Living The Gospel Or Just Preaching It?

February 11, 2008

Last Thursday night, pastor Tim Bridges pointed out to our preaching group that its one thing to preach the gospel; another to live the gospel which we preach. Thus, he encouraged us to ask ourselves questions such as these (especially when we preach on these specific subjects):

Do you hope in God?

Do you rejoice during trials?

Is your life marked by perseverance, character, hope?

Do you have contempt for sin and compassion for those ensnared by it?

Do you believe the Gospel is the power of God to Salvation for everyone who believes?




  1. Hi Colin,

    This business of “living the gospel” is one of those popular evangelical slogans that, on reflections, turns out to be not very helpful. The gospel is by definition ‘good news.’ It’s an announcement. The gospel is the announcement of what Christ has done for his people. That’s why Paul calls preaching foolishness, because it’s hard to believe that God is going to do anything significant with such an impossible message about the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. But that’s what we believe.

    To call Christians to “live the gospel” is to turn the good news into a new law. Surely the gospel has consequent obligations but the gospel is not something that we can live. The Christian life is something that is lived, by grace, as a consequence of the gospel.

    I would encourage everyone to listen to Mike Hortons’ analysis of this call to “live the gospel.”

    It can be downloaded at the WSC bookstore site for a nominal fee. The one you want is #1877, “Why the Marks Need the Mission.”



  2. RSC,

    I suppose technically you’re right. To be fair though: 1) I think most people who use the phrase ‘live the gospel’ actually use it as shorthand for something like ‘live in light of the gospel’, and 2) no-one that I’ve heard use it really means it in terms of obeying a ‘new law.’ (That’s not to say it could not become misunderstood a generation down the line)

    Its an interesting point, though, on being careful with our terminology.



    ps. I probably won’t amend the post title to ‘living in light of the gospel or just preaching it?’ Its too long to fit on one line! 🙂

  3. Dr. Clark,

    Point taken, thanks for the insight.

    I was speaking in reference to Paul’s words in Romans 5:1-5. I was not suggesting that we should live according to a new law. Nor did Paul suggest such a thing when he called believers to ‘walk worthy of the calling with which you were called’ (Eph. 4:1). I think it is helpful to examine ourselves in relation to the implications of the good news of the Gospel. That is all I meant. I can definitely see how it could be misconstrued, however. Thanks for the encouragement to be precise with language.

    Tim Bridges

  4. Hi Colin

    Aren’t these questions diagnostic rather than legalistic. The list could be far more extensive than it is. In essence Tim Bridges is asking preachers to take a look at their life and ask is it gospel shaped?

    If, by serious reflection, we detect that our life is not gospel shaped then it is probably time to increase time spent in meditation on the benefits of the cross. Such meditation will produce the sort of “let your light shine” life worthy of the gospel.


  5. My point (and I hope folk will listen to Mike’s lecture) is that the gospel is not a law. We ought not to make it a law. To speak of “living the gospel” makes it a law. This is Emerging/missional “speak” that makes the gospel a new law because the E/M folk don’t distinguish between law and gospel. I’m sensitive to this because there is a long Western tradition of speaking of the “old law” and the “new law” so that, under the “new law” the Spirit is said to aid us so that we can obey it. In other words moralism is just a step away from most of us.

    If we want Christians to obey the law (and we should!) we ought to say simply, “Because Christ obeyed, died, was risen and ascended for us who believe we ought to live worthily of the grace that we have received.”

    I appreciate the intent but slogans are especially powerful in our age. Many never get beyond the slogan.

    In our time especially we need to be clear that the gospel is something to be heard and believed. The Christian life is something to be lived, in the light of the gospel according to God’s law.

    I’m sure we agree in substance. My point concerns the rhetoric.


  6. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks, and well said. I truly want to understand the essence of your point. If we toss out the phrase/rhetoric ‘live the Gospel’ (which I’m fine with eliminating — I honestly had no idea it was so incendiary), do you take issue with the self-examination questions listed here?

    After all, that is the context of the post and the course session: Examining our *lives* in light of the *Gospel* before standing to preach. The Edwards quote from the previous post says it well: ‘Resolved, to *live* so, at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the *gospel*, and another world’.

    The point was to ask oursleves if we have appropriated clear notions of the Gospel in our private lives. It seems the phrase ‘live the Gospel’ muddied what should have been clear waters.

    Thanks for pressing us on this, brother. Obviously, I know that you only have concerns for the clarity and purity of our message at heart.


  7. Well, yes, I suppose I do. The gospel is not a law. It is the gospel. These are two distinct categories. The gospel is not a cause for shame and repentance. The gospel is a cause for hope and joy. If you want shame (and we need that) and if you want repentance (and we need that!) then reckon your life according to the law of God.

    We must resist every effort, however well intentioned, to make the gospel into a law. It isn’t a law.

    Does that help?


  8. The White Horse Inn guys discussed exactly this topic on last week’s program, ‘Good Advice v Good News.’

  9. The good news doesn’t mean much if you don’t remember it or assimilate it.

    Run your race… (Is that moralism or legalism?)

    To try to understand the criticism though perhaps R. Scott Clark is saying in the New Testament there is law and there is gospel. Maybe he’s not denying there is law in the New Testament (as Edward Fisher would say the law of Christ rather than the law of works, the difference being in the law of Christ what God demands He gives freely). He’s saying don’t use the word gospel when you are talking of law. (?)

  10. There is an interesting “rhetorical assumption” here that “living the gospel” means law-keeping. Of course, the “slogan” need not imply this at all.

    One could go further: this language of questioning the quality of one’s living in response to the gospel is itself the language of the Bible:

    Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

    Romans 15:15-16 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

    Philippians 1:27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,…

    2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering — since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

    1 Peter 4:17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

    Each of these at some level of life lived in response to the gospel, which after all is what the “slogan” is shorthand for. So, does “To speak of ‘living the gospel’ make it a law”? One answer would be: “Not in light of these New Testament texts!”

    Here’s an extract from Tim Keller on “Prayer and the Gospel”: “The gospel means that we are not obeying God to get anything but to give him pleasure because we see his worth and beauty. Therefore, the Christian is able to draw power out of contemplation of God. Without the gospel, this is impossible. We can only come and ask for things — petition. Without the gospel, we may conceive of a holy God who is intimidating and who can be approached with petitions if we are very good.”

    I take it, then, that there is biblical precedent for construing the phrase “living the gospel” to mean living in just the way Keller describes here. And further, that this is the most natural way of taking the phrase! My hunch (it’s only that) is that the “living-the-gospel = keeping-the-law” equation is coming from a polemic which is Humpty-Dumpty-like constraining the meaning of the phrase.

    That’s my take, anyway, FWIW! 😉

    David Reimer

  11. Hi David,

    I have a brief reply to what is essentially the same point, here.



  12. Surely the point Tim made in his talk is no more objectionable than what Paul does in Romans 12:1ff.

    Therefore, [i.e., this follows from what Paul writes in the preceding chapters] I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, [i.e., in light of the gospel Paul has just expounded] to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God… [i.e., we should live a certain way, as Paul sets out in this and subsequent chapters].

    Nowhere, as far as I can see, has Tim implied that the gospel is a “new law”. Nevertheless, it should be clear that the gospel does have ethical implications and it’s imperative that a gospel preacher live up to these implications if he’s to be effective in his ministry. Who would argue with that?

    I fear that Dr Clark, with the best of intentions, has pounced on an inherently ambiguous phrase and thrashed it for a crime it didn’t commit. What we’re looking at here is a case of mistaken identity. 😉

  13. I read your post yesterday, and then recieved the following email today from Ravi Zacharias Ministries, Thought you might find it interesting? I was origanally trying to find a statement I had come across last year “saying preach the Gospel and use words if necessary, is like saying give me your number and if necessary use digits” Below is the article that confirms Dr. Clarks concern…

    —– Original Message —–
    From: “A Slice of Infinity”
    Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 2:07 AM
    Subject: [Slice 2373] Ingesting Doctrine (January 11, 2011)

    Ingesting Doctrine

    For most of us, the study of doctrine is best left to academics and theologians. Terms used in doctrinal formulations like supralapsarian, infralapsarian, incompatiblism, predestination, or compatibalism either leave us tongue-tied, confused, or totally disinterested. If we wonder at all, we wonder what doctrine has to do with our day-to-day lives, especially as we struggle with terms we don’t understand and principles we find hard to practice. If we’re honest, reading and studying theology is something most of us would like to avoid, just as we’d like to avoid a root canal.

    Historically, of course, the formation of Christian doctrine served to tell the story of the gospel. Doctrines are composed of the central tenets of belief, so an understanding of doctrine shapes what Christians think about our faith. But how many Christians have really taken the time to think through the implication(s) or application(s) of doctrine to the living out of our lives?
    In other words, is a belief something we only think in our heads? Or is a belief something we demonstrate in our lives? More important, if what we think in our heads has no bearing over the ways in which we live in this world, do we truly believe?

    I was forced to think about these questions, as I studied the doctrine of the Incarnation. By its very nature, the doctrine of the Incarnation is application-oriented since it deals with the belief that in Jesus Christ the whole fullness of God dwelt bodily. The more I thought about the Incarnation, the more I realized that doctrine needs to be similarly incarnational. Doctrine must be “enfleshed” in our very beings, just as our skin encases our bones and organs.

    Another way of thinking about incarnational doctrine is to think about eating. Food sustains our very being and fuels us for living. In the same way, as we digest ideas, they should emerge as a part of our very being, just as food nourishes and sustains us by being
    incorporated into our cells, tissue, and organs. In fact, being intentional about the implications of the Incarnation can help our understanding of the true nature of doctrine—as lived belief.

    Of course the preeminent example of incarnation is in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. But incarnational doctrine begins all the way back in the Old Testament. God comes to be with his people in their wilderness wanderings as a pillar of fire and a cloud. God “dwells” among the people in the Ark of the Covenant, and then in the Tabernacle. Later, the Temple became the incarnational focal point of God’s presence with God’s people.

    Other vivid and concrete images of incarnation occur in the lives of the Hebrew prophets. In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is told “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll and go, speak to the house of Israel” (cf. Ezekiel 2:9-3:3). This scroll is not just any scroll. It is the book of the Law, the Scriptures, the teachings and the
    doctrines of belief that guided the nation in its worship of God. Ronald Rolheiser suggests a profound incarnational application for this image: “The idea is that they should digest the word and turn it into their own flesh so that people will be able to see the word of God in a living body rather than on a dead parchment….We have to digest something and turn it, physically, into the flesh of our own bodies so it becomes part of what we look like. If we would do this with the word of God, others would not have to [only] read the Bible to see what God is like, they would need only to look at our faces and our lives to see God.”(1)

    Could it be that we could so imbibe and ingest doctrine and the beautiful teachings that come from God’s word into our lives, that they would radiate from our faces? That the way we lived, spoke, acted—even our very countenance—would give witness to the truth of God’s word? This is incarnation application. We incarnate God’s word, God’s truth and
    love, as our lives bear witness to Him. Doctrine is lived out, and our beliefs are enfleshed in our deeds and our actions, and even in our words. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the word of God wherever you go, even use words, if necessary.”(2)

    Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

    (1) Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality (New York: Doubleday Books, 1999), 102.
    (2) Ibid., 82.

  14. I read a quote today, that summarizes what I believe to be the commonality to each side. From Frederick Buechner in his book The Magnificent Defeat, he writes,” The birth of righteousness and love in this stern world is always a virgin birth. It is never men nor the nations of men nor all the power and wisdom of men that bring it forth but always God.” That is the gospel– Christ came on His own accord, in His own time, to do for all of humanity what we could not earn or accomplish for ourselves. To live the gospel or live in light of the gospel is to acknowledge daily, or even momentarily, “in me dwells no good thing,” but Jesus has come “to give life and give it more abundantly.”

  15. An interesting resource on this subject is Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “The Duty of Charity to the Poor, Explained and Enforced”. Three times he uses the term the ‘rules of the gospel’ (and other times he uses similar terms) to convey how the gospel guides and shapes how we treat the poor. He means things like–as God gave us aid when we were in need, as God gave us aid even though we got ourselves into our plight, etc, so we should give aid to the poor. It is very clear that Edwards sees the gospel as shaping the way we live life in the world. It has ethical implications.

  16. Excuse me– one other idea:

    When Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9 that he wants his readers to give financially to the poor, because “you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor…..” –that seems to be a clear place where Paul urges ethical behavior by appealing to the grace of the gospel and the shape of gospel salvation (sacrifice and the voluntary relinquishment of power and glory.) Edwards refers to this ethical exhortation based on the gospel in his sermon on Charity.

  17. […] raised this question a while back on Unashamed Workman. He asked for comments and, as Mike had just touched on this during the WSC Missional and Reformed […]

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