Friday, February 4, 2011

Live the Gospel?

My friend Mark posted a short post on the phrase "Live the Gospel".  He offered a critique of those who would dislike the use of this phrase.

I want to defend those people who say “live the gospel” and use it in an orthodox, God-honoring way. When many say “live the gospel” they effectively mean, as Al Martin said in the sermon “A life that embodies the transforming power of the gospel”.  They don’t mean “Live [because your life is] the gospel” (which would be wrong), they just mean “Live [in light of] the gospel” or “Live [out] the gospel” or “Live [by] the gospel” or “Live [a life marked by] the gospel”. Would that we would all seek our lives to be characterized by that!

If that's what they mean, then that's what they should say.  The Gospel is the message and declaration of the forgiveness of sins because of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Instead of using language that might obfuscate the issue, we should insist on language that is clear. 

Many times what people mean by "Live the Gospel" is what St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the Gospel always, and use words when necessary."  However this is the reverse of what it should be.  "Preach the Gospel always, and use actions when necessary" is really how it should be.  

In his excellent book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, Graeme Goldsworthy makes the following assertion (p. 59):

It cannot be stressed too much that to confuse the gospel with certain important things that go hand in hand with it is to invite theological, hermeneutical and spiritual confusion. Such ingredients of preaching and teaching that we might want to link with the gospel would include the need for the gospel (sin and judgment), the means of receiving the benefits of the gospel (faith and repentance), the results or fruit of the gospel (regeneration, conversion, sanctification, glorification) and the results of rejectingit (wrath, judgment, hell). These, however we define and proclaim them, are not in themselves the gospel. If something is not what God did in and through the historical Jesus tow thousand years ago, it is not the gospel. Thus Christians cannot 'live the gospel' as they are often exhorted to do. They can only believe it, proclaim it and seek to live consistently with it. Only Jesus lived (and died) the gospel. It is a once-for-all finished and perfect event done for us by another.

I can’t live the Gospel.  Thank God my life is not the Gospel.  My life is not the Good News.  Obviously that isn’t an excuse for an ungodly life.  If we insist on pointing to our lives as a model for the Gospel we end up having the greatest story never told. We must let the Gospel and it's necessary implication and consequences continually transform our lives to be more like His.  The phrase "live the Gospel" however implies something far different then that, despite what well meaning teachers may define the term as.  I'm for clarity, not obfuscation.


Mark said...

Thanks for responding and linking to my post. I don't have time for a full length reply. But here we go.

Perfect clarity is impossible, because then we would always be qualifying everything we say. In your post you shifted between the gospel being "news" and an "event". Which is it? I'm just joking, but just want to show you how clarity is hard to accomplish. So you should go easy on people, and in cases such as Al Martin's sermon title, where people say "live the gospel". Try to understand what they mean.

I'd say that neither St. Francis, nor your "Preach the Gospel always, and use actions when necessary" really match with the Biblical data.

Look at how Paul saw it: "For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by *word and deed*" (Romans 15:18)

More verses to show the Bible's emphasis on actions/deeds/character in relation to the gospel message: Philippians 1:27, Titus 2:10, Colossians 1:10, and 2 Corinthians 9:8.

I agree we shouldn't confuse the gospel with our life. So would many who say "live the gospel".

TO say "live the gospel" doesn't mean you believe the gospel literally equals your life any more than "John lives football" means his life literally equals football or "John lives his job" means his life literally equals his job. They all have a figurative meaning that one is completely wrapped up in the gospel, football, or his job.

"It is a once-for-all finished and perfect event done for us by another."

Just to hold you to the standard of not obfuscating things.... is the gospel the event itself or the news about the event? If its the event itself, how can we preach it? :) (This not a serious question, just meant to illustrate that its very hard to not obfuscate and be imprecise in wording... so you should go easy on people, such as Al Martin's sermon title, where people say "live the gospel"). You say "Thank God my life is not the Gospel." If I were you, I wouldn't assume anyone believes this unless they explicitly state it. You can't infer it from "live the gospel" (they may mean that, but not necessarily).

I've never heard anyone (even the most pietistic, legalistic Anabaptists I know) who really, seriously believe that their life was the Gospel. Seriously, Matt. Do you think anyone who is orthodox and evangelical/Reformed believes that?

You say "If we insist on pointing to our lives as a model for the Gospel we end up having the greatest story never told." I Peter 3:1-2 does say that our conduct can be a way of winning others. If our conduct can win a spouse to the gospel, why can't it win our neighbour too? Of course, it's not our conduct by itself, but its the way our conduct shows transformation through the gospel.

You said "I'm for clarity, not obfuscation." That's a very rhetorical way to put it. Do you believe anyone is seriously for obfuscation?

God bless you brother. And repent from critiquing my post :)

(BTW, I don't believe I've ever seriously used the term "live the gospel" myself if I remember correctly, just sticking up for people here..)

Matthew said...

It looks like our systematic theology, our underlying understanding of the relationship between the grace of the Gospel and the life we live as a result of the work of that Gospel is essentially the same.

You are absolutely right that strenuous Godly living is vital, and that it has a relationship to the gospel. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2:11-14 ESV) So technically speaking it is the law that we live. The law tells us what we must do, and the Gospel is what empowers us and gives us the fuel to perform what the law asks, sans the condemnation.

And I also concede that orthodox and evangelical/Reformed believers don't use this phrase in a wrong way. It is the more "emergent" types, especially the ones that do not confess the orthodox faith, that might have a tendency to do this. To them the Gospel is not about the proclamation of a message, but living "missionally". They see the great commission not as "Go tell the world" but "love your neighbour as yourself".

Hmm... perhaps this is a silly discussion. I wondering if Paul's counsel to Timothy is relevant here? "Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers." (2 Timothy 2:14 ESV) And also his words to Titus: "But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless."(Titus 3:9 ESV)?