Should We “Live the Gospel?”

“Deeds, Not Creeds” is a mantra of many of the churches that have confused the law and the gospel. Sometimes it is put this way: “we need to live the gospel.” The problem with this is the Bible. Nowhere does it command us to live the gospel. We can most certainly conduct our lives “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14), but the gospel is a message of truth. We do not “live the gospel.” We believe the gospel and even the faith to believe God imparts to us. The gospel is all about what Christ has done for us. The law is about what we are to do and too many churches today are confusing the law and the gospel by exhorting people to “live the gospel.” A church is in danger of losing the gospel altogether if they begin to assume it.

In J. Gresham Machen’s book “Christianity and Liberalism” he describes the differences between Christianity and liberalism: 

“Here is the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity – liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative. Liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, a gracious act of God…Liberalism regards Christ as an Example and Guide; Christianity as a Savior. Liberalism makes Him an example for faith; Christianity, the object of faith.”[1]

The church needs to be giving their people the hope we have in Christ rather than merely burdening them down with more law. The law never even gives any power to do what it commands. It shows us what a sanctified life looks like but it has no sanctifying power. Thus, the Bible will rarely ever commands us to do something without first soaking us in what Christ has done.[2] The whole idea of “Deeds, Not Creeds” is completely foreign to the New Testament. Any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable no matter how hard you try or radical you get. This is why Paul Zahl sometimes suggests to clergy that “they carve over the main door to the church the following words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’ If you are looking for comfort and release, you had better hold that hope until you leave church. From the pulpit, what you are likely to get is the law.”[3]

Let us trust this promise and find our hope for the church in the gospel. As Isaac Watts poetically wrote: “My soul, no more attempt to draw, Thy life and comfort from the law; Fly to the hope the gospel gives, The man that trusts the promise lives.”[4] The church that trusts the promise lives!



[1] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1946), 47.

[2] Consider the example of Paul’s letters and the way they are set up. Eleven chapters of doctrine in Romans and then five chapters of exhortations and implications “in view of God’s mercies” (Rom. 12:1). We find an almost identical outline in Ephesians and Colossians. Many of the other authors and books remind Christians of the gospel over and over again.

[3] Zahl, Grace in Practice, 232.

[4] Maureen L. Bradley, Don Kistler, and Joel Rishel, Worthy Is the Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of Christ (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2004), 85.


1 Comment

Filed under Law and Gospel

One response to “Should We “Live the Gospel?”

  1. “Nowhere does it command us to live the gospel.”

    I fully agree with your post. I think that this way of thinking of “living the gospel” is muddle-headed at best. The two greatest commands still stand of course, but the gospel is a message of hope, not a to-do list.

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