Many evangelicals cringe when they hear the words “gospel” and “social” together in the same sentence. Many times their minds immediately connect the two words into one term: “social gospel”. And from there, of course, they think about terms such as “works salvation”.
Unfortunately, I think these thoughts have caused many evangelicals to give up on helping relieve social problems. In fact, I believe the “social gospel” may exist because those who believe the gospel are not concerned with social work. I’m glad that this is not the case with all evangelicals. Consider the following snippet from my Ph.D. mentor, David Alan Black (from Thursday, December 13 at 9:27 am):
As you know, it has long been our desire to dig wells and thus supply fresh drinking water in Alaba and Burji. There is always a certain tension among missionaries between those who are devoted to personal evangelism and those who are concerned about social issues. We see no problem in bringing both sides together in a joint operation. Once we have trained local church leaders to dig wells on church property, they will have an important preaching point where their evangelists can point non-believers to the Water of Life as they come to draw water for free. It will, no doubt, be very hard work.
I love the connection between the gospel and social work – between recognize the need for spiritual nourishment and physical nourishment.
If I remember correctly, John placed these two concepts (gospel and works) side-by-side:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)
And, James said something similar:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 ESV)
These are sometimes difficult passages for those of us who believe we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But, of course, that passage doesn’t end there, does it? We see that even Paul associated works with the gospel:
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. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)
What do we do if our heart does not break and we do not take action when we see someone hurting, oppressed, widowed, orphaned, hungry, thirsty? What do we do when our faith does not work? What do we do when it seems that the love of God is not in us because we are not demonstrating the love of God? What if we are not concerned about “the least of these“?
I will leave those questions to you, my readers. How would you respond to someone who asked the questions above? How would respond to someone who said that they have faith, but they rarely if ever demonstrate that faith by caring for others?