Many of you have heard the quote attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Share the gospel always. If necessary use words.” I get what he was trying to say, but have always felt like it led followers of Jesus to think that they never needed to actually share the gospel with words. I listened to a podcast today from Apostles Church in New York City entitled Messiah and Mission and the pastor, JR Vassar, expressed my concerns with this quote better than anyone I have heard before.
Believe Comes By Hearing
Paul says in Romans 10, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” No one repents and believes in the gospel apart from hearing it with words. Of course we are called to demonstrate the gospel by our love (John 13:34,35), unity (John 17:23), and good deeds (Matthew 5:16) among other things. These demonstrations of the gospel, however, are meant to open doors for the declaration of the gospel with our words.
As we walk students through the “eight practices” of a missional community leader described in our Spark Course, it is my observation that most students stop at the demonstration of the gospel. Students are prone to think that if they live their life as an example to others in their community that their friends will believe the gospel without ever hearing it with words. Here is why that is simply not possible.
Without The Gospel, It’s Just Law
If people who are not yet following Jesus look at our lives and see love, generosity, forgiveness, unity, compassion, and service but never hear the gospel motive behind these behaviors, then they will simply try to model our behavior. They will simply create a new “law” or set of rules and try to live by it. When the law can never be fulfilled apart for Jesus. Thus, the need for the gospel of grace.
Suppose someone in your community sees your generosity and says to you, “You are so generous. Why do you live like that?” If you simply respond, “It makes me feel good to give.” Then your friends will simply try harder to be like you. Thus, you have just placed them under the law. What if instead you replied, “I follow Jesus who, as God, humbled himself to be a man. Though he had the riches of God, for our sake he became poor. I have experienced the riches of Jesus, and now I can’t help but give to others as he has so graciously and generously given to me.” This is a gospel conversation. It reveals the motive behind your generosity and gives your friend the true resources (the grace of God) to life of generosity.
The demonstration of the gospel alone will lead people to the law, but if accompanied by declaration of the gospel, will lead people to grace.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the misssonal community movement at the University of Texas.