Preach the Gospel or Be the Gospel?

by Mike Ratliff

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)

The passage above (Matthew 28:16-20) is best known as our Lord Jesus’ Great Commission to the Church. This is what we are to be about. I heard a survey taken at a Christian bookseller’s convention not very long ago in which one of the questions asked was something like, “Is the Great Commission best fulfilled by preaching the Gospel or by Christians ‘being the Gospel?’” Well over half of the answers given were affirmative for the latter rather than the former. That was not surprising after the rest of the survey results were revealed though. The overall lack of depth of real Bible knowledge and doctrine in that group was indeed telling. From that discussion it became apparent that most of those responding to the survey actually believed that their performance as Christians had more to do with evangelism than actually preaching the Gospel itself. This started me thinking… 

Is it even possible for even the most devoted Christian to “be the Gospel” to the point that their live is a substitute for actually preaching the Good News? Also, when we obey God aren’t we actually obeying His Law? The Gospel is Good News about what Christ did on behalf of sinners who could do nothing in and of themselves to be reconciled to God who is Holy, Righteous, and Just. That is why the Gospel is Good News. It is not something that can be lived. What about the transformed life then? That is not the Gospel either. Yes, those in Christ have victory over sin and have triumph in Christ, but that is not the Gospel. In fact, when we look at that, we find that that triumph is all because of God and what He has done and is doing, not what we do. It all stems from one Greek word, ικανος or hikanos, “sufficient, competent, qualified.” Carefully read the following passages.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 ESV)

Paul asks in v16, “Who is sufficient for these things?” The word sufficient translates ικανος. Paul is saying that he is nothing in himself, that he is insufficient for anything, whether it be ministry or personal living. He says that his ικανος is God alone. Now let’s skip down a few verses to 2 Corinthians 3:4-5.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, (2 Corinthians 3:4-5 ESV)

Again, the word sufficiency translates ικανος. Contrast Paul’s statements in these two passages with the message today from much of so-called Christianity in which man views himself as the measure of all things. In these teachings, man is self-sufficient, self-directed, self-motivated, and self-centered. Man’s self-esteem and self-worth are primary and protected and treasure.

No wonder people believe they can “be the Gospel” and believe that corruption, calling it “being missional” replaces being obedient to the Great Commission of planting Churches and preaching the Gospel everywhere to everyone relying on the work of the Holy Spirit to build the Church not our ικανος.

What did Jesus tell us in John 15? Notice especially the verse in bold.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1-11 ESV)

Our sufficiency is in Christ alone, not ourselves. We are to obey God and preach the Gospel. We cannot “be the Gospel.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

18 thoughts on “Preach the Gospel or Be the Gospel?

  1. I am not sure who said this, but I like it:
    “Saying ‘Preach the Gospel to all men, and if necessary, use words’ is like saying ‘give me a call sometime, and if necessary, use numbers'”
    My life isn’t (nor ever will be) the good news by which men can be saved.


  2. Thanks be to God for those he sends to proclaim the truth as you consistently do Mike! The more truth we hear, the more sensitive we are to that which is not truth.

    Just as we cannot save ourselves or make a decision to ‘accept Jesus’, so too it is when it comes to sharing the good news of the Gospel. Our lives, regardless of how good we live them, don’t even come close to that which can only be realized through the Word of God. Man continues to think he can save himself or that he has a better way when it comes to sharing the Gospel. Our wisdom is foolishness when compared to God’s inspired Word and yet, we honestly think we can create a program or method that ‘works’ better than preaching the Gospel? Sadly, many churches have bought into the seeker/purpose style because it appears to ‘work’. The world defines success according to numbers; God defines it as faithful obedience.

    Paul made it very clear when he reminded us of the importance of the spoken, shared, preached Word…

    for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

    How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” ~ Rom. 10: 13-15

    Notice how it doesn’t say, “How will they believe if we don’t make them laugh”? or, “How will they hear without a spectacular multimedia presentation complete with cutting edge dramas, hollywood movie themes, how to messages and an emotionally charged, rock concert style experience?”

    Mike, your presentation makes perfect sense when aligned with scripture. However, when we put our efforts, methods and survey results 1st, we think we have a better way. Sure, we can make church or the message appealing by softening it or making it entertaining but, what are we really drawing people to?

    I regularly hear pragmatic excuses from those who teach & follow the seeker/purpose/missional programs & methods.
    “Traditional biblical preaching doesn’t ‘work’ anymore”, they claim. Church services and preaching has been replaced with ‘experiences’ and ‘conversations’ so as not to offend the seeker. In fact, just about everything is being done to appeal to these so-called seekers.

    THAT is the problem; Striving to please man instead of God.



  3. Mike –

    Brilliant stuff.

    As you have eloquently pointed out, the latest Christianity is obsessed with the “social gospel” rather than the true gospel, with somehow being God’s message rather than preaching God’s message. Alas, no matter how much we attempt to “be” God’s message, we will always fail, and people will see, and they will point it out as hypocrisy and imperfection. They will be right every time, as well. For none is righteous—no not one.

    Instead, we must preach the Gospel, for our attempt at fulfilling all of what God requires is fleeting and will always fail, but His Gospel is always consistent and will always succeed.

    Keep up the posts—they have been fantastic help to those of us needing the constant reminder of the Gospel and truth of Christ!

    In Christ,


  4. Thanks for the article and timely warning Mike! This attitude was very widespread among the people of my age and the youth pastor/workers at my previous church. They will not do any verbal proclamation of the gospel at all (or a very heavily watered down version) , but rather try to do good works. The thing is, they have used Philippians 1:27 and 1 Peter 3:15-16 to attempt in justifying the whole approach. And we have probably heard the popular evangelical saying “you will be the only living Bible that anyone can read”. It doesn’t take long for someone who come in, using this sentimentally evangelical saying and use it to deny the Great Commission and the whole lot of Epistles including 1 Corinthians 1-3 and Titus.

    Just like what Satan did, these people used the Scriptures to attack God. It’s really sad.


  5. Another thought: I forgot to add this, but one thing that was a hit at my old church was something called “random acts of kindness”: a group of youth group members stand outside the local supermarket and hand out free food to people. When people ask them why they will simply say, “oh we just want to do this”.

    I understand this is the quintessential example of missional church methodology. The sad thing is, the secular unbelievers can do the same thing and probably on a bigger scale, and why would an average unbelievers be more inclined to believe in the gospel by these acts of kindness?


  6. Joel, we find all of that rooted in the “felt needs” necessity of the Purpose Driven non-gospel of Rick Warren. While there is nothing wrong with Christians doing good works or loving other people, this in no way replaces our requirement to preach the gospel…


  7. John:for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

    How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” ~ Rom. 10: 13-15

    John, we need to look further in the text of Romans:

    Romans 10:16 But they were not all obedient to the good tidings, for Isaiah saith, ‘Lord, who did give credence to our report?’ 10:17 so then the faith [is] by a report, and the report through a saying of God, 10:18 BUT I SAY, DID THEY NOT HEAR? YES, INDEED–TO ALL THE EARTH OF THE HABITABLE WORLD THEIR SAYING.’
    10:19 But I say, Did Israel not know? first Moses, saith, ‘I will provoke you to jealousy by [that which is] not a nation; by an unintelligent nation I will anger you,’
    10:20 and Isaiah is very bold, and saith, ‘I was found by those not seeking Me;’ 10:21 and unto Israel He saith, ‘All the day I did stretch out My hands unto a people unbelieving and gainsaying.’


  8. Romans 7
    So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

    Just talking with an old friend yesterday…one who would laugh at “be the gospel”. She was an alcoholic and a drug user and knows that today she is only free by the power of Christ. The mind that is worked on by the old sinful nature does not relate to “be the gospel”…but the mind renewed by the Spirit and the power of the gospel is set free as nothing else can do.

    Her sisters are still all hopeless alcoholics and drug users and they would like the peace that she has but unfortunately, the gospel is not absorbed by her “being the gospel” and since they don’t want Christ…their doom is sealed.

    I like this verse:
    Romans 7
    21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am!

    Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    In reading that last verse…who delivers me? It doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with “me” being the gospel.


  9. “Faithful preachers are among God’s best gifts. Cherish them, and be obedient to their
    admonitions. I have known persons become offended when a minister is “too
    personal;” but wise men always prize a ministry in proportion as it is personal to
    themselves. He who never tells me of my faults, nor makes me feel uneasy, is not
    likely to be the means of good to my soul. What is the use of a dog that never barks?” ~Spurgeon


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