The Gospel Is Not an Act of Kindness

By Tony Miano

"Atheist Activist Becomes Christian After Believers Show Him Compassion"

That was the headline of a Christian Post article, written by Jeff Schapiro. The headline had me both curious and wary. The article is the story of the alleged conversion of Patrick Greene who, along with the cardinals of the Freedom From Religion denomination, sued Henderson County, Texas over a Nativity scene on publicly-funded property. According to the article:

Jessica Crye, a Christian woman from Athens, asked her pastor, Erick Graham of Sand Springs Baptist Church, if they could help Greene. As a result of her kindness, thousands of dollars in donations have gone toward helping Greene, who has reconsidered his view of God as a result. "There's been one lingering thought in the back of my head my entire life, and it's one thought that I've never been able to reconcile, and that is the vast difference between all the animals and us," Greene told The Christian Post on Tuesday, as he began to explain his recent transformation from atheist to Christian. The theory of evolution didn't answer his questions, he says, so he just set those questions aside and didn't think about them anymore. But when the Christians in a town that had reason to be angry with him showed him a gesture of love, he began reconsidering his beliefs altogether. He eventually began to realize that evolution would never have the answer to his questions, he says, and it was at that time he began to believe in God.

So far, so good; right? Wait! There's more!

Now this former atheist says he's not only a Christian, but he also wants to become a pastor.

What have we here? Could it be a Saul-to-Paul transformation? After all, God still does this in the lives of the people He chooses to cause to be born again (1 Peter 1:3). Sadly, there's more to the story.

Greene plans to either join a nearby liberal congregation or may even start his own chapter of the Rainbow Baptists, an outreach ministry of The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists that supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He says he feels strongly that homosexuality is acceptable in Christianity, and claims the Bible's original approach to issues of homosexuality has been altered over the last 2,000 years.

Before I continue, it's important to make several qualifying statements. In the interest of full disclosure, it's important to note that Patrick Greene once tried to sue Living Waters for our "National Atheist Day (April 1)" bumper sticker. The lawsuit never came to fruition and Mr. Greene was chastised by the atheist community for the frivolousness of the effort. My comments regarding the genuineness of Mr. Greene's faith has nothing to do with his attempted legal action against Living Waters. I am simply taking him at his word, as quoted in the Christian Post article.

I don't have the entire story. I need to be careful not to draw too many conclusions about the church and the people who loved their neighbor enough to meet his immediate physical and financial needs, based on the information provided in one online article.

I have no idea how, when, or whether or not the members of the church who reached out to Mr. Greene shared the authentic gospel with him.

The observations I'll make and the conclusions I'll draw from the Christian Post article are not intended to be an indictment of Jessica Crye, Pastor Erick Graham, or Sand Springs Baptist Church. Again, I do not know these people or their church. I do not know what was said, if anything, by way of gospel proclamation to Mr. Greene. Jessica, Pastor Erick, and the church should be commended for doing what too many Christians and churches don't do enough--love their enemies (Matthew 5:42-45).

However, the article and Mr. Greene's own testimony is an indictment of both an all-too-common and errant way of thinking among many Christians, and the philosophical modus operandi of too many modern evangelical churches. This modus operandi, which in many Christian quarters is built upon the mythical, never-uttered sentiment of Saint Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times; and when necessary use words," has led to an untold number of false conversions around the world. What is this errant way of thinking and unbiblical philosophy of ministry? It's the idea that the gospel can be communicated and believed through an act of kindness by a Christian.

The gospel is not an act of kindness.

Now, I understand that those who believe the Bible says and/or teaches "live your life in such a way that people ask you why" will be quick to bristle and retort. But let's set emotionalism and the interpretations of personal experiences aside for a moment and consider what the Scripture says, and doesn't say, about the gospel and its presentation.

Indulge me as I make a few more qualifying statements. Sadly, this is necessary because emotions and the traditions of American Christianity are so ingrained in this issue--ingrained to the point of almost becoming Roman Catholic in one's thinking by putting the traditions of men over and above the truth of God's Word.

As stated above, Christians should love their neighbors, which includes, whenever appropriate, meeting their physical needs. Reaching out to the unsaved, again when appropriate, with things such food, clothing, and shelter are ways to fulfill the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. As the Word of God says:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing," (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

To claim to be Christ-like in our love for the lost while being uncharitable to others is to live a life of hypocritical contradiction. Jesus comforted, fed, healed, and physically cared for His countrymen--many of whom would turn on Him and scream, gnash their teeth, and shake their fists for His brutal murder.

However, the gospel is not an act of kindness.

Now is a good time to explain what I mean by the above statement. Is it kind to share the gospel with an unsaved person? Yes. Of course it is. In fact, there is nothing more kind and loving you will ever do for another human being than warn him/her of God's impending wrath against unrepentant sinners and share with him/her the ultimate message of love--the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, being kind to people is not evangelism. Being kind to lost people is not proclaiming the gospel to them.

What I just said, and what I'm about to say, will likely come across as a punch to the solar plexus of adherents and practitioners of what is commonly referred to as friendship evangelism. It may also tweak some in modern-day, American-based missionary circles.

  • Feeding the poor is not evangelism.
  • Clothing and sheltering the homeless is not evangelism.
  • Building homes for the needy and those devastated by natural disasters is not evangelism.

Supplementing your vacation to Europe with the occasional smile while offering up a "Jesus loves you" greeting to indigenous people who do not understand what you're saying is not evangelism.

Taking the youth group to a mall or local tourist location for a scavenger hunt, and having the kids wear different brightly colored t-shirts sporting the church's web address, is not evangelism.

Spending your evenings at the local cafe listening to bad poetry while taking hits on an ornate hookah and engaging unbelievers in culturally-relevant conversation is not evangelism.

Now, can each of the above-mentioned activities serve as a springboard for a biblical presentation of the law and the gospel to the unsaved? Yes (even hookah night at the local caffeine distribution center). But none of the activities, in and of themselves, fall within a biblical definition of evangelism.

If the above statements do not cause a neurotransmitter misfire in the brains of modern American evangelicals, maybe this one will.

Ready? Are you sitting down?

You are NOT the gospel!

Before you throw your computer screen through the window in consternation, hear me out.

Here's a hypothetical situation that I think will make my point. Let's say the New Family (a family of non-Christians) moves to a new house on Friendship Avenue. Living on either side of the New Family are families resembling their own (number and age of kids).

Neighbor A decides to develop a relationship with Mr. New, hoping to one day have enough courage to invite him to church. So, Neighbor A invites Mr. New and his family over to his house for a barbecue and swim party. Over time, the New Family and Neighbor A exchange sitting duties with each other so each couple can have a "date night." Mr. New learns Neighbor A likes to play softball, so he invites Neighbor A to play on his team. Over time, Mr. New and Neighbor A become good friends. One day, while watching a ball game together, Neighbor A invites Mr. New to church.

Neighbor B also decides to develop a relationship with Mr. New, hoping to one day have enough courage to invite him to church. So, Neighbor B invites Mr. New and his family over to his house for a popcorn and movie night. Soon thereafter, there was a time when Mr. New found himself in the hospital. Neighbor B and his family helped with chores around the New Family's home and Neighbor B's wife made dinner for the New Family every night he was in the hospital. Neighbor B discovered that Mr. New likes to go fishing. So, as schedules permitted, Neighbor B would take Mr. New out on his bass boat, on the local lake. One day, while the fish weren't biting, Neighbor B invited Mr. New to church.

If you were Mr. New and decided to accept one of your neighbors' invitations to church, whose invitation would you accept?

While you're pondering that decision, here's another question for you. Do you see any significance between Neighbor A and Neighbor B?

I've intentionally withheld some information from you. Here it is.

You, a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, are Neighbor A. Neighbor B is a friendly, devout Mormon. Based on the above scenario, what would your unsaved neighbor see in you that's different from the unsaved Mormon, a member of a cult? Absolutely nothing. Why?

You are NOT the gospel!

Until you open your mouth and proclaim the law and the gospel to unsaved Mr. New, he can't see any difference between you and his Mormon neighbor. Why? Because Mr. New is spiritually blind (1 Corinthians 2:14), spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3), and utterly unable to seek after the one true God (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-18). A nice Christian looks no different than a nice Mormon, Muslim, or Jehovah's Witness to an unsaved person.

You, my Christian friend, are not the power of God for salvation. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and the gospel is a spoken (Romans 10:14-17) and/or written (1 John 5:13) message which is to be conveyed to the lost by the ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), those who God has caused to be born again (1 Peter 1:3), having extended to them the precious and eternal gifts of repentance (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:1-5) and faith (Romans 1:17; 4:1-8). So, what does all of this have to do with the alleged conversion of Patrick Greene? Maybe nothing, if the Christians who reached out to him biblically shared the one true gospel with him. Or, maybe everything, if no one from the church shared the gospel with him.

Contrary to the myth that Christians are not supposed to judge others, Christians are supposed to judge--not by appearances, but with right judgment (John 7:24). Christians are supposed to judge--not by appearances, but based upon what comes out of people's mouths (Matthew 7:15-20; Mark 7:14-23). Christians are supposed to judge--not by appearances, but based on not only what people do and say, but what they condone (Romans 1:32). And Christians are to judge those who profess to be followers of Christ (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:12). Even then, however, Christians must remember they are not allowed to judge others hypocritically (Matthew 7:1-3). Nor are they to judge others with a condemning form of judgment. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge; there is only One who is able to save and destroy; and that is God alone (James 4:12).

With the above in mind, let's take another look at Mr. Greene's sentiments based on the article:

Greene plans to either join a nearby liberal congregation or may even start his own chapter of the Rainbow Baptists, an outreach ministry of The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists that supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He says he feels strongly that homosexuality is acceptable in Christianity, and claims the Bible's original approach to issues of homosexuality has been altered over the last 2,000 years.

Could Mr. Greene be truly born-again, but because of the immaturity of his new-found faith is still holding on to the deceptive and depraved intellectual baggage of his former religion of atheism? Yes, but it is unlikely. It is more likely that Mr. Greene has simply exchanged one false god (the god of atheism) for another false god (a friendly god who overlooks sin, even applauds it, and doesn't agree with his own scriptures). It is more likely that Mr. Greene is a false convert who simply moved from one self-made religious comfort zone to another. After all, it was the Christians, and not the atheists in this situation, who stepped up to the plate to pay his bills and fill his fridge.

Unfortunately, while the church and the Christians mentioned in the article about Mr. Greene may not be counted among them, there are many churches and Christians who are creating false converts by performing acts of kindness among the unsaved, but are failing to proclaim the gospel to the same. The tragic result is that people are converted to the friendly church instead of to the Sovereign Lord. They are converted to the Christian club instead of the living Christ.

Acts of kindness performed with the intended purpose of not sharing the gospel is depraved indifference. Such behavior, which is tragically common place within American Evangelicalism, does nothing more than help people to be warmed, filled, and content on their way to Hell. Some who read this will be quick to cite Romans 2:4 in an effort to show that the kindness of Christians is used by God to draw people to repentance and faith. I know Christians use this verse in this way, because I have been the recipient of such action on several occasions. The verse says:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Let's look at the verse in its context:

"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed," (Rom 2:1-4).

The above passage has nothing whatsoever to do with the kindness of Christians having the potential to cause or lead unbelievers to repent and believe the gospel. On the contrary, the passage begins with a rebuke to those who are addressed in Romans 1--unregenerate, unsaved people who suppress the truth of God's existence and, knowing God's decree because He has written His law on their hearts (Romans 2:15-16), sin against Him with wanton abandon and applaud others who do the same (Romans 1:32). The passage goes on to admonish those who would dare judge others while hypocritically practicing the same sins and warns the same people not to presume upon God's kindness, as if somehow He will overlook their sin. It is the kindness of the sovereign King of the Universe--the One who draws sinners to Himself (John 6:44) and causes unbelievers to be born-again (1 Peter 1:3)--it is His kindness that leads people to repent of their sin.

Still other Christians will turn to Jude 22-23 in support of the idea that some are saved by fiery preaching, while others are saved as a result of receiving the compassion and mercy of Christians. Once again, the context of the passage reveals that such an understanding of the passage is in error. Let's look at Jude 17-23:

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
The passage is a warning from Jude, Jesus' half-brother, to an unspecified group of Jewish believers. The letter Jude wrote is the only book of the New Testament that is devoted entirely to warning about apostasy and confronting apostates.

Jude declares war against the apostates (Jude 3-4). He warns of the inevitable outcome for the apostates and those who follow them (Jude 5-7). He flat-out denounces the apostates, calling them dreamers who defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil (Jude 8-16). The first two-thirds of the letter is followed by Jude's proposed defenses against apostates, which is spelled out in the above passage, Jude 17-23. Regarding Jude 22-23, John MacArthur wrote:

22, 23 some. There are several textual variants here which could result in either two or three groups being indicated. They are: (1) sincere doubters who deserve compassion (v. 22); (2) those who are deeper in unbelief and urgently need to be pulled from the fire (v. 23); and (3) those declared disciples of apostasy who still deserve mercy, but are to be handled with much fear (v. 23; included in better manuscripts), lest the would-be-rescuer also be spiritually sullied. Given the manuscripts evidence and Jude's pattern of writing in triads, three groups is the more likely scenario. 22 compassion. These victims of the apostate teachers need mercy and patience because they have not yet reached a firm conclusion about Christ and eternal life, and so remain doubters who could possibly be swayed to the truth. 23 others save. Others, who are committed to the errors taught by the apostates, need immediate and forthright attention before they are further entrenched on the road to the fire of hell (cf. v. 7) as a result of embracing deceptive lies. with fear. This third group (see note on vv. 22, 23) also needs mercy, even though they are thoroughly polluted by apostate teaching. These people are to be given the true gospel, but with great fear, lest the deliverer be contaminated also. The defiled garment pictures the apostate's debauched life, which can spread its contagion to the well-meaning evangel. 1

While there certainly are evangelistic aspects in this passage in Jude, verses 22-23 do not make a distinction between a gospel that is spoken or preached, and a gospel that is illustrated by a life of compassion exhibited in front of and toward an unbeliever.

Does every act of kindness toward an unbeliever have to include a gospel presentation? No. There are certainly times and circumstances (although I would argue they are much fewer and much farther between than most American Christians think) when an act of kindness may not include or may not lead to a gospel presentation. But in those situations when an act of kindness is not preceded or followed by a presentation of the gospel, the act of kindness is not evangelistic. Christians should unashamedly, unapologetically refer to and see such activities for what they really are: service, mercy, help. Acts of service, mercy, and help are not to be seen as second-class citizens to evangelism. They should be seen as important in their own right, as well as working side-by-side with evangelism. They are all important activities within the framework of one body--Christ's bride, His church.

Fellow Christian: feed people. Clothe people. House people. Teach people. Employ people. Love people. Care for the sick, the wounded, the dying. Show love and compassion for the lost as often as you can, whenever you can, wherever you can. Love your neighbor as yourself. But do these things, not instead of evangelism while calling these acts evangelism; rather, do these things and proclaim the gospel to those you are loving and serving.

We must proclaim the gospel because the gospel is not an act of kindness; and you are not the gospel.

  • 1.  Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2007, pp. 895-96.

 

 

 

 
 
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