Monday, April 07, 2008

10 Theses on the Centrality of the Gospel in Christian Social Involvement

By Chris Hutchison

1. Human suffering, pain, disease and death are results of sin, and they are so precisely because they are part of God's holy and just response to that sin. The curse of death and hardship was put upon the world in response to Adam's sin, by God (Gen. 3:16-19). God is the One Who subjected the creation to futility and decay, in hope (Rom. 8:20-21). Evil, murder, strife, malice, and human sin continue unrestrained because of the wrath of God against mankind, who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-32). These statements may make modern evangelicals uncomfortable, but they are simply and unavoidably what Scripture declares.

2. To the unbeliever, the sufferings of this present age are a graphic display of the nature of his sin, and a warning to repent of it. "...Cursed is the ground because of you." (Gen. 3:17) "And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'" (Luke 13:2-3)

3. Therefore, the fullest answer to human suffering in all of its forms is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ's answer to brutal political rulers and collapsing towers was not to lobby for government accountability and better building programs, but to call for repentance. (Luke 13:1-9). The apostle Paul's solution to the grotesque litany of Rom. 1:26-31 is not social programs, but, "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Rom. 3:22).

4. The gospel is the answer to human suffering because through it we are reconciled to God, justified before Him, forgiven of our sin, and delivered from His coming and eternal wrath. "But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." (Isa. 53:5) "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." (Romans 5:9) "...By nature, children of wrath... But God..." (Eph. 2:3-4) "For they themselves report... and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thess. 1:9-10) c.f. 2 Cor. 5:18-21.

5. The gospel is the answer to human suffering because it secures for us the promise of a new creation in which the curse is reversed, suffering is no more, and we will enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with Christ. "With his stripes we are healed." (Isa. 53:5) "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us... For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." (Rom. 8:18, 22-24)

6. The gospel is the answer to human suffering because the Holy Spirit begins the new creation in the hearts and lives of the redeemed, regenerating and transforming us into holy, loving, God-glorifying people, zealous for good works. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Cor. 5:17) "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." (2 Cor. 3:18) "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (Tit. 2:11-14) "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10)

7. As God's redeemed people we are commanded to love our neighbours and do good to everyone, especially those of the household of faith. This necessarily includes caring for people's physical needs and seeking to alleviate their suffering. Luk. 10:27-37, Gal. 6:14, 1 Thes. 5:14, Tit. 3:8, Heb. 6:10.

8. True love for our neighbours can never view their physical, temporal needs in isolation from their far greater spiritual, eternal need. John 4:13-14, 6:26-27, 2 Cor. 4:18.

9. The central animating vision of all we do should be the glory of God. This goal should inform and direct all our good works and propel us to joyfully and meaningfully saturate them with the gospel of the glory of Christ. "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16) "...the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ." (2 Cor. 4:4-6). (See also John 15:8, 1 Pe. 2:12, 1 Pe. 4:11, Acts 3:1-26)

10. Given the preceding nine affirmations, a theology of social involvement which does not seriously take into account the universality of sin, the reality of the wrath of God, the centrality of the gospel, and the all-importance of the glory of God, cannot be considered biblically faithful or even distinctively Christian.

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