For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
These words are, without a doubt, one of the most clear and concise descriptions of the gospel found in the NT. Perhaps that’s one reason why the first couple sentences in this text are among the most well-known, well-loved, and oft-quoted by evangelical Christians. But notice what I said? The first two sentences… basically that’s vv. 8-9. I almost never hear Christians quote v. 10. But v. 10 is just as much a part of the gospel as are vv. 8-9, and our over-emphasis on vv. 8-9 has resulted in the preaching of an anemic gospel that has little if any impact in many who accept it and “convert.” Let me explain.
Americans are extremely individualistic. We believe in ourselves, our rights, our freedoms, our happiness, our pleasure, our own ability to make our own path by our own sweat, our own authority over our own lives, etc. This rugged individualism has waylaid American Christianity so that it has become an individualized, personalized, privatized religion that often only preaches, understands, and accepts half the gospel.
In many American churches, we limit the gospel to individual, personal forgiveness of sins. We tell people that they are justified when they believe in Jesus and accept him as their “personal Lord and Savior.” Now, this is true and I believe it. But this is not the whole gospel. The bulk of Jesus’ teaching and preaching was not about personal forgiveness of sins (although he did talk about that). Rather, what Jesus spent the majority of his time proclaiming was the Kingdom of God. The gospel Jesus preached was a gospel of the Kingdom (see Mark 1:15). But, the “gospel” we often limit our preaching to is a “gospel” of individual, personal forgiveness of sins… less the Kingdom part.
In other words, we love to talk about what we’re saved from. But it’s not as popular to talk about what we’re saved to. And when we do talk about that, we often narrow it once again to individual, personal morality. The gospel is not only that you are saved from your sin; it is also that you are saved to good works–and those good works do not only include personal morality; they also include using your life to create glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.
Yes, personal forgiveness of sin is central to the message of the gospel. It’s through accepting the forgiveness of Christ and surrendering your life to him that you enter into his Kingdom. But when God saves you, he means for you to live as a citizen of that Kingdom. Following Christ means living like he lived, and if Jesus did anything, he used his life to create a foretaste, a glimpse, of Heaven on Earth. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spoke these words from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus literally brought the Kingdom of God into human history. And when he saves us, he calls us to a life of creating Kingdom glimpses, just like he did. But so many American Christians have never heard anything beyond, “Jesus died to save you from your sins.” They’ve never heard that the other side of the gospel is living your life as a citizen of the Kingdom. The other side of the gospel is bringing a foretaste of Heaven into the world around you. The other side of the gospel is living like Jesus, giving your life to feed the hungry, care for the hurting, love the unlovely, encourage the discouraged, comfort the sick, and stand for those who have no other advocate. The other side of the gospel is fighting for the rights of the oppressed. It is using that raise you just got to help the poor. It is using that spare time you have to volunteer at a local shelter. It is going toe-to-toe with injustice. It is not being okay with the fact that millions of children will die this year because they don’t have clean water.
“What?!?” you say. “That’s not what I signed up for when I prayed that little prayer!”
You only heard and accepted half the gospel? Join the club. But I challenge you to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and see what Jesus spends most of his time doing and talking about. I think you’ll discover there’s another side to the gospel. And once you do, what are you going to do about it?