Unnecessary Debate: Preaching the Gospel vs. Living the Gospel

More and more, I’m seeing some church leaders argue over the priority of preaching the gospel versus doing good deeds as they pertain to the Church’s mission (for instance, see this upcoming debate). This distinction baffles me a bit and I’d like to spend a few words detailing my concerns about what I consider to be a false dichotomy. Let me give two reasons why this debate shouldn’t exist:

  1. No Biblical Support
    The Bible doesn’t say anywhere “Declaring the gospel is MORE IMPORTANT than to live a life of Christlike service to others.” I’ve never seen a passage which makes that kind of distinction (feel free to show me one if it’s there). Jesus actually says that caring for others IS caring for Him (Mt. 25:40). The Scriptures assume that God’s people will bear the testimony of Christ while pouring their lives out for the sake of others. James 2:18 is perhaps the best verse I can go to in order to illustrate this: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Notice how James categorizes every part of the Christian’s life as “works.” What you say with your mouth and do with your hands are both part of the same category: works! So why make any distinction? It’s unnecessary.
  2. Inconsistent with the Gospel
    One pastor made the point that people are not saved by your good deeds and therefore their need to hear the gospel preached is more important than your practical acts of service to them. True, but they are also not saved by your preaching of the gospel. It is Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as well as the re-birth of the Spirit that saves them. Our job is to point them to that. So how can preaching be more primary than good deeds? Moreover, Christ’s actions for us are just as important as His words to us. If all Christ had done was to come as a prophet and simply give us a message, Christianity would be just another religion. The evangel is precisely that Jesus did all the necessary work for our salvation. He HAD to do it and we HAD to hear about it.

As you’ve figured out, my thesis is not that one of these is more primary than the other. I’m saying that they are both an essential part of our witness. Would it make sense to argue that the rind and the pulp of an orange are two different pieces of fruit? That would be ridiculous. Both are different parts of the same fruit. Similarly, the Church should be committed to gospel preaching and gospel works. Our mission should be to spread God’s fame through every part of our lives. So let’s quit arguing about it and put the greatness and grace of Christ on display in everything we say and do.

For His glory and fame,
Dustin Smetona

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3 thoughts on “Unnecessary Debate: Preaching the Gospel vs. Living the Gospel

  1. Bill Robison says:

    Hey bro. I agree with you entirely, especially with how people simplistically reduce things these days. We most certainly do need both/and, not either /or

    BUT…
    Ultimately, I do think Romans 10 clearly says that faith comes by hearing and hearing the word. The nature of the gospel is that it is proclamational. The word “euangellion” (good news) communicates the idea that it is news that must be proclaimed. We are told that we are born again in Peter 1:23 by the “living and abiding word of God”. The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 speaks of the seed of God’s word being planted in various soils. I do not saee anyone born again through gospel living, as important as that is (Matthew 5:14-16; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:20-21). I beleive that we must live proclamtional lives that draw people to Him, demonstrate His glory and beauty, etc. but ultimately it still is a work of the gospel provlaimed and Holy Spirit compelling those who hear to be saved.

    • Pastor Bill, you’re right which is why I didn’t minimize verbal proclamation, it’s an absolute necessity! But if we were to live a life of only verbal gospel proclamation, Jesus makes it seem like we’d be in trouble in Mt. 25:31-46. He’s saying the inevitable sign of truly understanding the gospel is fruit in the form of service to other humans. If we preach the gospel but don’t practically serve others, we display a lack of understanding the gospel which we’re preaching. So again, I still think the distinction is an unnecessary one. Our commitment must be to both.

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