Very often, I am asked what my ‘position’ is on social justice and/or mercy ministry and the gospel. Usually, I will feign a quizzical look before asking said person, ‘what do you mean by that?’ Generally, what they mean to ask is how I balance ‘loving people and providing for their needs over and against preaching the gospel to them’?
Therein lies the problem (for me anyway). I have absolutely no problem whatsoever in balancing the gospel with social justice/action, and here is my big secret. Wait for it . . . drum roll please. I DON’T SEPARATE THEM. I know. Aren’t I clever (no, not at all)? Here’s what I mean.
1. I simply preach the gospel. In fact, I resent the fact that I have to choose between preaching Christ and ‘loving’ people through my deeds. That is not a legitimate separation and stacks the cards heavily against the cross as THE supreme act of love in the history of the world.
2. I simply preach the gospel knowing that the God that I proclaim is the God of Micah 6:8 (look it up for yourself). So that means if I see a person in need I am not having a theological argument in my head over whether I ought to slam them with the gospel or give them a hand up. I do both, regardless of how they respond.
3. I simply preach the gospel as Christ’s ambassador because that’s what I am commanded to do first and foremost. People are going to hell and it doesn’t matter whether they go there hungry or not. What matters is that I hold out the beauty of Jesus and the great hope found in the cross. Oh, and if they’d like a bacon roll, I am happy to oblige with that too!
4. I simply preach the gospel because Jesus is the only name under heaven and earth by which men, women, and children can be saved.
5. I simply preach the gospel by serving my fellow human beings in whatever way I can. I go the extra mile in loving them, helping ease their discomfort (if I can), trying to help them solve their issues (if I can), feed them and clothe them, earnestly pleading with them to ‘repent or perish’ because that is their greatest need.
6. I simply preach the gospel by living with people right where they are in the midst of their suffering, seeking to live a godly and consistent life in their midst. I just try to be salt and light right where I am.
7. I simply preach the gospel because I have no other answers to the many needs of my fellow man/woman. I do it out of a sense of overwhelming gratitude for where God has taken me in my life. He rescued me from the slime, he cleaned me up, and he placed me right back in the mixer as a prime example of the power of the gospel and of the glory of God as found in Jesus Christ.
Along the way people fed me, clothed me, and put a roof over my head. They loved me, counselled me, rebuked me, and even listened to me! But if they had never challenged me with the sinfulness of my sin, my hopeless condition under the judgement of a righteous, loving, just and holy God; if they hadn’t pleaded with me to repent of my sins and put my faith and trust solely in the finished work of Jesus at Calvary, then I don’t know where I would be. Well, actually, I do know exactly where I would be. Either still in prison, thinking back on the kindness of some ‘Christian types’ who gave me something to eat once but never quite plucked up the courage to share Christ with me in a way that was understandable and to the point. Or worse, and more probable, dead along with many of my friends. Dead and facing eternity in a place I can barely think about.
Social justice/action and/or mercy ministry doesn’t have to lead us away from the gospel anymore than the gospel leading us away from social action/justice and/or mercy ministry. We serve a God of ‘Zedek’ & ‘Mishpat’ (righteousness & justice—a little Hebrew to impress my etymological peeps out there!). All that being said, here is a little discussion from some men with much bigger brains than mine.