Gone are the days when we simply received little clichés and pithy statements on bumper stickers alone. Now, with the highways of the internet and social media, we have access to a wealth of information which can be profitable and dangerous at the same time.
Every so often you will see this common phrase circulating around social media: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” The statement is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but in all reality, there’s little evidence that he actually spoke those words.
The real issue is with the meaning of the phrase itself rather than the origin. Is it possible to preach the gospel without words? Is it possible to be faithful to God by proclaiming the good news with your life alone?
The Danger of Cliché Christianity
I love a good quote from a good author, but those quotes are not enough. We need the Scriptures. One of the great tragedies of modern evangelicalism is the shallow approach that is popularized through social media. We are bombarded with messages, quotes, and man’s opinion on many levels on a daily basis, and oftentimes these messages drive us in the direction of superficiality rather than robust faithfulness.
Some common clichés circulating today might include statements such as:
- God never gives you more than you can handle.
- When God closes a door, he opens a window.
- God helps those who help themselves.
The fact is, God often gives us far more than we can handle for the sanctifying purpose of revealing our weakness and our need for God. Sometimes when God closes a door, he simply closes a door. It should also be pointed out that God helps those who learn that they cannot help themselves without the power and strength of God. The sappy cliché approach to following Jesus does not work.
When genuine Christians study the Scriptures, they soon learn that the worldly clichés that are so commonplace in our day are at odds with the very Word of God. It’s at this juncture that Christians are moved from a steady diet of sloppy cultural phraseology to the rich streams of God’s holy Word where an abundant supply of wisdom and knowledge flow into the hearts and minds of God’s children.
Preaching Is Far Superior to a Personal Testimony
When we hear people who press a personal testimony above the actual gospel itself—that’s confirmation that there’s a massive misunderstanding regarding the gospel. To be clear, people are not saved by listening to a personal testimony. People do not need more stories. Unbelievers need the gospel and it’s through the power of the gospel that unbelievers are saved (Rom 1:16). We must note that Paul never commissioned Timothy to go and share his story. He directed him to preach the Word.
We live in a world that is constantly attempting to become less preachy and more winsome. Preaching is viewed as offensive and living a winsome life before the eyes of other people is viewed as less offensive and more inclusive and acceptable. The less-preachy approach to life often muzzles the gospel in a lost world. We are told to be nice to people and to be less preachy which is viewed as obtuse in our inclusive culture. In many ways, certain Christians believe that it’s possible to sneak the gospel into the world by living the gospel as opposed to preaching the gospel. That is simply impossible.
The blueprint of Christian evangelism is focused on God’s Word. In fact, we find these words in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Prior to that statement, Paul has laid down a foundation that reveals the need for someone to go and preach the good news in order for sinners to be saved, for without a preacher—nobody can hear and without hearing nobody can come to the knowledge of the truth.
God did not plan for people to be saved by merely evaluating the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life. Just as it’s impossible for sinners to be saved by observing the handiwork of God in creation. General revelation screams that there is a God and he’s eternal, but only through special revelation of the gospel can a person know this God personally and be united to him by faith.
God has chosen to reveal himself to us in word. It is through the sixty-six books of the biblical canon that our Triune God has chosen to reveal himself to mankind. These books were penned down over a period of 1,500 years on three different continents by forty different human authors in three different languages. God the Spirit has worked through these different men over a lengthy period of time and then preserved his Word in order that we will know who we are and how we can be reconciled to our sovereign God by faith in the sufficient work of Christ.
While we can certainly use a personal testimony or something as simple as a statement on a t-shirt to spark conversation—it’s the gospel as revealed in words, sentences, and paragraphs that the lost world must hear in order to be saved. The world must hear faithful preaching.
Preaching is far superior to a personal testimony. To preach is to declare or to announce the good news. The reason that preaching is unattractive is because it likewise involves the announcement of the bad news of sin, damnation, holy justice, and the eternal wrath of God. It’s with this dark backdrop that the light of the gospel is announced to the desperate souls of sinners. That’s God’s plan.
Anytime our culture attempts to reinvent, rethink, or redefine something that God has already established—it will prove to be a disaster. We see this with the attempt to redefine marriage. We can see the disaster of inventing new alternative approaches to the established biological sexes (male and female) by accepting a multiplicity of genders within human sexuality. The same thing can be said of preaching the gospel. It’s impossible to preach the gospel with a person’s life. A person’s testimony and lifestyle is certainly important, but nobody will ever be saved by merely watching how people live. They must come to know the law of God which confronts sinners with their guilt and shame. It’s then that they come to hear the good news announced which points them in the direction of the Savior of the world—Jesus Christ.
So, as we journey onward in the faith, let us remember to preach the gospel, and use words because they’re necessary.