Biblical Basis for Works and Words of the Gospel — Chip’s Summary

Update of this article found here:

 

The Nature of God

The God of the Bible is rich with mercy and compassion. The Old Testament is filled with passages like Psalm 103: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love … as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him … as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” The New Testament writers, of course, continue this theme, declaring that God has demonstrated His great compassion toward us through Jesus. “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Eph. 1:7, emphasis mine) Actually, the entire “focus of the New Testament is that the wealth of God’s glory is, at its apex, the wealth of His mercy.” (John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, 90) The heart of God is filled with compassion.

The Life and Ministry of Jesus

Jesus is the mercy of God incarnate and lived the most compassionate life ever lived. “Since Christ is the incarnate display of the wealth of the mercies of God, it is not surprising that his life on earth was a lavish exhibit of mercies to all kinds of people. Every kind of need and pain was touched by the mercies of Jesus in his few years on earth.” (Piper, S&S, 92) Jesus was often “moved with compassion” to cleanse lepers, heal various diseases, free those tormented by demonic power, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead.

The flame of Jesus’ mercy was not only fanned by suffering but also by the oppressive power of sin. He ate with “tax collectors and sinners” out of tender compassion for them. He was deeply burdened over the multitudes that were distressed and downcast by sin and left vulnerable like sheep without a shepherd. His entire life and ministry were characterized and climaxed by sacrificial service on behalf of the poor, sick, oppressed, blind, sinful, dead, and perishing. He “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28) He is the Great Redeemer of not only the human soul but of the whole person, society, and culture. He calls His followers into the same ministry of redemption.

God’s Call to His People

Because the Father and Son are rich with mercy and compassion, God’s people have always been called to mercy and compassion toward the needy of society. There are over 2000 references in the Scripture where God is calling his people to divide their bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into their homes, to cover the naked, preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, comfort those who mourn, to help the helpless, be a father to the fatherless, bring relief to widows, free captives, bring justice to the oppressed – to be people who “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God.” (Psalm 41:1; 68:5,6; Prov. 3:28; 14:31; 19:17; Isaiah 58:1-12; 61:1-6; 65:17-25; Jer. 22:16; 29:4-7; Ez. 16:49-50; Micah 6:8, to list a few)

The Power of Gospel Proclamation and Selfless Service

“When the communists took over Russia in 1917, they did not make Christianity illegal. Their constitution, in fact, did guarantee freedom of religion. But what they did make illegal was for the church to do any ‘good works.’ No longer could the church fulfill its historic role in feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, housing the orphan, educating children or caring for the sick. What was the result? Seventy years later, the church was totally irrelevant to the communities in which it dwelt. What Lenin did by diabolic design, most churches have done by default. But the result is identical. Church is irrelevant to most people. Take away service and you take away the church’s power, influence, and evangelistic effectiveness. The power of the gospel is combining the life-changing message with selfless service.” (Eric Swanson, Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation, 4)

When the Cru movement at Texas State University got involved with Katrina relief in New Orleans, an instant bridge was built to 5 students from the transsexual, gay, and lesbian organization on campus. Those 5 students joined believers in the relief work, and by their own testimony, their entire view of Christianity was changed. There are now continuing relationships and dialogue between homosexuals and Christians that have not existed in the past. To the transsexual, gay, and lesbian community at Texas State, Christianity is suddenly relevant.

In the USCM, we desire to reconnect selfless service with sharing the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. We want to spawn movements everywhere of students who selflessly serve the university and community where they live, meeting needs with the compassion of Christ and passionately sharing the life-changing message of Jesus. And as we reconnect selfless service with passionate proclamation, we will enjoy a new level of power, influence and evangelistic effectiveness – for the salvation of the lost and the glory of God.

Good Deeds and the Gospel of Jesus

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) Anytime believers engage in good deeds in the Name of Christ, the goal is always that people would see something of the glory of God and be stirred within to praise Him. But almost without exception, when believers do good things in Jesus’ Name, their motives, their source of strength and power, or the significance of the deeds are misunderstood, and observers do not praise the God of the Bible. Therefore, when believers help the needy in the Name of Christ, their good deeds require an explanation that leads people to glorify God. Usually, the best way to explain our good deeds is to share the Gospel or some portion of Gospel truth.

For example, in Acts 3, Peter and John heal a man who had been lame from birth. When people who knew him saw him walking, they were amazed. But they misunderstood the good deed Peter had done. They thought that Peter and John had healed the lame man by their own power. So Peter responds, “…why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Peter immediately explains the healing by explaining the Gospel. The flow of Peter’s explanation is, Jesus Christ is God’s Son and Servant, He died unjustly on a cross, He was raised from the dead, and it is faith in the resurrected Jesus that has healed this man. Peter’s explanation climaxes in an awesome invitation: “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you …”

In Acts 14, the same thing happens. When Paul and Barnabus heal a lame man in Lystra, the crowds who saw what Paul did for this man totally misinterpreted the event and assumed that Paul and Barnabus must be gods. They actually thought Paul was Hermes and that Barnabus was Zeus, and the priest of Zeus brought oxen and garlands to sacrifice to them! Paul and Barnabus are understandably alarmed and begin shouting to the crowd that they are not gods but simply men who preach the gospel so that they may turn from the worship of false gods to the living God.

Good deeds are often misinterpreted in our time as well. While helping a Thai villager rebuild his home after the tsunami last year, he said to me, “Your god is going to give you a lot of merit.” Because he naturally interpreted my good deeds through his Buddhist world view, he assumed that my motive for helping him was to make merit with my god and build good karma. This opened a door of opportunity. I explained that God does not give merit but something better. The Thai villager was shocked – so shocked that he was primed to listen to me talk about the awesome grace of God in Christ Jesus.

So, as we engage in good deeds of any kind in the Name of Christ, we have to explain our motives, the source of our strength, and make connections to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus. The best way to do this is to talk about Jesus and the Gospel of our salvation. Our prayer as we engage in good deeds is always that people see what a glorious Savior Jesus is, and glorify the Father who sent Him.

Community Service and Building Movements on Campus

Compassionate service combined with passionate proclamation of the gospel has often been at the heart of expanding Christ’s Kingdom. Here are a few connections between compassionate deeds, passionate proclamation, and launching movements.

First, compassionate service combined with passionate proclamation is consistent with the heart of our compassionate God. The New Testament indicates that the pinnacle of God’s glory is his mercy and compassion. The heart of the Gospel is a gracious God demonstrating great compassion toward needy sinners who can not help themselves (Eph 1&2). Jesus was frequently “moved with compassion” toward needy people and saw all mankind as “sheep without a shepherd.” When we visibly demonstrate compassion toward people in need, we reflect the heart of our Maker and Savior, and we live out the heart of the gospel message we’re sharing.

Secondly, visibly demonstrating Christ’s compassion as we talk about Jesus will make us more relevant. The most common response among most college students to the question, “What do you think about God or Christianity?” is “I don’t think about God or Christianity – they’re irrelevant to me.” When we help the needy, we suddenly become relevant to many who are not usually interested in Christianity. When we responded with Christ’s compassion to the Katrina disaster and invited non-believers to go with us, we suddenly became relevant to gay and lesbian students at Texas State and to some of the most liberally minded students at Oregon State University.

Thirdly, good news accompanied by good deeds sends a powerful message. The majority of students in the world today embrace a world view so shaped by Eastern mysticism that the Gospel message makes no sense to them. They do not have categories for absolute Truth, transcendent morality, personal responsibility to a Creator, etc. Therefore, when we simply share the Gospel verbally, it doesn’t compute. But when we engage in compassionate service and passionate proclamation, people understand.

Fourth, when we involve students in meeting needs, they grow. When students get involved with people in need, they encounter Christ and go to a whole new level of growth. In Matthew 25, Jesus separates those who know him from those who do not. Jesus declares that when His own have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, etc. they did these things for Him. Clearly, when students serve the needy, they encounter Jesus Himself in the lives of hurting humanity. And when students see Jesus, they become more like Him (II Corinthians 3:18).