“The Gospel” is a term we use a lot as believers. But I believe we could do more to think through what it really means, and what all it encompasses.
In its most basic and narrow sense, the Gospel is the good news of the loving, redemptive work that Christ has done and freely offers to all people, to save them from sin and Hell. The Gospel is never less than that, but it can also be viewed as more than that. In its broadest sense, with the good news of salvation remaining at the core, the Gospel is a full embodiment of the person and work of Christ in His church, and the full revelation of God’s Word. It is both declaring and living out the whole counsel of God. It is fulfilling the Great Commission—not only evangelizing, but also “making disciples” and “teaching them to observe everything I’ve commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
That means being salt and light, affirming full biblical truth, and teaching a Christian worldview that deals with morality and being accountable to God for our choices. It means helping the man in the ditch that some religious people neglect (Luke 10), and feeding the poor and needy in the name of Jesus, and distinguishing sheep from goats (Matthew 25). If the church speaks the gospel message far and wide, but doesn’t intervene for the needy and the voiceless, and if we don’t teach our people to help them, then we’re not fulfilling the entire great commission, only one part of it.
Can living out the Gospel in this way be costly? Yes. I admit I roll my eyes at all the whining in the Western Church about being persecuted when we’re experiencing only a tiny taste of what God’s people have always faced, usually ten or a hundred times worse than what we’ve seen (yet). However, I do also financially support selective efforts to defend our religious liberties.
When governments shut down churches, it’s nearly always because the churches teach and live out biblical truth that the government and/or culture consider objectionable. Years ago when I was in China, even registered churches, which existed by government permission, were not allowed to preach the book of Revelation. Why? Because of its portrayal of God as the one true Lord who judges the nations, meaning that someone is infinitely above the communist government. (Or closer to home, it shows there is a Supreme Court of the triune God that stands above all judgments of nine people in DC who are called the Supreme Court.)
In our culture, sometimes it’s legal to “share the Gospel,” the good news of salvation, but occasionally it’s illegal to “live the Gospel,” the good news of following Jesus that includes advocating for the rights of abused and downtrodden people, whether that’s victims of sex trafficking, moms and babies who are abortion-vulnerable, or those imprisoned for following Jesus.
John the Baptist’s head was cut off not because he preached about Jesus, but because he preached against sin in the public arena, including the sins of Herod who married his brother’s wife, and the sins of the religious leaders and the multitudes whom he called to repentance. John the Baptist made some very strong statements and by our standards he wasn’t always “Christ-like,” but Jesus said there was no one among men greater than John.
I’ve been sued by various abortion clinics for peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience to save innocent unborn children, and to save their mothers from the horrors of abortion. Back in 1992, I was also sued by the ACLU, because I violated an ACLU-petitioned injunction, imposed by a county judge, against gathering in my home town of Gresham, Oregon, to pray on the National Day of Prayer, when we had already received permission to assemble (as many other groups do periodically) at our local city hall.
I deliberately violated the court order and called on others to do so because if we don’t hold onto such rights, they will certainly be lost. It really was no big risk for me, since in those days I used to say, “If you’re going to sue me, take a number.” The ACLU withdrew its lawsuit, perhaps because of the bad publicity it was getting—which wouldn’t have been the case had some of us been unwilling to break the law standing up for the right of peaceful assembly at a government building. (By the way, just as I’ve shared and lived the Gospel with pro-abortion advocates and abortion clinic employees, I’ve sought to do so with the ACLU.)
One important qualification on the ACLU: after researching my novel Dominion, with a theme that included racial issues, I vowed never again to say anything critical of the ACLU without commending them for what they did in the civil rights movement (not always done the right way, but resulting in just laws for which I’m profoundly thankful). So even though I oppose most of what they do today, I thank God for what liberal groups like the ACLU accomplished in the racial arena. I wrote that in an article called “Conservative, Liberal or Christian?” for which I got a lot of criticism by church people who think “Christian” and “politically conservative” mean exactly the same thing, which I do not.
Once rights are lost in the public arena, the next step is going after private citizens. For example, a few miles from our home here in Oregon, the business people who gladly sold cakes to homosexuals every week and warmly welcomed their business, but refused to decorate a cake in celebration of a gay wedding (just as they would refuse to do so in celebration of a man who they knew abandoned his wife and children and was now marrying his partner in adultery), were put out of business.
Or, as has already happened, business owners are told they must pay for insurance for their employees that covers abortions. Christian colleges have been fighting this too, and if they didn’t, they would have to either violate their consciences or close their schools. (Thankfully, Hobby Lobby won a major lawsuit that permitted them to do what they should obviously have the right to do, follow their consciences concerning the sanctity of human life!)
I know pharmacists who’ve lost their jobs for refusing to be involved in the sale of abortifacient drugs. In these people that I know personally, I see absolutely no signs of hatred for gays, adulterers, or women seeking abortions. They have enemies not because they self-righteously seek to make enemies, but because they’re humbly following Jesus, who said that we should be expected to be treated as He was: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20). (Ironically, on social media I’ve seen Christians criticize these fellow believers, because the “Christ-like” critics are opposed to self-righteous judgment, though they themselves are self-righteously judging their brothers and sisters who they don’t even know.)
Churches will, I think, eventually lose many rights we have now. How quickly that will happen will depend largely on how many Christian businessmen, schools, and pastors cave in and passively agree to surrender their rights, and make those who stand up for their rights appear to be the hateful minority. The huge trick is this: how can we—with humility and Christ-centeredness and without whining—stand up for rights which assist us in getting out the Gospel message and allow our children and grandchildren to grow up with at least a fraction of the liberties we’ve always had and taken for granted?
What we really need is Christians who, like Jesus, are full of grace and truth. People with both sound doctrine and warm hearts, reaching out to all the needy in the name of Christ, no matter the cost. (Here’s something I wrote on the question of whether we’re willing to be hated for speaking and living Gospel Truth.)