If you are at all familiar with Christian culture, you’ve most likely heard the saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” It sounds really nice. It sounds very righteous. I mean, living in a way that your actions honor God, so much so that others notice something different about you, is a very wonderful thing. In fact, we should all be striving to live that way. So until recently, I had never thought much more about this great-sounding quote. But then I started to think a little deeper about it. And I’m not so sure I agree. In fact, I kinda find it Biblically wrong.
You see, when we look in Scripture, we don’t just see people living out the gospel with their actions. We see them speaking the gospel. In fact we see them BOLDLY proclaiming the gospel. There are numerous verses that indicate this, many of them written by Paul, the highest regarded apostle, who spoke, taught, and declared the gospel so unashamedly, that it ultimately cost him his life. Here are just a few:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak.” (2 Corinthians 4:13)
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14)
That last one is actually what got me thinking about all of this. I was reading Romans 10, and I got to the section that contains verse 14 – a well-known verse. I don’t always read the verse commentary at the bottom the pages of my Bible, but something (aka the Spirit) prompted me to do so. And this is what I read:
“In telling others about Christ, an effective witness must include more than being a good example. Eventually, we will have to explain the content, the what and the how of the gospel. Modeling the Christian life is important, but we will need to connect the mind of the unbeliever and the message of the gospel. There should never be a debate between those who favor lifestyle evangelism (one’s living proclaims the gospel) and confrontational evangelism (declaring the message). Both should be used together in promoting the gospel.”
I had never heard those terms before: lifestyle evangelism and confrontational evangelism. But I honestly don’t think they should even have to exist, because like it says above, “BOTH should be used together in promoting the gospel.” One should never exist without the other.
Can our lifestyles be used to promote the gospel? Absolutely. In my opinion, it should often be the opener for what the commentary refers to as “confrontational evangelism” (aka using words to declare the message). People should see the way we are living our lives – the way we build others up at work; the way we patiently parent our children; the way we speak to our spouse; the way we don’t participate in gossip – and want to know more. We hope what people see draws them in.
However (and this is my main issue with the quote), unbelievers cannot see us living this way, and automatically know and understand that they were born a sinner and that their sin separates them from God, but Jesus, who is God’s perfect Son, died on the cross and took their sin punishment, so that they can be forgiven and have a relationship with God, and receive the Holy Spirit. It just doesn’t work that way.
Would it be easier if they automatically knew and understood the full gospel message, simply by the way we live? Umm, duh… Then we would never have to awkwardly stumble through sharing our faith. We would never have to risk someone judging us for what we just told them. We would never have to worry about upsetting or offending someone. And that’s why I think Christians today like the whole “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words” saying. Because it is easier. It is more comfortable.
But it is also a cop-out. We don’t get to pick and choose pieces of Scripture to live by and not live by. So the pieces that tell us to speak and teach the gospel… we have to obey them. People’s eternity is at stake. I would hate to know that someone saw my life and thought “hey, she’s a really good, moral, and religious person”, but I never actually took it further than actions, and spoke the gospel to them, and they are now eternally separated from God. My guess is that you would hate for that to happen too. So friend, who do you need to open your mouth and share the words of the gospel with? I am praying God gives you the courage and boldness to do it, no matter the cost.
Founder of The Bigger Picture Project