Preaching the Gospel – Words or Lifestyle?

keep calm and preach the gospel

A popular Christian saying I have heard in the last several years is in regards to preaching the gospel.  People say, “preach the gospel, if necessary use words”.  They usually ascribe this to St. Francis Assisi, which, is not actually true.  For further reading about the issue of quoting St. Francis, go here.  I believe that this quote is misleading.  One reason, as is said in the link above, is that it intimates that people who faithfully live out their faith are more faithful and better Christians than those who preach the gospel with words.  It also makes a distinction between the two that I don’t believe needs to be made.  There are cases of people who preach the gospel, but their lifestyles are completely opposite of their words, and in this case, I understand the idea behind this quote.  But I will make the case that true gospel living is gospel preaching.  I am preaching through the book of Acts in our youth group at church on Wednesday nights, and it is amazing that time and time again, the ministries we see the Apostles partaking in are primarily preaching and teaching ministries.  Not only in Acts, but the main thrust of Jesus ministry was also a preaching and teaching ministry.  I say “main thrust” only because I do not mean to say that all they did was preach and teach, and that the other things they did were not important.  I say “main thrust” because I believe the main ministry of the gospel is a preaching and teaching ministry, out of which flows other things, of which are important as well.

So then, how ought we preach the gospel?  With words?  With lifestyle?  I believe it starts with words, which is made evidence by our lifestyle.  So, yes, I am that guy saying “both and”.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus commissions His people and says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…(ESV)”  What does Jesus mean?  His people get Power which is distinct from other power, it is a borrowed power – a power which we receive when the Holy Spirit comes upon us.  In other words, Jesus says in Matthew 28 that all authority under heaven has been given to Him.  And how does He delineate His power to His people?  By giving us the Holy Spirit.  We now have the exact power Jesus meant when He said that He had all power.

But this power does something in Acts 1:8.  This power witnesses.  It is amazing to see time after time the LORD working through His apostles and establishing His church.  Oh that the Gospel would spread like that wild fire today through our witness!  The question, then, becomes how did they witness?  We just got done reading and studying through Acts 17, and I love verse 6 especially, when the angry Jews said of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, “These men who have turned the world upside down…” Oh that we would be people who turn the world upside down! So, again, how did they turn the world upside down?  By teaching and preaching.

Up until Acts 18, look at how often we see the Apostles teaching or preaching (WORDS!) the gospel:

  • Peter’s sermon at Pentecost – Acts 2:14-36
  • Peter commands repentance – Acts 2:38-39
  • The believers devote themselves to the teaching of the Word – Acts 2:42
  • Peter and John proclaim Jesus to a lame beggar – Acts 3:6
  • Peter addresses the crowd in Solomon’s Portico – Acts 3:12-26
  • Peter addresses the High Priest and the council after being arrested for preaching Jesus – Acts 4:8-12
  • The believers pray and afterward the place shakes with the power of the Holy Spirit – Acts 4:24-30
  • The apostles escape prison by an angel who broke them out, and afterward they return to the temple to teach – Acts 5:25
  • Again before the High Priest and the council, Peter preaches the gospel – Acts 5:27-32
  • The word of God increases and priests in Jerusalem are saved – Acts 6:7
  • Stephen, the deacon (THE DEACON!), preaches the gospel – Acts 7:1-53 (and the deacon preached a LOOONNNGGGGGG sermon, imagine that!)
  • Stephen, facing death, preaches the gospel again! – Acts 7:54-60
  • Philip proclaimed Jesus in Samaria – Acts 8:4-8
  • Peter comes and helps Philip, and also preaches the gospel to Simon the Magician – Acts 8:14-25
  • Philip preaches Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch – Acts 8:35 (Philip began talking, with the scripture!!!)
  • Saul (Paul), immediately after his conversion, begins preaching Jesus in the synagogues – Acts 9:20
  • Saul leaves Damascus and goes to Jerusalem, and continues preaching Jesus – Acts 9:28-30
  • Peter proclaims Jesus to Cornelius, a Centurion – Acts 10:1-34
  • Peter preaches to the gentiles – Acts 10:35-43
  • Barnabas and Paul preach Jesus for a whole year in Antioch – Acts 11:25-26
  • The word of God continues to increase – Acts 12:24
  • Barnabas and Paul preach the gospel in Seleucia and they go through the entire Island! – Acts 13:4-6
  • Paul preaches Jesus and a magician is healed and believes the gospel – Acts 13:9-12
  • Paul and Barnabas are asked to share a word, so Paul shares the gospel in Antioch Pisidia – Acts 13:13-41
  • They are invited back to speak again on the next Sabbath, so they do – Acts 13:42-52
  • Paul and Barnabas declare boldly the word of the LORD in Iconium and they become fugitives – Acts 14:1-7
  • Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel in Lystra, and Paul is almost stoned to death as a result – Acts 14:8-19
  • Paul flees to Derbe with Barnabas, and preaches the gospel the day after he is almost killed – Acts 14:20-23
  • They preach the word on their way back to Antioch Syria – Acts 14:25
  • They return to Antioch Syria, and they proclaim the gospel to the church – Acts 14:27
  • Paul and Barnabas remain in Antioch, after the Jerusalem Council, and continue to preach the gospel – Acts 15:35
  • Paul preaches the gospel and Lydia is converted in Philippi, thus began the Philippi church – Acts 16:11-15
  • Paul casts a demon out of a slave girl by proclaiming the name of Jesus – Acts 16:16-18
  • Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns (WORDS!), and the Philippian Jailer is converted – Acts 16:25-40
  • Paul and Silas and go to Thessalonica and reasoned with the Jews – Acts 17:1-6
  • Paul and Silas escape to Berea, and they preach the gospel to the Jews there – Acts 17:10-12
  • Paul goes to Athens and proclaims Jesus to the philosophers – Acts 17:16-34

And the book of Acts isn’t even over!  Certainly, they didn’t only preach the gospel, but don’t be fooled, that was their main objective.  Even when they did some needs-based ministry, it was always tied to the proclamation (WORDS) of the gospel.  Now, I think part of this saying to preach the gospel with our lifestyle, is the call for Christians to be holy.  Peter writes in 1 Peter 1 to “be holy in all of our conduct, because it is written, ‘be holy, because I am holy (says God).’ (my own interpretation)” So, when we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, yes, we ought to also have a holy lifestyle.  A life in which we are not hypocritically calling people to repent, while living in ongoing patterns of sin.  At some level, each preacher, each Christian, is going to be a hypocrite.  Every believer in Jesus Christ is going to sin, at least periodically.  We will, at times, be drawn away from the gospel and again believe the lies of Satan.  But the gospel doesn’t give license for sin, as Paul says in Romans 6:1ff.  The point of Romans 6 is that Jesus saves us so that we can obey Him and put to death sin in our lives, because, well, Jesus has already conquered sin!  It has no power over us.

So, when someone preaches the gospel, the proclamation is enhanced by a holy lifestyle.  I think of preachers who I know are holy men, that when they preach, the sermon is all the more powerful because I know these aren’t just empty words coming from them.  I also know preachers who, when they preach, are preaching only words, and their lives are not matching their proclamation.  But make no mistake – evangelism and witnessing and winning people to the Lord and missions is not done by living a holy life alone.  In fact, it isn’t even the holy life that is primary.  It is the gospel.  The words of the gospel and the sharing of them are what is required for believers.  All believers.  Not just the super-Apostles in the book of Acts.  Not just for the pastors.  But for you.  Where you work, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you go to school, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you live, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  With words and with your holy living.  Not one without the other, but certainly not without words.

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