Incarnation (with Articulation) of the Gospel

We expect the members in our church to be able to articulate the Gospel. In fact, many times we use this to “verify” that someone is really a Christian. If someone claims to be a Christian but they can’t verbalize the essential truths of the Gospel message, does that mean that they aren’t saved? What if they affirm their understanding of the truth when asked if they believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sin? What if they affirm (when asked) that they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation and that they have committed themselves to live in obedience to His Word? Does that affirmation confirm their salvation?

And – what about life change? Is their “profession of faith” all that matters? Does a person prove that they are a Christian simply by their accurate articulation of the Gospel? Or do you actually demonstrate your faith in Jesus (i.e., your salvation) by your incarnation of the Gospel? (Jesus said – “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” Jn 15:8

If we reduce Christianity to believing (articulating our belief) in the right things, don’t we fail to embrace the necessity of repentance and obedience in working out our salvation? For me, it’s all about following Jesus. He is the only way. If someone says they believe in Jesus but they aren’t following Jesus – their belief is useless. It won’t save them.

Another thing Jesus says about what we articulate about our relationship with Him: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” Mt 7:2

When I read Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16), and then I read what Jesus says next, it’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t tell Peter that based on his confession he’ll be in heaven for eternity. In fact, just a few verses later Jesus rebukes Peter for setting his mind on man’s interests instead of God’s interests (v 23). And in the verses that follow, Jesus makes it clear what following Him looks like – deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow.

Yet, we teach people how to articulate belief in the work of Christ on the cross as evidence of their salvation more than we teach how to radically follow Jesus as the proof of their relationship with Jesus. That’s what Jesus says will profit a man.

Every follower of Jesus needs to be able to share the story of the cross as well as their own story of surrendering to Jesus as Lord. But we know someone is a Christian by how they incarnate the Gospel more than by how they articulate the Gospel.

Isn’t incarnating the Gospel critical to fulfilling Jesus’ mission to save sinners? Isn’t that what it means to be missional


Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
6 replies
  1. ZooMuse
    ZooMuse says:

    Have you read much Dallas Willard? His opening chapters of Divine Conspiracy are incredibly challenging (and even readable and understandable if taken in small chunks). “How does the grand invitation to life [in and through the gospel] sound today? The bumper sticker [or teddy-bear adorned bookmark, or sturdy coffee cup] gently imposes its little message: Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven .Just forgiven? And is that really all there is to being a Christian? The gift of eternal life comes down to that? What the slogan really conveys is that forgiveness alone is what Christianity is all about, what is genuinely essential to it. It says you can have faith in Christ that brings forgiveness, while in every other respect your life is no different from that of others who have no faith in Christ at all. This view so pleasingly presented on bumpers and trinkets has deep historical roots [and is] lived out by multitudes of those who sincerely self-identify as Christians.”

    He has a great section on what he calls “bar code Chritianity”:
    “Think of the bar codes now used on goods in most stores. The scanner responds only to the bar codes. It makes no difference what is in the bottle or package that bears it, or whether the sticker is on the “right” one or not. The calculator responds through its electronic eye to the bar code and totally disregards everything else. If the ice cream sticker is on the dog food, the dog food is ice cream, so far as the scanner is concerned.

    On a recent radio program a prominent minister spent fifteen minutes enforcing the point that “justification,” the forgiveness of sins, involves no change at all in the heart or personality of the one forgiven. It is, he insisted, something entirely external to you, located in God himself. His intent was to emphasize the familiar Protestant point that salvation is by God’s grace only and is totally independent of what we may do. But what he in fact said was that being a Christian has nothing to do with the kind of person you are. The implications of this teaching are stunning.

    The theology of Christian trinkets says there is something about the Christian that works something like the bar code. Some ritual, some belief affects God the way the bar code affects the scanner. Perhaps there has occurred a moment of mental assent to a creed , God “scans” it, and forgiveness floods forth. An appropriate amount of righteousness is shifted from Christ’s account to our account in the bank of heaven and all our debts are paid.”

    I think the primary issue that you are skirting is simply “what is the gospel we are to articulate and incarnate?”

    After reading this we might be tempted to say, “Well, of course, a true confession of faith is more than that. It is something greater than praying a prayer or raising a hand or even standing and walking down the aisle to meet with a counselor.” Yet, ask any group of professing Christians, “What does it mean that you are a Christian?” The predominant answers? “My sins are forgiven; I’m going to heaven.” Despite our protestations that every thinking Christian knows the bumper sticker is inadequate and that the bar code thing sells short the gospel, the following quote in the book from James Montgomery Boice nails Willard’s point: “Why is today’s church so weak? Why are we able to claim many conversions and enroll many church members but have less and less impact on our culture? Why are Christians indistinguishable from the world?”

    “History,” wrote Willard, “has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actually existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally.”
    The statement which speaks preecisely to the issue of out churches is this: every system is designed to acheive prescisely the results that it yields.

    As a card-carrying graduate of a flagship seminary, this has been one of the most challenging questions I’ve had to ponder (and continue to ponder) over the last couple years. The gospel we preach yields the kinds of believers we get.

    One final thought in this unpardonably long comment:

    We preach a two-tiered gospel: the basic model is the “Jesis died for your sins so you can spend eternity with God if you will but put your trust in Him.” The basic model+ is the cross plus the life of a student of Jesus seeking to live out and participate in the eternal kind of living of the gospel. Why are we surprised that most people want just the basic model?

  2. Bob Carder
    Bob Carder says:

    Why not consider being a Christ follower instead of being a “christian”? I don’t want Christ followers to become christians because to be a christian is noy an incarnational Christ representative. Ask any waitress on Sunday afternoon! I was in a restaurant the other day watching people and listening to God. I saw a couple near me (elderly) so I went and introduced myself and engaged a conversation and you will never believe what happened! You will never believe it. I mean you will never in a hundred years guess what happened.

    If you re brilliant you got it – an elderly gentleman himself gave me a track! I don’t want a track – I want to see Jesus lived out in them. I don’t need silence and grouchy old man handing me a track so they can feel like they are obeying by handing me a tract! “Get away from me you devil”!

    I want Jesus presented and lived out before me. Am I really the only nut or are there other nuts ready to join me and Dave “D” by living authentic incarnational lives in restaurants without the laziness of handing out tracts?

    Zoo -you went and don it agin!

  3. ZooMuse
    ZooMuse says:

    First, I have no idea what I’ve “gone and don [sic] agin [sic].”

    Second, within the context of these few discussions, you seem incredibly quick to judge, presume about, and lampoon others. I remember a prophet named Elijah who thought that he “alone was left” among the faithful. Then God told him that, actually, there were quite a few who had not bent the knee to Ba’al. Sometimes even prophets get it wrong.

    Third, you seem to think you know a great deal about people’s lives and motives, enough to criticize and condemn. This is not being incarnational, at least as I would define it. Clearly I am not brilliant enough to have guessed what every waitress (actually, they like to be called servers) working on Sunday afternoon knows. perhaps there are some older folks handing out tracts. I think a reminder from Philippians would help, namely that Paul was delighted that the gospel was being shared, even if the motives were bad. You never know, God actually might be big and strong enough to reach someone through the printed word.

    Bob, as a Christian who is also a follower of Christ, I would encourage you to consider your comments and the challenge to us in Hebrews: “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” as well as Paul’s to the Colossians: “Let you speech always be with grce, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” I confess that your comments to me do not inch my zeal up the good deed ladder very far. In fact, if I were to take them seriously, I might actually be offended.

    Finally, I am curious to know the source of your assurance that you are, apparently, one of the very few, authentic incarnational witnesses around.

  4. ZooMuse
    ZooMuse says:

    Well, when God wakes you up on two different mornings with the same message, You had better do what he says.

    First, I would like to ask Bob’s forgiveness. Despite any validity in my concerns regarding his comments, at points my own comments were less than gracious. For that I will like to ask his forgiveness. I failed the very same test I posed to Bob. Bob, I am sorry.

    To Dave I would l also apologize for my inappopriate attitude expressed on your blog. It’s one thing to vent my spleen on my own blog and something else entirely when I do it on someone else’s. I am sorry and ask your forgiveness.

  5. Bob Carder
    Bob Carder says:

    Zoomuse – No need for apologies and I in no way want to judge or condemn anyone. I am just very very saddened that the church in America is in decline and traveling down the road of Europe with the same predicted results. Dave D is pushing for something I long to see in America. And I might add, I am the biggest sinner of all in the incarnational department. I actually loved your post and everything you said. I always have room for improvement and I do not want to come across that way -regardless of my passion.

    For all Others: I refuse to hold back on the supremacy of the Great Commission and even though many argue the point why not try making the Great Commission your number one priority – we all can build relationship and make disciples.

    The church in America has mostly refused this personal priority -could we at least try engaging the Great Commission as something more important than eating?

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