Is “Living” the Gospel Enough?

sharing bible

by John Ellis

A local Christian radio station promotes what they call the “Drive-Thru Difference.” On Thursday mornings, the DJ’s encourage listeners to pay for the people’s food in the car behind them in the drive-thru line. The sentiment behind it is noble and undoubtedly some have been blessed by strangers participating in the “Drive-Thru Difference.” However, on a recent morning while taking my kids to school, I heard the DJ say that the “Drive-Thru Difference is a covert way of sharing the gospel.” That DJ was dangerously and disobediently incorrect.

It is not a covert way of sharing the gospel. In fact, it’s not sharing the gospel at all. There is no such thing as a “covert way” to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sharing the gospel requires speaking to others about the Story of Redemption. While nice and possibly generous, paying for the egg mcmuffins ordered by the people in the car behind you does not communicate Christ crucified, nor does it say anything about the need for repentance of sins and faith in Jesus.

The concept of living the gospel isn’t necessarily new, but over the last decade or so, it’s seemingly seen a resurgence. As a new Christian in the mid-2000’s, I was relieved to be taught this “new” and freeing kind of witnessing. Having grown up a preacher’s kid, I was very familiar with the Great Commission, but, like many others, was embarrassed to use words when sharing the gospel. Frequently called “relational evangelism,” I was happy to hear that I only needed to live the gospel in order to obey King Jesus. Paying for someone’s beer and being willing to listen to their story was far less embarrassing than confronting them with the fact that apart from the repentance of their personal sins and placing their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ they were under God’s just wrath.

One night during church small group in 2009, I had a lightbulb moment, so to speak. In truth, using the words of someone else, the Holy Spirit directly confronted me with my own cowardly disobedience. That night, one of the other small group members went off on door-to-door witnessing. She railed about the imposition, the arrogance, and the ineffectiveness of telling people that they needed to repent of their sins. As she concluded with a plea for relational evangelism, I realized that she was wrong.[1]

Listening to her talk, I began to understand that building relationships, no matter how selflessly and lovingly done, does not communicate the core and essential doctrines of salvation. So, that evening, to the surprise of many there, including myself, I pushed back and defended door-to-door witnessing. To be clear, I wasn’t so much defending door-to-door witnessing as I was attempting to articulate the need to speak the gospel.[2]

During the ensuing “discussion,” she scolded me that living out grace was far more loving and far more effective than telling people that they’re going to hell. She then told me that demonstrating through actions that we love people is what Jesus did and is what he meant for us to do; words are secondary. The more she talked, the more I realized that for those who embrace the concept of “living the gospel,” words are not only secondary but also not necessary. The problematic and disobedient nature of that dawned on me as I realized that I had been disobeying Jesus by not speaking the gospel to my unsaved friends. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a series of assertions that conclude with a call, requiring words in order to be communicated. In my own heart, I realized that my own embrace of the concept of living the gospel was a product of sin – specifically the related sins of pride and fear of man.

Progressive Christians love to point out that Christianity is a story, a narrative, and not a series of propositional statements. The irony, of course, is that they love to isolate passages of Scripture from the Story of Redemption in order to proof-text the specific propositional statements that Progressive Christians love to make. Their hypocrisy aside, separating the Bible from any transcendent content that is authoritative for all times and all places, Progressive Christians are able to mold God’s revelation about Himself into whatever socially-constructed form they so desire. Except, the Story of Redemption is not only undergirded by content but is also decorated throughout with propositional statements – the glorious truths of the Gospel.

In Romans 10: 14, the Apostle Paul makes short shrift of the concept of “living the Gospel” as obedience to the Great Commission. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

Obviously, or, rather, it should be obvious, “living the gospel” does not equal preaching. Preaching requires the use of words. People need to be told through the use of words that they stand condemned as sinners before the throne of our Holy God and that the only solution is found in repentance of sins and faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paying for a stranger’s meal at the drive-thru window may be nice, but it doesn’t communicate that apart from faith in Jesus they are under the wrath of a just and righteous God because they are a sinner.

For many of us, the temptation to “live the gospel” instead of speaking the gospel is more about fear of man than it is ideology. Being labeled a bigot or intolerant is today’s version of having the letter “A” embroidered on our shirt. Proclaiming the truth that there is only way to restore relationship with God is often a sure fire way to earn the contemporary brand of shame and separation.

As way of wrapping up the anecdote about that small group meeting almost a decade ago, the member who preached the efficacy of living the gospel is now attending an apostate church. Last I heard, she was embracing the heretical Social Gospel. By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit has protected me from the sinful inclinations of my own heart, and has revealed to me how Christianity is counter-culture in ways that make almost no one happy, especially not Progressive Christians. We are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. A big part of taking up that cross is suffering the slings and arrows for telling others about their personal need for Jesus because their sin condemns them to hell apart from faith in Jesus. Christian, pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to speak the gospel in obedience to King Jesus.

(for a Biblical definition of “living the gospel,” click here.)

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] To be clear, the leader of that small group did not agree with her. The context and interaction of that small group holds a fascinating place in my memory, and the Holy Spirit used it greatly in my life to move me into a robust understanding of the Bible. However, the dynamics at play in that small group would be next to impossible for me to adequately and fairly distill in this article.

[2] For the record, I am not necessarily a fan of door-to-door witnessing, but I’m also not opposed to it either. My relationship with it may best be summed up in my article about Street Preaching.


One thought on “Is “Living” the Gospel Enough?

  1. John, your post reminded me of an experience I had in Yemen. We visiting American missionaries we’re engaging young Muslim men and women in spiritual conversations. The on-the-ground missionaries told us it was not enough to live like Christ before these young Yemenis. We had to SPEAK THE GOSPEL. So true. The famous quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is so wrong: “Preach the Gospel; when necessary, use words.” It starts with relationship and trust. It continues with a life lived consistent with Christian beliefs. The Holy Spirit brings conversion to fruition when we speak the Gospel, and the spiritually thirsty embrace transformation.

    Liked by 1 person

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