By Ed Stetzer
Serving the hurt and reaching the lost are not on opposing sides.
There is an interesting conversation going on right now in a lot of churches. Many people, and specifically people in leadership are asking, “How do we balance gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration?”
Gospel proclamation is proclaiming the gospel clearly. People hear the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ and have the opportunity to respond by grace and through faith.
Gospel demonstration is serving others in the name of Christ, showing his love when we act upon what we say we believe about Christ. Christians must be salt and light in a world that deeply needs that salt and light. I’ve preferred calling that “living out the implications of the gospel,” but it is ultimately a demonstration of that gospel transformation.
How do we balance gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration?
People have debated, “What is the mission of the church?” Is the church to speak truth, or show truth? I didn’t know we had to choose. And in fact, we don’t. Balancing these two important aspects of the mission is often more difficult than it appears, which has led to debates. As humans, we tend to lean in certain directions in life and ministry. The same happens in this discussion.
But we don’t always balance well, so some people end up doing more of one than the other.
At the same time, debate can be helpful as we figure out how to effectively show the love of Jesus as we continually share the love of Jesus.
The Pendulum Effect
One may wonder how there can be problems with that. But in the early 20th century, people who made a strong case for showing the love of Jesus eventually quit sharing the love of Jesus.
In simpler terms, many stopped preaching the gospel they once did. They did good deeds, but lost the focus on gospel proclamation.
Yet, I rejoice when I see more and more people joining the mission of Jesus, and expressing that by serving the hurting.
Why? Because that reflects the mission of Jesus.
Jesus Came Serving
In Luke 4:18, Jesus announces and inaugurates his public ministry. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” And he talks about his calling to preach good news to the poor, to the captive, and to the oppressed.
Throughout Scripture, we find that God is constantly calling us to concern for widows, the orphaned, the blind, the poor, and others who are on the margins, left out, or ignored. So I think it’s only appropriate, or better yet essential, that Christians live in light of Jesus who came to serve the hurting.
Jesus Came Saving
We also know that the same Jesus who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy in Luke 4:18–19, also said in Luke 19:10, “I came to seek and save the lost.” The gospel must be preached because Jesus came to save—and how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:14).
So I’m encouraged when I see churches talking about both.
Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments were to love God with everything we have (Matt. 22:37), and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matt. 19:19).
That’s showing and sharing the love of Jesus.
Jesus Struck a Balance
In Acts 10:38, we find Peter preaching that Jesus “went about doing good.” But we must realize that Christianity is not just a do-gooder religion.
Good works are the result of our salvation, and flow from our relationship to Christ, but they are not what redeems us. While making sure the relationship of both proclaiming Christ and demonstrating Christ is in right order, in the end, we must do both if we are going to be faithful to Christ.
Matthew points to the necessity of both proclaiming and demonstrating. “Then Jesus went to all of the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:35, HCSB).
Jesus went. He preached. He looked. He cared. He ministered.
Choosing One or the Other Isn’t True to the Mission
Instead of seeing the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel as competing fabrics, perhaps we should see them as a blend contained in the Christian life—one flowing from another.
Scripture tells us his teaching amazed people because they had never heard someone speak with such authority. Then as he would walk about, he would see people in physical and spiritual need of the very things he was preaching.
Jesus went. He preached. He looked. He cared. He ministered. Repeat.
Jesus made the kingdom real in the material world. He was zealous for the things of his Father, and that worked itself out in his interaction with, and caring for, broken people.
If we are going to join Jesus on his mission, we need to be passionate about reaching the lost with the transforming power of the gospel. And if we are going to be like Jesus, compassion must be our motivation to minister to the physical needs of the people we say we love.
Most people really do have an attitude of, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” There’s no need to choose between proclaiming and demonstrating. Telling people we have a Savior who loves them if we don’t actually love them is hardly fair.
Ed Stetzer is the Executive Director of LifeWay Research Division.
Originally posted at christianitytoday.com/edstetzer.