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The Gospel and Good Works

October 22, 2014

good willIn 1981 Joe Aldrich wrote a book that has wielded significant influence throughout evangelical Christendom. His work, Lifestyle Evangelism, postulated that we best reach the lost with the gospel by living a Godly life in front of them. According to this philosophy, the good behavior of the believer will create opportunities to share the gospel with those who are made curious by the Christian’s good works. The basic tenets of lifestyle evangelism continue to define the evangelistic efforts of many Christians today.

In the first decade of the 20th century, a new theology began to sweep across America. This new theology insisted the gospel was not just a message of salvation from sin, but was also found in Jesus efforts to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted and feed the poor. Today the gospel must include the Christian’s efforts to eliminate social ills. Thus, according to this theology, the gospel without efforts at societal reform is not the Biblical gospel. The Social Gospel still reigns supreme in liberal protestantism and reaches across the lines to influence ministry within moderate and conservative evangelicialism.

Both these movements have been able to gain influence within Christianity. They are able to support their claims by bringing to bear such Biblical truths as Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Adding weight to their arguments are the countless miracles of healing and mercy done by Jesus and His apostles. The question asked is why Jesus and His disciples healed so many thousands and delivered so many from bondage to demons if mercy ministry is not to be a major part of the Christian mission today? As a result many Christian ministries and missionaries today have made mercy ministry a major, or primary, part of their work. One does not have to look far, even in the most gospel centered mission agencies, to find missionaries whose overseas mission is to administrate an orphanage or to dig wells in isolated areas. Though all Christians would acknowledge the benefit and beneficence of mercy ministries and community help programs, some, like myself, have grave concerns about how we prioritize such service in relation to the verbal proclamation of the gospel.

The Bible defines a close and undeniable relationship between the gospel and good works. In the New Testament, the relationship of good works to the gospel is not a relationship of good works opening doors for the gospel, but of good works showing proof of the truths of the gospel. The gospel is the truth declared. Good works are circumstantial evidences testifying to the legitimacy of the gospel’s claims. The miracles worked by Jesus and His disciples were not the message of the gospel. Remember those times early in His ministry when Jesus forbid certain ones from telling others of the healing He gave? He forbade the healed to tell of the miracle so that the news of the miraculous would not outpace the message of Jesus as Messiah and God. The marvelous healings of the Gospels and Acts were not primarily for the purpose of helping those in need. The New Testament declares the purpose that miracles served. The miracles were proofs of Jesus’ claim to be God and Messiah. In Matthew 11 imprisoned John the Baptist heard of the works that Jesus was doing. John sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire if He was really the Messiah. Jesus’ answer speaks volumes regarding the purpose of His miracles. Jesus told John’s disciples to go back and tell John of Jesus’ miracles. The miracles were evidence of the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Jesus states this outright in John 5:36, “The works that I do, bear witness of Me that the Father hath sent.” On the day of Pentecost the apostles understood and declared the purpose of Jesus’ miracles, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you.” Jesus miracles were not just for the sake of doing good to the poor and needy. Jesus’ mighty works were to authenticate His claims to be the Messiah, God the Son. Similarly, the miracles done by the apostles were proofs they were genuine messengers of Jesus the Messiah. Paul declares this is in 1 Corinthians 14:14, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.” The good results brought upon the poor, demon possessed and diseased were secondary blessings flowing from the primary purpose of proving Divine power and authority.

Though there is more to be said on this topic, suffice it to say for now that good works are evidentiary in nature, but not the gospel. We have not been ordained by God to good works for the purpose of initiating gospel conversations, replacing the message of the gospel or fulfilling the great commission.

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