Notes to Pilgrims #3
It matters not how hard you try or how sincerely you are at it—you just won’t ever be able to do it. Nowadays it is quite common for Christians to emphasize the need to embody the gospel and to live lives that exemplify the gospel. An oft-cited quote frequently attributed (erroneously) to St. Francis of Assisi goes like this, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” And the message underneath the message, it would seem, is that the gospel is better practiced than preached. It is an unhelpful and unnecessary dichotomy to say the least. But more than that, let me suggest that the idea of living out the gospel is actually at odds with the very essence of the gospel.
The essence of the gospel is that it is good news and not good advice. Advice is something that we can do, but news is something that we can only receive and subsequently respond to or ignore. The early proclamation by a runner who sprints back to the capital from the battle lines that ‘the war is won’ is good news. The same runner who comes back saying ‘pack your valuables and flee,’ is giving good advice in the wake of a lost war and an impending sacking of the city.
The gospel is the good news that, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus alone was ever without sin, yet He took the sins of His people and died for them on the cross so that sinners like you and I—when we unite ourselves to Him through repentance and faith—could be clothed with the only righteousness acceptable to God, the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
The gospel then is really something that is unique to Jesus’ own experience. It is a one-off and once-for-all thing that could only be preached, heard, retold, read, examined, analyzed, and understood; but never embodied or lived out. If you are a Christian, the Bible’s charge is for you to live out—not the gospel per se but—the implications of the gospel in all of your life. (cf. Philippians 1:27) You are meant to regularly remind yourself of the gospel by faith in order that as you dwell upon the beauty and the glory of it, you might be so captivated in your inner being that your very thoughts, actions, and words begin to be shaped by it.
Finally it must be stated that since the gospel is verbal, it needs to be communicated. It needs to be proclaimed and explained and spread to everyone who would care to lend an ear. You see simply living by the implications of the gospel is not going to get anyone reconciled with God. The Christian’s witness is primarily to make known with words the reality that God saves sinners in Jesus Christ alone. This is what sinners need to hear and to believe, and it cannot be inferred simply by looking at the gospel-shaped lives of believers. We need to faithfully and winsomely share the gospel to our unbelieving friends because good news is not good news until it is verbalized. Eternal destinies are at stake here and we cannot afford to simply play gospel charades with people. We need the gospel and they do too, and we need to tell them that. We need to do it today. (cf. Hebrews 3:13)
—Pastor James (firstname.lastname@example.org)