Originally published February 23, 2016:
“No one wants to hear about God’s wrath,” the young pastor explained to my friend. Then he added, “We help the poor in our community as a demonstration of His love.”
Look, I have nothing against helping the poor. In fact, if more churches provided such services, less of us would be forced to rely on government programs. So as you read this essay, please don’t misunderstand me as saying that Christians shouldn’t care for the needs of those less fortunate than themselves. Yet I believe we must keep practical ministry secondary to our primary commission to declare the Gospel.
And whether we like it or not, declaring the Gospel first necessitates telling people that they’re sinners who deserve God’s wrath. I agree with the young pastor that no one enjoys hearing about their sin, nor do they like being confronted with the fact that their sin consigns them to an eternity in hell. And Christians don’t relish the duty of proclaiming that part of the Gospel message, if you want to know the truth.
But, dear sisters in the Lord, we don’t get to pick and choose what aspects of the Gospel we present in our evangelism. As ambassadors of Christ, we bear the responsibility to tell people the Gospel in its entirety, aware that we represent Him rather than ourselves.
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~~2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (ESV)
If we offer a message of reconciliation to God, we must begin by helping people understand that such a reconciliation indeed needs to take place. Most non-Christians and Christians-in-name-only simply don’t believe that God takes their sin seriously enough to send them to hell. They may admit that they’ve done some bad things here and there, but they reassure themselves that the good they’ve done outweighs the bad. Consequently, all our talk about Jesus showing His love by dying in their place strikes them as absurd until we show them that they’ve offended a holy God.
The beauty of God’s love shines through the fact that Jesus willingly shed His blood on the cross, bearing His Father’s fury over the sin that you and I committed. That act, more than anything else, epitomizes His love.
It’s wonderful when churches run soup kitchens and pregnancy resource centers. And praise God for missionaries who dig wells and build orphanages. But when people deliberately repress part of the Gospel in order to attract people to their services, they no longer represent the Lord. Leave humanitarian work to secular agencies unless you do it in a way that offers people the eternal hope of Jesus Christ.