J.I. Packer on Evangelism and Social Involvement

“It is exceedingly strange that any followers of Jesus Christ should ever have needed to ask whether social involvement was their concern, and that controversy should have blown up over the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility.  For it is evident that in his public ministry Jesus both ‘went about teaching and preaching’ (Matthew 4:23; 9:35) and ‘went about doing good and healing’ (Acts 10:38). In consequence, evangelism and social concern have been intimately related to one another throughout the history of the Church. Christian people have often engaged in both activities quite unselfconsciously, without feeling any need to define what they were doing or why.”

J.I. Packer

Any of you who read my post entitled Unnecessary Debate: Preaching the Gospel vs. Living the Gospel can understand why I’d list this quote from Packer. His point is brilliant especially his note about historical Christianity. He explains that Christians have naturally acted mercifully toward others and preached the Gospel without questioning their commitment to both. In my mind, it is a shame that now there seems to be an attack on the importance of doing mercy. I wish that evangelicals weren’t having to defend it’s necessity against other evangelicals. If you know what I do for work, then you can also understand why I’m so passionate about this. There is too much injustice happening in our world and even our society that is left largely untouched by Christians who should have a natural impulse to involve themselves.

So what then is the relationship between doing good and proclaiming the Good News? We need to uphold the necessity of good works as a means of bolstering our most critical announcement that God has come into the world as Jesus to reconcile us to Himself.

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:12

It’s clear that good deeds are more difficult to criticize than beliefs. That’s what Peter is saying in the above passage. Radical generosity proves that the message we’re proclaiming is true and has invaded our lives. Detractors can complain about the Biblical mandate to proselytize, but they’ll never complain about the Biblical mandate to “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” They may critique the message for a time, but hearts are softened by generous deeds.

Let me end by saying that the trajectory of all gracious action must be the revealing of Christ to the world. It is a great good to alleviate temporary suffering; it is a greater good for God to alleviate eternal suffering. John Piper puts it this way: “We are concerned about all suffering, but mainly eternal suffering.” Participating in the relief of injustice in our communities is important because of all the opportunities that it presents for us to declare the truth that the light has broken through the darkness of our world in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We must do good for the sake of the Gospel while understanding that, at the end of the day, all true good is accomplished by God and many times He likes to do it through us.

May you drink more deeply of God’s generosity, and may the outflow be an intentional life of merciful deeds towards others.

For His glory and fame,
Dustin Smetona

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For a more well-written post along these same lines please see Dr. Russell Moore’s blog that went up today entitled Gospel or Justice, Which?

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