Monday, May 9, 2011

Preach the Gospel and Use Words

The saying “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary,” is often attributed to Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone (Francis of Assisi), though no one seems to be able to find any evidence that he actually said this. No matter who coined the saying, it grits the gourd of some folks. The saying itself sounds rather profound because of the irony built into it. When we hear someone talking about preaching the gospel, we immediately think of someone using the spoken word, since that is what preaching is, but then it turns it around to imply that words may not be necessary. In a way, that sounds good because it is very important that our actions reveal the love of God. We can also think of the sermons people preach and the lessons they teach, and we can see ways in which they might get the point across better if they would show us what they mean rather than just lecturing.

The problem with this statement is that words are always necessary. What we do to show the love of God through our actions is important, but they are temporary fixes if we don’t use words to preach the gospel. Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “I’ve been watching how you live your life and now I know what I need for salvation”? I don’t know about you, but that would make me nervous. I’d be saying, “No, you don’t understand. Good works won’t get you into heaven.”

Many people believe that if they are good enough they will get into heaven. They imagine that they will show up at the gates of heaven one day and Peter will be there with the book of their life in his hand. He’ll scan down through the book. “I see you kicked the cat when you were five. That wasn’t good. You cut off your sister’s pigtail with you were six.” He’ll keep reading. “Wow! You haven’t missed a day of church since you were fifteen. You gave money to that church in Africa. You looked after your neighbor lady next door. You raised your children well, and you never killed anyone. You’re the kind of person we want to have in heaven. Come on in!”

From the human perspective, that sounds logical. We figure that since no one is good all the time, if there is anyone who will get to heaven it will be those that are mostly good people. But that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says that none of us are good enough (Romans 3:10). We have all sinned. But before you say that you know you’ve sinned but you did good to make up for it (sort of like planting a tree to make up for driving a Hummer), the Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Think about that for a moment. If you have a job and you did ten hours worth of work, but then for the rest of the week you decided not to show up for work. The boss gets tired of it and fires you. He still owes you for the ten hours you worked, even though you slacked off the rest of the week. If you sin and then go do good things, you are still owed death for the sin you committed. Those are your wages. Just because you don’t want you wages and just because you were good part of the time doesn’t mean that you aren’t owed payment for what you’ve done.

God always pays his debts. If we are owed death, it will be paid. But dead people aren’t allowed into heaven. One of the things God told the children of Israel was unclean was a dead body. God isn’t going to allow something unclean into heaven. So, only those whose debt Jesus has paid will make it into heaven. Only those who are willing to accept the death of Jesus as the payment for the wages they are owed will be saved.

Without words, many people will go right on thinking that there is something in good works that can redeem them. But God gave us words so that we can know the truth and teach it to others.