Are Christians supposed to preach the Gospel or be the Gospel?

by Mike Ratliff

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (NASB) 

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. 

Is it even possible for even the most devoted Christian to “be the Gospel” to the point that their life 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.

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (NASB) 

Paul asks in v16, “Who is adequate for these things?” The word adequate 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.

4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 2 Corinthians 3:4-5 (NASB) 

Again, the word adequacy 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.

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 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. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:1-11 (NASB) 

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

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 thoughts on “Are Christians supposed to preach the Gospel or be the Gospel?

  1. Well said and explained! Claiming to do the works of Jesus while blatantly tossing out or disregarding what He actually tells us to do isn’t really a good example to others!


  2. I’ve heard so many tell others to live the Gospel that I want to puke. It is, as you pointed out, a news report about what Christ has done to save sinners from the wrath of God that we each richly deserve! I pressed this point, among others, when I taught at my church recently on evangelism. The gospel is the only message, the only tool, that we have been given to be a participant in God’s glorious work of redeeming lost sheep.


  3. Mike, the two words I see concerning the Gospel are

    euaggelizo – the announcement or declaration of the good news.
    kerusso – to herald, proclaim, or publish

    This doesn’t seem to leave room for “being the Gospel” by “being missional.” Both of these definitions rely on words spoken or written.

    The world loves those who volunteer, who seem to care, who are generous, who participate in the world’s issues. But proclaiming the truth of the Gospel sets up the preacher for rejection, for “the word of the Cross is to those who are perishing foolishness…unto the Jews a stumblingblock and unto the Greeks foolishness.”


  4. Spot on! The devil has been having a hay day with twisting scripture and focusing on being a “good person.” We are to preach the good news and love our neighbor. Too many programs and look at me I’m a good person projects. Those things are not inherently bad, but when they take the sole focus and our hearts and minds away from Christ, we have a serious problem. The Gospel is just being twisted in that sense. 😞


  5. Some people ignorantly seem to think the slogan, “Preach always and, if necessary, use words” originates from scripture. Jesus Himself used words to teach wherever He went, just as did His apostles. Salvation is not transmitted from observation. The message of the gospel must be proclaimed in people’s hearing, which is the method God has ordained in order to redeem His people. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14) So the responsibility God has given man is to proclaim the Word, then the response to the message rests with God.


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