Evangelism is one of my favorite subjects to talk about and write about. I recently, wrote a whole book dealing with the subject. Having been involved for so many years with evangelism in the local church, and knowing how lonely that ministry can be, I am grateful for the recent resurgence in evangelistic zeal. But at the heart of evangelism is the gospel. The phrase imported here, Preach the gospel with the gospel? Seems like an axiomatic truth but many still seem to question what the task of evangelism involves. Recently on Wretched Radio (episode 4-1-14 hour2) a caller called in with a question from a recent message I gave during the Compelled Conference put on by Heart for the Lost in South Carolina. I had a wonderful time participating in the conference. The caller asked about a point in my message where I made a rather emphatic point about the necessity to preach the gospel to all, no exceptions whatsoever. I was taking aim at the often-cited misnomer that we are to give “the law to the proud and grace to the humble.” There are several reasons why this simply is not the case and even further, it results in an unbiblical approach to evangelism and a misapprehension of Scripture. I think this issue is so vital to the cause of the gospel and the work of evangelism that I have decided to write a series of posts on the subject. The New Covenant minister is to be saturated above all with the gospel (Rom. 1.16; 2 Cor. 3). Our calling is to preach a very particular message on God’s behalf to the world. That message is the message of reconciliation or the gospel of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5.20-21). More than a formula, a recipe, an argument, or our religious perspective— we are called to herald God’s good news. The gospel is exactly that, the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. When Paul reflected on his evangelistic work at Corinth, he summarized the crux of his message this way, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2.2). The heart and soul of Paul’s message was the cross (1 Cor. 1.18). But what about the objection that some have raised regarding such slogans as “Law to the proud and grace (only) to the humble” or not casting our “pearls before swine”? If a person is perceived to be “prideful” are we doing God’s will if we leave them with the Law? Are we to wait for people to become humble before giving them the gospel? At the outset, let me say that as far as the last two questions are concerned, the answer is emphatically, NO! Furthermore, as we look at the Biblical data, we find the self-evident truth that we cannot preach the gospel without, well, the gospel. First we should point out that the slogan, “Law to the proud, grace to the humble” is taken mainly from James 4:
James 4:6 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
This text can be useful for evangelism in that it shows the sinner’s dilemma that as long as sinners harden their hearts to the gospel, God will oppose them. The context however, is written mainly for ecclesiastical purposes not evangelistic methodology. The major problem with the, “Law to the proud, grace to the humble” slogan is that it equate James’ use of “grace” to the evangelists offer of the “gospel” thereby equating the two terms i.e. “grace” and “gospel.” Because this is not James’ aim in the context, there is no contradiction with clear passages of Scripture showing the gospel going forth to prideful sinners:
Acts 17:32 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”
Acts 14:19–21 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,
Paul’s message of the resurrection is code for preaching the gospel since the resurrection is the central gospel motif of the book of Acts. Paul’s preaching at Lystra could not be deterred even in the face of persecution and the possibility of being martyred by the hands of the Jews (along with the crowds) who adamantly rejected the gospel. Paul did not care that he was being mocked, persecuted and rejected; he preached the risen Christ even though many considered it foolish (cf. 1 Cor. 1.18-23). The reality that will be emphasized in these posts is that the Law and the Gospel cannot be separated! Just as Calvin would say that “the law contains a promise” so too the gospel contains a fulfillment. The Law has no redemptive purpose outside of Christ and Christ is the fulfillment of the Law’s redemptive promise so that Christ crucified is theologically indissoluble from the curse of the Law (cf. Gal. 3.10-1). That is how the Law and Gospel works, it is a matter of promise and fulfillment, requirement and provision, shadow and substance.
Finally, God does not wait for people to be humble before giving them the gospel. God certainly did not wait for Paul to humble himself before preaching the gospel to him, he humbled him with the gospel, that is, He furnished proof for Paul that Jesus Christ was Lord and called him to obey and follow Him (Acts 9). John the Baptist preached repentance to hardened Pharisees (Mt. 3.2-8), Paul engaged in apologetic debate with the Jews who rejected Jesus— proofing to them that Jesus was the Christ though they were hostile to him and plotted to kill him (Acts 9.22-24). Peter, Paul, John and Jesus (not to mention the OT prophets) did not look for signs of humility before sharing the truth of God’s redemption through Christ and calling sinners to repent. The Rich Young Ruler is given the gospel promise, “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mk. 10.21). The Rich Young Ruler, as we all know now, was infinitely separated from God through his love of money yet, Jesus (who knew his heart) did not fail to call him to follow Him and give Him the promise of eternal life! The Rich Young Ruler was given the conviction of the Law and the promises of grace though he put the Lord to the test with hidden motives.
God does not resist the proud by keeping the gospel from them but by keeping salvation from them; the two are different and the distinction is crucial for the evangelist. If we do not see this distinction, then the evangelist will take it upon himself to gauge whether or not a person is worthy of hearing the gospel through some sort of external appearance of humility. Yet, Jesus himself makes it clear that one can seem as if they are humble but in reality be worlds apart from God (Mt. 15.8). We will explore in our next post the truth about pride and humility from Scripture as we continue to explore the question of “Law to the proud, grace to the humble.”
Soli Deo Gloria
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.
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