Present-day evangelicals like the famous quote by Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Sadly, I first heard this quote from the pulpit of a church I attended. Sadder still, the pastor quoted it several times, encouraging us to practice “friendship evangelism.” Looking back, I have to wonder why an evangelical, at least one that (as a pastor) presumably had enough theological training to understand the distinctives of Protestant doctrine, would quote a Catholic mystic.
If you think seriously about it, the quote has absolutely no Scriptural basis! It sounds very nice, I agree, but it implies that our conduct, in and of itself, can lead another person to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Speaking as a sinner, I certainly know that my day-to-day life won’t save anyone! I must use words, and specifically the Word of God, to proclaim the Gospel, directing people away from me and to the risen Savior. As the apostle Paul wrote:
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ~~1 Corinthians 15:1 (ESV)
Now, ladies, how can simply living a holy lifestyle, without ever mentioning Christ’s death, burial and resurrection possibly communicate the Gospel to anyone?
Our behavior can, and definitely should, adorn the Gospel. Long-time readers of this blog know how adamantly I believe that Christians must lead lives that demonstrate obedience to the Lord. Titus 2:11-14 makes it clear that a true reception of God’s grace leads to a lifestyle of repentance and obedience. But our personal integrity, despite its critical importance, can only communicate the deception that human morality gains God’s approval…unless we accompany that behavior by verbalizing the Gospel.
People must hear that all have sinned, and no amount of moral reform can atone for our transgressions. They need to hear that Christ shed His blood on the cross to appease God’s righteous wrath, and that the Father raised Him from the dead as evidence that He accepted His sacrifice. They need to be told that only by trusting His finished work on the cross can they escape eternity in hell. Our behavior, in and of itself, not only fails to communicate that message, but could even potentially send the false message that we can earn salvation by how we live. And that, dear readers, would be the worst possible message.