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You can’t show someone the gospel with a sandwich…

BAM. Here we go.  I’m stirring the pot. Somewhere out there, one of you is sick of the church giving lip service to love. You read that first line and just winced a little bit. In fact, this is the epitome of the gospel to you… loving people in Jesus name. Feeding the hungry. Hands-on love of the broken and wounded and penniless and hopeless. After all, Jesus talked about the least of these, right? And faith without works is dead, right? And the greatest commandment is “love God,” and we do that best by loving people, RIGHT? You remember this quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

It’s a great line.  Someone out there has written this quote in your journal, and it has changed your life.  The way you think about the Gospel and what you’re here for has been forever changed.  Praise God that you are hungry to serve Him and love people.  I mean that.  So don’t let this dampen the fire of your love…

Francis of Assisi was wrong.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  Paul reminds us (because we tend to forget) EXACTLY what the clear, unadulterated Gospel message is… the one Paul would give his life for:  (1) Jesus died for our sins. (2) He was buried. (3) He was raised on the third day.

That’s it. It’s a clear message.  No sandwiches involved.  Love and service are a natural and healthy RESPONSE to the Gospel, but can never be mistaken for the message itself.  Jesus penal substitutionary atonement for our sin, and His victory over death in the Resurrection are the heart of the Gospel.  It is a message that must be PROCLAIMED… it cannot be shown.

You can show His love.  You can show your love for Him.  You can show the world a different way to live, and you can give yourself away in love and service to others.

But you are not sharing the Gospel unless you proclaim it. You’ve got to tell people who Jesus is and what He has done, because THAT is what has the power to save souls.

If we do not proclaim the clear message that our only hope is faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, then Christ ceases to be our substitutionary atonement and becomes merely our example.  Is it possible that the people we serve will misunderstand the heart of our faith?  That when we sign on to the Christian faith, we are obligated to earn back favor with God?  I see it on bumper stickers and church bulletin boards…  Christ died for you – are you living for Him?  WWJD?  Serve like Jesus.  Love like Jesus.  Live like Jesus.
It is an impossible standard.  Instead we must serve, love, and live BECAUSE of Jesus.
For those of you who are sick of watching hurting people suffer because the Church talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, I empathize deeply with your holy discontent.  However, we cannot SUBSTITUTE walking the walk for talking the talk.  Maybe we ought to start with the walk… but we must talk, too.
Over the past several years the Emergent conversation has been reexamining Christian faith, and what it means to be a Christ follower… and what it means to be saved.  Somehow definitions that have for centuries been bedrock biblical truths have become mired in conjecture and postmodern equivocation.  Some now see salvation as something we work out and experience here on earth by serving the needy and the poor, caring for others, caring for the environment, etc.
The Emergent redefinition of salvation fundamentally wrecks the Gospel, because it takes away the gift and replaces it with an obligation.  The Gospel through this lens is a transfer from grace received to something we do.  Galatians 5:1 reminds us:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
I believe we experience salvation here and now, too.  But it is in and through the finished work of Jesus, who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  I believe we are called to love and serve the hurting and needy, to be good stewards of the earth, and to give our lives away in Jesus’ name.  But it is all a response.
Because HE loved us, make those sandwiches.  Feed the hungry ones.  But you can’t show someone the Gospel with a sandwich.  Love ’em, and then tell ’em WHY.
Our friend Francis of Assisi was off the mark.
We proclaim the Gospel.
Then we live in light of it.
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“francis of assisi was wrong :: use words” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.