzing is almost always offensive. But the gospel produces a constellation of traits in us. a) First, we are compelled to share the gospel out of generosity and love, not guilt. b) Second, we are freed from fear of being ridiculed or hurt by others, since we already have the favor of God by grace. c) Third, there is a humility in our dealings with others, because we know we are saved only by grace alone, not because of our superior insight or character. d) Fourth, we are hopeful about anyone, even the “hard cases”, because we were saved only because of grace, not because we were likely people to be Christians. e) Fifth, we are courteous and careful with people. We don’t have to push or coerce them, for it is only God’s grace that opens hearts, not our eloquence or persistence or even their openness. All these traits not only create a winsome evangelist but an excellent neighbor in a multi-cultural society.

10. Approach to human authority.

Moralists will tend to obey human authorities (family, tribe, government, cultural customs) too much, since they rely so heavily on their self-image of being moral and decent. Pragmatists will either obey human authority too much (since they have no higher authority by which they can judge their culture) or else too little (since they may only obey when they know they won’t get caught). That mean either authoritarianism or anarchy. But the gospel gives you both a standard by which to oppose human authority (if it contradicts the gospel), but on the other hand, gives you incentive to obey the civil authorities from the heart, even when you could get away with disobedience.

11. Approach to human dignity.

Moralists often have a pretty low view of human nature–they mainly see human sin and depravity. Pragmatists, on the other hand, have no good basis for treating people with dignity. Usually they have no religious beliefs about what human beings are. (If they are just chance products of evolution, how do we know they are more valuable than a rock?) But the gospel shows us that every human being is infinitely fallen (lost in sin) and infinitely exalted (in the image of God). So we treat every human being as precious, yet dangerous!

12. Approach to guilt.

When someone says, “I can’t forgive myself”, it means there is some standard or condition or person that is more central to your identity than the grace of God. God is the only God who forgives–no other “god” will. If you cannot forgive yourself, it is because you have failed your real God, your real righteousness, and it is holding you captive. The moralist’s false god is usually a God of their imagination which is holy and demanding but not gracious. The pragmatist’s false god is usually some achievement or relationship.

13. Approach to self-image.

Without the gospel, your self-image is based upon living up to some standards–whether yours or someone’s imposed upon you. If you live up to those standards, you will be confident but not humble. If you don’t live up to them, you will be humble but not confident. Only in the gospel can you be both enormously bold and utterly sensitive and humble. For you are both perfect and a sinner!

14. Approach to joy and humor.

Moralism has to eat away at real joy and humor—because the system of legalism forces you to take yourself (your image, your appearance, your reputation) very seriously. Pragmatism on the other hand will tend toward cynicism as life goes on because of the inevitable cynicism that grows. This cynicism grows from a lack of hope for the world. In the end, evil will triumph—there is no judgment or divine justice. But is we are saved by grace alone, then the very fact of our being Christians is a constant source of amazed delight. There is nothing matter of- fact about our lives, no “of course” to our lives. It is a miracle we are Christians, and we have hope. So the gospel which creates bold humility should give us a far deeper sense of humor. We don’t have to take ourselves seriously, and we are full of hope for the world.

15. Approach to “right living”.

Jonathan Edwards points out that “true virtue” is only possible for those who have experienced the grace of the gospel. Any person who is trying to earn their salvation does “the right thing” in order to get into heaven, or in order to better their self-esteem (etc.). In other words, the ultimate motive is self-interest. But persons who know they are totally accepted already do “the right thing” out of sheer delight in righteousness for its own sake. Only in the gospel do you obey God for God’s sake, and not for what God will give you. Only in the gospel do you love people for their sake (not yours), do good for its own sake (not yours), and obey God for his sake (not yours). Only the gospel makes “doing the right thing” a joy and delight, not a burden or a means to an end.

 B. The Gospel and the church.

 1. Approach to ministry in the world.

Legalism tends to place all the emphasis on the individual human soul. Legalistic religion will insist on converting others to their faith and church, but will ignore social needs of the broader community. On the other hand, “liberalism” will tend to emphasize only amelioration of social conditions and minimize the need for repentance and conversion. The gospel leads to love which in turn moves us to give our neighbor whatever is needed–conversion or a cup of cold water, evangelism and social concern.

2. Approach to worship.

Moralism leads to a dour and somber worship which may be long on dignity but short on joy. A shallow understanding of “acceptance” without a sense of God’s holiness can lead to frothy or casual worship. (A sense of neither God’s love nor his holiness leads to a worship service that feels like a committee meeting.) But the gospel leads us to see that God is both transcendent yet immanent. His immanence makes his transcendence comforting, while his transcendence makes his immanence amazing. The gospel leads to both awe and intimacy in worship, for the Holy One is now our Father.

 3. Approach to the poor.

The liberal/pragmatist tend to scorn the religion of the poor and see them as helpless victims needing expertise. This is born out of a disbelief in God’s common grace or special grace to all. Ironically, the secular mindset also disbelieves in sin, and thus anyone who is poor must be oppressed, a helpless victim. The conservative/moralists on the other hand tend to scorn the poor as failures and weaklings. They see them as somehow to blame for their situation. But the gospel leads us to be: a) humble, without moral superiority knowing you were “spiritually bankrupt” but saved by Christ’s free generosity, and b) gracious, not worried too much about “deservingness”, since you didn’t deserve Christ’s grace, c) respectful of believing poor Christians as brothers and sisters from whom to learn. The gospel alone can bring “knowledge workers” into a sense of humble respect for and solidarity with the poor.

 4. Approach to doctrinal distinctives.

The “already” of the New Testament means more boldness in proclamation. We can most definitely be sure of the central doctrines that support the gospel. But, the “not yet” means charity and humility in non-essentials beliefs. In other words, we must be moderate about what we teach except when it comes to the cross, grace and sin. In our views, especially those that Christians cannot agree on, we must be less unbending and triumphalistic (“believing we have arrived intellectually”). It also means that our discernment of God’s call and his “will” for us and other must not be propagated with overweening assurance that your insight cannot be wrong. Vs. pragmatism, we must be willing to die for our belief in the gospel; vs. moralism, we must not fight to the death over every one of our beliefs.

 5. Approach to holiness.

The “already” means we should not tolerate sin. The presence of the kingdom includes that we are made “partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:3). The gospel brings us the confidence that anyone can be changed, that any enslaving habit can be overcome. But the “not yet” our sin which remains in us and will never be eliminated until the fullness of the kingdom comes in. So we must avoid pat answers, and we must not expect “quick fixes”. Unlike the moralists, we must be patient with slow growth or lapses and realize the complexity of change and growth in grace. Unlike the pragmatists and cynics, we must insist that miraculous change is possible.

 6. Approach to miracles.

The “already” of the kingdom means power for miracles and healing is available. Jesus showed the kingdom by healing the sick and raising the dead. But the “not yet” means nature (including us) is still subject to decay (Rom.8:22- 23) and thus sickness and death is still inevitable until the final consummation. We cannot expect miracles and the elimination of suffering to be such a normal part of the Christian life that pain and suffering will be eliminated from the lives of faithful people. Vs. moralists, we know that God can heal and do miracles. Vs. pragmatists, we do not aim to press God into eliminating suffering.

7. Approach to church health.

The “already” of the kingdom means that the church is the community now of kingdom power. It therefore is capable of mightily transforming its community. Evangelism that adds “daily to the number of those being saved” (Acts 2:47) is possible! Loving fellowship which “destroyed…the dividing wall of hostility” between different races and classes is possible! But the “not yet” of sin means Jesus has not yet presented his bride, the church “as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph.5:27). We must not then be harshly critical of imperfect congregations, nor jump impatiently from church to church over perceived blemishes. Error will never be completely eradicated from the church. The “not yet” means to avoid the overly severe use of church discipline and other means to seek to bring about a perfect church today.

 8. Approach to social change.

We must not forget that Christ is even now ruling in a sense over history (Eph.1:22ff). The “already” of grace means that Christians can expect to use God’s power to change social conditions and communities. But the “not yet” of sin means there will be “wars and rumors of wars”. Selfishness, cruelty, terrorism, oppression will continue. Christians harbor no illusions about politics nor expect utopian conditions.

The “not yet” means that Christians will not trust any political or social agenda to bring about righteousness here on earth. So the gospel keeps us from the overpessimism of fundamentalism (moralism) about social change, and also from the over-optimism of liberalism (pragmatism).

Summary:

All problems, personal or social come from a failure to use the gospel in a radical way, to get “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal.2:14).

All pathologies in the church and all its ineffectiveness comes from a failure to use the gospel in a radical way. We believe that if the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will look very unique. People will find both moral conviction yet compassion and flexibility.

For example, gays are used to being “bashed” and hated or completely accepted. They never see anything else. The cultural elites of either liberal or conservative sides are alike in their unwillingness to befriend or live with or respect or worship with the poor. They are alike in separating themselves increasingly from the rest of society.

 Copyright © Timothy J. Keller, and Redeemer Presbyterian Church 2001

The Gospel and the Poor

by Dr. Timothy Keller

Our individual and corporate commitment to the gospel ought to motivate ministry to the poor and marginalized among us.

I. THE GOSPEL’S ROLE IN MINISTRY TO THE POOR
Being committed to the primacy of the gospel means, first, that the gospel must be proclaimed. Many today denigrate the importance of this, insisting instead that the only true apologetic is a loving community. People cannot be reasoned into the kingdom, they say; they can only be loved. But while Christian community is indeed a crucial and powerful witness to the truth of the gospel, it cannot replace preaching and proclamation. Second, the primacy of the gospel means the gospel is the basis and mainspring for Christian practice, individually and corporately, within the church and outside it. Gospel ministry is not only proclamation to people so they will embrace and believe; it is also teaching and shepherding believers so that the entirety of their lives are shaped. One of the most prominent areas that the gospel affects is our relationship to the poor.

I know of no better introduction to the gospel’s call to minister to the poor than Jonathan Edwards’s discourse “Christian Charity.”1 According to Edwards, giving to and caring for the poor is a crucial, nonoptional aspect of living out the gospel. He puts forth two basic arguments to support this position.

BELIEVING THE GOSPEL WILL MOVE US TO GIVE TO THE POOR
Edwards repeatedly shows how an understanding of “the rules of the gospel”—the pattern and logic of the gospel—will inevitably move us to love and help the poor. While Edwards believes the command to give to the poor is an implication of the teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God,2 he believes the most important motivation for giving to the poor is the gospel: giving to the poor “is especially reasonable, considering our circumstances, under such a dispensation of grace as that of the gospel.”3

One of the key texts to which Edwards turned to make this case is 2 Corinthians 8:8–9. When Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor, he pointed to the self-emptying of Jesus and vividly depicted him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and in crucifixion. Edwards noted that Paul’s introduction “I am not commanding you . . . for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant, implying that if one truly grasps substitutionary atonement, one will become profoundly generous to the poor. The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to leave his spiritual riches and enter into spiritual poverty. This should become the pattern of our lives: give away our resources and enter into need so that those in need will be resourced. Paul also implied that all sinners saved by grace will look at the poor of this world and feel that in some way they are looking in the mirror. The superiority will be gone.

Another text Edwards looks to more than once is Galatians 6:1–10, especially verse 2, which enjoins us to “bear one another’s burdens.”4 These burdens, at least partially, are material and financial, because Galatians 6:10 tells us to “do good to all men, especially the household of faith.” Edwards understands “doing good” to mean the giving of practical aid to people who need food, shelter, and financial help. We share love and emotional strength with those who are sinking under sorrow; we share money and possessions with those who are in economic distress. But what does Paul mean when he says that burden bearing “fulfills the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2)? Edwards calls this “the rules of the gospel.”5 Richard Longenecker calls it “prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel.”6

If it is the gospel that is moving us, our giving to the poor will be significant, remarkable, and sacrificial. Those who give to the poor out of a desire to comply with a moral prescription will always do the minimum. If we give to the poor simply because God says so, the next question will be “How much do we have to give so that we aren’t out of compliance?” This attitude is not gospel-shaped giving. In the last part of his discourse, Edwards cites the objection “You say I should help the poor, but I’m afraid I have nothing to spare,” and responds: “In many cases, we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves . . . else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we be never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbour’s burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?”7

Edwards’s argument is that if the basis for our ministry to the poor were simply a moral prescription, things might be different. But if the basis for our involvement with the poor is “the rules of the gospel,” namely substitutionary sacrifice, then we must help the poor even when we think we can’t afford it. Edwards called that bluff and said, “What you mean is, you can’t help them without sacrificing and bringing suffering on yourself. But that’s how Jesus relieved you of your burdens! And that is how you must minister to others with their burdens.”

Edwards took on two other objections: “I don’t want to help this person because he is of an ill temper and an ungrateful spirit” and “I think this person brought on their poverty by their own fault.” This is an abiding problem with helping the poor. We all want to help kindhearted, upright people whose poverty came on without any contribution from them and who will respond to our aid with gratitude and joy. Frankly, almost no one like that exists. And while it is important that our aid to the poor helps them and doesn’t create dependency, Edwards makes short work of this objection by again appealing not so much to ethical prescriptions as to the gospel itself.

Christ loved us, was kind to us, and was willing to relieve us, though we were very evil and hateful, of an evil disposition, not deserving of any good. . . . So we should be willing to be kind to those who are of an ill disposition, and are very undeserving. . . .

If they are come to want by a vicious idleness and prodigality; yet we are not thereby excused from all obligation to relieve them, unless they continue in those vices. If they continue not in those vices, the rules of the gospel direct us to forgive them. . . . [For] Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness. We foolishly and perversely threw away those riches with which we were provided, upon which we might have lived and been happy to all eternity.8

MINISTRY TO THE POOR IS A CRUCIAL SIGN THAT WE BELIEVE THE GOSPEL
Edwards also deals with a cluster of texts that seems to make our care of and concern for the poor the basis for God’s judgment. Matthew 25:34–46 famously teaches that people will be accepted or condemned by God on the last day depending on how they treated the hungry, the homeless, the immigrant, the sick, and the imprisoned. Does this contradict Paul’s teaching that we are saved by faith in Christ, not by our works?

To answer this, Edwards refers to the Old Testament, in which giving to the poor was an essential mark of godliness. The famous verse Micah 6:8 required God’s people to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Edwards concludes that this requires the godly person to be involved with the poor.9 Bruce Waltke says 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.10 But this emphasis is not limited to 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).11 From this (and 2 Cor. 8:8) Edwards concludes that doing justice and mercy is not a meritorious reason that God will accept us.12 Rather, doing justice and mercy for the poor is an inevitable sign that the doer has justifying faith and grace in the heart.

The principle is, therefore, that a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the needy is the inevitable outcome of true faith. By deeds of service God can distinguish true love of himself from mere lip service (cf. Isa. 1:10–17). Matthew 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 Proverbs 14:31 and 19:17, in which we are told that to be gracious to the poor is to lend to God himself and to trample on the poor is to trample on God himself. This means that on judgment day God can tell what a person’s heart attitude is to him by what the person’s heart attitude is to the poor. If there is hardness, indifference, or superiority, it betrays the self-righteousness of a heart that has not truly embraced the truth of being saved by grace.

II. THE RELATIONSHIP OF GOSPEL PROCLAMATION TO MINISTRY TO THE POOR
While it is obvious that the Bible teaches ministry to the poor, people debate the identity of givers and receivers of such ministry and how the church should engage in it.

TO WHOM?
God gave Israel many laws of social responsibility that were to be carried out corporately. The covenant community was obligated to give to the poor member until his or her need was gone (Deut. 15:8–10). Tithes went to the poor (Deut. 14:28–29). The poor were not to be given a handout but rather to be provided tools, grain (Deut. 15:12–15), and land (Lev. 25), in order to become productive and self-sufficient citizens. Later, the prophets condemned Israel’s insensitivity to the poor as covenant breaking. They taught that spending needlessly and ignoring the poor were sins as repugnant as idolatry and adultery (Amos 2:6–7). Mercy to the poor was evidence of true commitment to God (Isa. 1:10–17; 58:6–7; Amos 4:1–6; 5:21–24). The seventy-year exile was a punishment for failure to observe Sabbath and Jubilee years (2 Chron. 36:20–21), in which the wealthy were to cancel debts.

But that was Israel. What about the church? The church reflects the social righteousness of the old covenant community, but with the greater vigor and power of the new age. Christians, too, are called to open their hand to the needy as far as there is need (1 John 3:16–17; cf. Deut. 15:7–8). Within the church, wealth is to be shared generously between rich and poor (2 Cor. 8:13–15; cf. Lev. 25). The apostles taught that true faith would show itself through deeds of mercy (James 2:1–23). Materialism was condemned as a grievous sin (1 Tim. 6:17–19; James 5:1–6). A special class of officers—deacons—were established to coordinate the church’s ministry of mercy. We should not be surprised then that the first two sets of church leaders were word-leaders (apostles) and deed-leaders (the diakonoi of Acts 6).

Other issues remain. Even if it is recognized that the congregation as a whole (as well as individuals within it) is to give to the poor, the majority of biblical references are to giving within the Christian community—that is, caring for believers. Some conclude that while individual Christians should be involved in caring for all kinds of poor people, the church should confine its ministry to the poor only within the church. But both Israel (Lev. 19:33–34) and the new covenant community (1 Tim. 5:10; Heb. 13:2;) were directed to show hospitality to strangers and aliens—those not of the believing community. Likewise, the main thrust of Jesus’ famous parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) is that ministry of mercy should not be confined to the covenant community but also extended to outsiders. Again in Luke 6:32–36 Jesus urged his disciples to engage in deed-ministry to the ungrateful and wicked, replicating the pattern of the common grace of God, who makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Perhaps the most useful passage is the brief statement by Paul in Galatians 6:10 (written to be read to a church as a body, not just as individuals), which explicitly sets up a prioritized list for ministering to practical and material needs. First of all we are to minister to “the household of faith” and second to “all people” without regard to distinctions of ethnicity, nationality, or belief.

HOW?
Following are a few helpful pointers regarding the relationship of mercy ministry to evangelism within the context of the church.

Evangelism is distinct. The modernist church of the early twentieth century reduced gospel ministry to social ethics and social action. But this contradicts the Bible’s commands to proclaim the gospel. It denies the gospel of grace through God’s saving acts in history and replaces it with good works and moral improvement. In the social gospel, evangelism disappears. In reaction to the social gospel movement, many churches remain deeply suspicious of too much emphasis placed on ministry to the poor.

In light of the biblical material, many today seek some sort of balance. On the one hand, some say we should do mercy and justice only as it helps us bring people to faith in Christ.13 This does not seem to fit in with Jesus’ good Samaritan parable, which calls us to care for those who are “ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). The means-to-an-end view opens Christians to the charge of manipulation: instead of truly loving people freely, we are helping them only to help ourselves and increase our own numbers. One of the great ironies of this approach is that it undermines itself. I have known many ministers who evaluate mercy ministries by the number of converts or church members they produce. The sociologist Robert Putnam characterizes such church-based initiatives as church-centered bonding (or exclusive) social capital, as opposed to community-centered bridging (or inclusive) social capital.14 That is, the ministry of these kinds of churches is not really designed to build up the neighbors but only to expand the church. It’s easy to see how this approach may be perceived as tribal and self-centered, giving only to get something in return (Luke 6:32–35).

On the other hand, others such as John Stott see evangelism and social concern as equal partners:

“Social action is a partner of evangelism. As partners the two belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other. For each is an end in itself.”15 This approach seems to detach mercy ministry too much from the ministry of the Word. It opens the possibility that ministry to the poor might stand on its own without the preaching of the gospel. I propose something else: an asymmetrical but inseparable relationship.

Evangelism is more basic than ministry to the poor. Evangelism should be seen as the leading edge of a church’s ministry in the world. It must be given a priority in the church’s ministry. It stands to reason that while saving a lost soul and feeding a hungry stomach are both acts of love, one has an infinitely greater effect than the other. In 2 Corinthians 4:16–18, Paul speaks of the importance of strengthening the “inner man” even as the outer, physical nature is aging and decaying. Evangelism is the most basic and radical ministry possible to a human being, not because the spiritual is more important than the physical but because the eternal is more important than the temporal (Matt. 11:1–6; John 17:18; 1 John 3:17–18).

Ministry to the poor is inseparably connected to evangelism. We all know the dictum “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” Faith is what saves us, and yet faith is inseparably connected with good works. In Jesus’ ministry, healing the sick and feeding the hungry were inseparable from evangelism (John 9:1–7, 35–41). His miracles were not simply naked displays of power designed to prove his supernatural status, but rather were signs of the coming kingdom (Matt. 11:2–5).

The renewal of Christ’s salvation ultimately includes a renewed universe. In the meantime, there is no part of our existence that is untouched by his blessing. Christ’s miracles were miracles of the kingdom, performed as signs of what the kingdom means. . . . His blessing was pronounced upon the poor, the afflicted, the burdened and heavy-laden who came to Him and believed in Him. . . . The miraculous signs that attested Jesus’ deity and authenticated the witness of those who transmitted the gospel to the church are not continued, for their purpose is fulfilled. But the pattern of the kingdom that was revealed through those signs must continue in the church. We cannot be faithful to the words of Jesus if our deeds do not reflect the compassion of his ministry. Kingdom evangelism is therefore holistic as it transmits by word and deed the promise of Christ for body and soul as well as the demand of Christ for body and soul.16

The book of Acts draws a close connection between the economic sharing of possessions and the multiplication of converts through the preaching of the Word. In the early church the descent of the Holy Spirit and an explosive growth in numbers (Acts 2:41) were connected to radical sharing with the needy (2:44–45). After the ministry of diakonia was firmly established, “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (Acts 6:7). Moreover, the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate noted that Christians were remarkably benevolent to strangers: “The impious Galileans [i.e., Christians] support not only their poor, but ours as well; everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”17

Inseparable does not mean a rigid temporal order. Ministry to the poor may precede the sharing of the gospel, as in Jesus’ ministry to the blind man. Though the deed-ministry led to the blind man’s spiritual illumination, there is no indication that Jesus gave the aid conditionally. He did not press him to believe as he healed him; he just told him to “go and wash” (John 9:7). Even so, when Jesus spoke of giving money and clothing to those who ask, he insisted that we should give without expecting anything in return (Luke 6:32–35). We should not give aid only because the person is open to the gospel, nor should we withdraw it if he or she does not become spiritually receptive. It should always be clear that the motivation for our aid is our Christian faith, and pains should be taken to find nonartificial and nonexploitative ways to keep ministries of the Word closely connected to ministries of aid.

III. HOW TO ENGAGE IN MINISTRY TO THE POOR
While I do not aim for this essay to specify the details of a church’s healthy ministry to the poor,18 I urge churches to strike a proper balance in the following ways.

AN ANALYSIS OF MOTIVATION: JUSTICE AND MERCY
It is one thing to want to help the poor; it is another thing to go about it wisely. In fact, it is rather easy for one’s involvement in the life of a poor family to make things worse rather than better. This happens because of two unbiblical political ideologies and reductionisms that permeate our culture today. Conservatives, in general, see poverty as caused by personal irresponsibility. Liberals, in general, see poverty as caused by unjust social systems. But the Bible moves back and forth in calling ministry to the poor both “justice” and “service” (diakonia) or mercy. Perhaps the most famous biblical appeal to help the poor is the parable of the good Samaritan, in which this aid is called “mercy” (Luke 10:37). Elsewhere, however, the sharing of food and shelter and other basic resources is called “doing justice” (Isa. 58:6–10; cf. Lev. 19:13; Jer. 22:13).

I think the reason for this dual usage of the terms justice and mercy involves the biblical explanation of the causes of poverty as much more complex than our current ideologies.19 The wisdom literature provides a remarkably balanced and nuanced view of the root causes of poverty. In Proverbs we read that “all hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23). Yet we are also told, “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away” (Prov. 13:23). Both personal issues and social, systemic factors can lead to poverty.

Many conservatives are motivated to help the poor out of compassion. This may come from a belief that
poverty is mainly a matter of individual irresponsibility. It misses the fact that the “haves” have what they have to a great degree because of unjust distribution of opportunities and resources at birth. If we have the world’s goods, they are ultimately a gift. If we were born in other circumstances, we could easily be very poor through no fault of our own. To fail to share what we have is not just uncompassionate but unfair and unjust. On the other hand, many liberals are motivated to help the poor out of a sense of indignation and aborted justice. Poverty is seen strictly in terms of structural inequities. This misses the fact that individual responsibility and transformation have a great deal to do with escape from poverty. While the conservative “compassion only” motivation leads to paternalism and patronizing, the liberal “justice only” motivation leads to great anger and rancor.

Both views, ironically, become self-righteous. One tends to blame the poor for everything, the other to blame the rich for everything. One overemphasizes individual responsibility; the other underemphasizes it. A balanced motivation arises from a heart touched by grace, which has lost its feeling of superiority toward any particular class of people. It is the gospel that motivates us to act out of both mercy and justice. God told Israel, “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34). The Israelites had been aliens and oppressed slaves in Egypt. They did not have the ability to free themselves; rather, God liberated them by his grace and power. Now they were to treat immigrants and the poor as their neighbors. Their motivation was clear—because of God’s liberating salvation of them from the tyranny of Egypt.

A DIVISION OF LABOR: INDIVIDUAL AND CHURCH
The church’s ministry to the poor makes great sense as a corporate vehicle for Christians to fulfill their biblical duty to the poor. The church should recognize different levels of ministry to the poor, however, and understand the limits of each.

+ Relief. This is direct aid to meet physical, material, or social needs. Common relief ministries include temporary shelters for the homeless, food and clothing services, medical services, crisis counseling, and the like. A more active form of relief is advocacy, in which people in need are given active assistance to get legal aid, find housing, and locate other kinds of aid.
+ Development. This is what is needed to bring a person or community to self-sufficiency. In the Old Testament, when a slave’s debt was erased and he was released, God directed that his former master send him out with grain, tools, and resources for a new, self-sufficient life (Deut. 15:13–14). Development includes education, job creation, and vocational training. Development for a neighborhood or community involves reinvesting social and financial capital into a social system, such as through housing development, home ownership, and other capital investments.
+ Reform. Social reform moves beyond relief of immediate needs and seeks to change social conditions and structures that cause the dependency. In Job we see that Job not only clothed the naked but also “broke the fangs of the wicked and made them drop their victims” (Job 29:17). The prophets denounced unfair wages (Jer. 22:13), corrupt business practices (Amos 8:2, 6), legal systems weighted in favor of the rich (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 24:17), and capital-lending systems that gouged the persons of modest means (Exod. 22:25–27; Lev. 19:35–37; 25:37). These examples prove that Christians should get involved in their particular communities and work for fair and just practices as needed.

As a general rule, I believe the church should be involved in the first of these (relief ministry) and that voluntary associations, organizations, and ministries should be organized to do the second (development) and third (reform). Many would argue that development and reform require an abundance of resources that may infringe upon the church’s ministry of the Word. Others would say that development and reform create unhealthy political alliances within the congregation. And still others would maintain that development and reform are too complex to be included in the mandate or qualifications of church elders. All of these arguments have some merit, and I do not have the time and space to adequately address the issues here. I would only observe that most American churches that are deeply involved in caring for the poor have found the wisest course of action to be the creation of separate nonprofit corporations to handle community development and social reform, rather than to work directly through the local congregation.

IV. JESUS THE POOR MAN
The Bible resounds with the message that God identifies with the poor. As noted earlier, this means that on judgment day God will be able to judge a person’s attitude toward him by the person’s attitude toward the poor (Matt. 25). It also means something even more profound.

In Matthew 25 God identified with the poor symbolically. But in the incarnation and death of Jesus, God
identified with the poor literally (cf. Phil 2.5-11). Jesus was born in a feeding trough. At his circumcision ceremony, Jesus’ family could offer only the bare minimum, what was required of the poor (Luke 2:24). During his earthly ministry Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). At the end of his life, he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey and spent his last evening in a borrowed room, and when he died, he was laid in a borrowed tomb. His tormentors cast lots for his only possession, his robe, because on the cross he was stripped of everything.

All this gives new meaning to the question “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison?” (Matt. 25:44). The answer is: on the cross, where he died among the thieves and the marginalized. No wonder Paul could say that once you see Jesus becoming poor for us, you will never look at the poor the same way again.

Copyright © 2008 by Timothy Keller, © 2010 by Redeemer City to City. This article is adapted from a paper presented at The Gospel Coalition’s Pastors’ Colloquium in Deerfield, IL on May 28, 2008, and printed in Themelios, Volume 33, Issue 3, December 2008.

We encourage you to use and share this material freely—but please don’t charge money for it, change the wording, or remove the copyright information.

1. Jonathan Edwards, “Christian Charity, or The Duty of Charity to the Poor, Explained and Enforced,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, rev. and corr. Edward Hickman, vol. 2 (1834; reprint, Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1974).
2. Ibid., 2:164.
3. Ibid., 2:165.

4. Ibid., 2:165.
5. Ibid., 2:171.
6. Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary 41 (Dallas: Word, 1990), 275.
7. Edwards, “Christian Charity,” 2:171 (emphasis in original).
8. Ibid., 2:171–72.

9. See Bruce K. Waltke, A Commentary on Micah (Grand Rapids. Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007), 164. Waltke points out that helping the poor is sometimes called “justice” and sometimes “mercy.” I will use both terms and give a bit of an explanation of their difference later in the essay.
10. Ibid., 390–94.
11. Edwards, “Christian Charity,” 2:166 (emphasis in original).
12. Ibid.
13. C. Peter Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel: A Biblical Mandate (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 101–4.
14. Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 22–24.
15. John R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World: What the Church Should Be Doing Now! (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 27.

16. Edmund P. Clowney, “Kingdom Evangelism,” in The Pastor-Evangelist: Preacher, Model, and Mobilizer for Church Growth, ed. Roger S. Greenway (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), 22.
17. Quoted in Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997), 84.

18. Editor’s note: Cf. Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997).
19. Cf. D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 51–59, which discusses six “kinds of poverty.”

 

5 Reasons Why Christians Need to Hear the Gospel

from David Murray

In his opening chapter of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, Sidney Greidanus lists five reasons for preaching Christ today.

1. Jesus’ command: Go and make disciples of all nations  (Matt. 28:19-20).

2. Exciting News: The King has come! (John 1:41-42).

3. Life-giving news: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:30-31).

4. Exclusive news: There is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:12).

5. Our hearers are living in a non-Christian culture.

Greidanus then provides five reasons why committed Christians as well as non-Christians need to hear explicitly Christ-centered sermons:

1. Centralizes Christ: In a post Christian culture such preaching will enable Christians to sense the centrality of Christ in their lives and in the world

2. Distinguishes from falsehood: It will help them distinguish their specific faith from that of Judaism, Eastern religions, the new age movement, the health-and-wealth gospel, and other competing faiths.

3. Builds faith in Jesus: It will continually build their faith in Jesus, their Savior and Lord.

4. Sustains Christians: Preaching Christ in a non Christian-culture sustains Christians as water sustains nomads in the desert.

5. Guides service: Even those committed to Christ must continually learn and relearn what it means to serve Jesus as Lord of their life.

These paragraphs also contain two great quotes:

“Genuine Christian faith and life can exist only so long as it remains a daily appropriation of Christ.” (J M Reu)

“The main objective of preaching is to expound Scripture so faithfully and relevantly that Jesus Christ is perceived in all his adequacy to meet human need.” (John Stott)

Source: http://headhearthand.org/blog/2013/01/25/5-reasons-why-christians-need-to-hear-the-gospel/