Social Justice Or Preaching The Gospel?

What should be the driving goal for the life of a follower of Jesus?

Social justice or preaching the gospel?

This is the raging debate both explicitly and implicitly in our midst today. Some think that our primary purpose as the church is to be involved in social justice efforts. Others think that we should simply preach the gospel and trust that the Kingdom of God at work in our churches will bring change.

There are a plethora of men much smarter and wiser than me that have preached, written, and taught on this topic. But I’ve had this on my heart for almost two months now, and I feel it’s time to wade into the conversation myself.

So what do I believe?

Is our primary goal social justice or preaching the gospel?

My prayerful, hard-fought answer is both.

Both.

As a Christian, as a pastor, I should be an advocate for social justice, inasmuch as it adheres with the Kingdom of God and Biblical mandates. As a Christian, as a pastor, I should be proclaiming the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at every opportunity.

I want to share my opinions, my experiences, and my studies that have brought me to this position. I want to share first the dangers of pursuing one of these things without the other, before showing how they come together beautifully in our lives.

Social Justice without the gospel. 

If you look around, most in my generation have a heart for social justice. They see it as a clear next step after receiving the good news of Jesus. I admire and affirm this.

Where I see danger is when advocating for social justice is completely separated from a local body of believers. When we separate ourselves from a church community, striving to be the hands and feet of Jesus while detached from the bride of Jesus, that’s where things can get wonky.

Praise God for my peers who are boldly stepping out and saying that in Christ, all are created equal.

But what are we drawing people into?

Say we met every barrier in society for every person in need. What a glorious goal. But if we are not drawing them into a church community, we are only doing half the work. The greatest barrier any person faces is the one that separates them from the Father.

May God help us to pursue His church, His messy, hypocritical, judgmental, broken church (often referred to in horrifically explicit terms by God in Scripture). It is only through the body of Christ that real community is found.

My heart mourns over the myriads upon myriads from my generation that left the church to be Jesus. I want to listen and hear why. But I also want to advocate for us to love Jesus AND His broken bride.

The gospel without social justice.

If you want to know what side of the pendulum I fall on, it’s right here. I talk and preach often about the importance of being engaged in society as the people of God (Just Mercy) but struggle to live it out.

I’m a nerd.

A Bible nerd specifically.

Across from my laptop are thirty books on theology and commentaries that I’m wading through currently.

I love to read and write and think.

Action is hard for me. It doesn’t come easy.

This has led me at times to preach the gospel without even an iota of concern for the men and women made in the image of God that are sinfully, unBiblically treated in our world.

Father forgive me.

In the blog I linked above, I share how I came to a stark realization in Isaiah 1 that God hates me when I offer up praise to Him with blood on my hands. That stung. But it also empowered. I want to be a man who stands up for what is Biblical in society. Most importantly in terms of all being made in the image of God.

Yes, the gospel is the best thing I have to offer a hurting world.

The message of a Savior who came to deliver them.

But how many can’t hear that message because I sit in my fancy office in a Baptist church instead of engaging them?

I put zero hope in politics.

I don’t believe that legislation and law are the way that the country will change.

I believe the world will change as the people of God obey the two key commands of God: love Him and love others.

I believe the local church is the agent of change God has given to the world. I stand on that.

But here’s the thing.

If my advocacy for Biblical treatment of others is the avenue through which some enter into the Kingdom community I’m a part of in Vernon, then so be it.

If my proclaiming of the gospel is written off because I don’t seem to actually get in the midst of the hurt people are experiencing in my community, then I’m in the wrong.

I believe the Kingdom communities in our cities are where we should strive for the Biblical treatment of all. That’s my priority. My heart, my church, then my community.

I’m young. I’m learning. I’m trying to grow.

Here’s where I’ve landed however.

Social justice is an extension of the gospel.

Social justice as an extension of the gospel. 

I’ve not put a whole lot of Scripture in this post. I’ve merely wanted to share my experiences and mindsets. I have done this in part because while I study Scripture deeply, I don’t have clear-cut interpretations of every verse I reference. So as I now share the verses the Lord has used to work in my heart, I share them with the caveat that I am not a Biblical scholar that fully grasps the message of each of them.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clear; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:16-17

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? – James 2:15-16

These are just a few that I’ve thought a lot about.

The prophets of the Old Testament are teachers I wish the modern church would read and study regularly. The difference between the world then and now is that the ‘nation’ of God was Israel. Now the people of God are transcendent beyond national boundaries. The Christian nation in our world is one composed of people from every earthly nation.

The prophets said that sacrifice without mercy was detestable.

James stated that offering spiritual health without meeting physical health needs was no good.

So in summary, I’m still thinking about all of this.

My hope isn’t in the public forum. My hope is in Jesus. But my hope in Jesus should lead me to change my heart, to advocate for the Biblical treatment of all in my church, and when necessary, in my culture as well.

I’m listening.

I’m learning.

But I know that social justice and the preaching of the gospel must go hand in hand.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Why Are You Here?

What am I passionate about?

What flows from my mouth into conversation and through my fingers onto social media?

What drives me to ecstatic exuberance?

What motivates the choices that I make and the way I spend my time?

What is my purpose for being here?

These questions are regularly rolling around in my mind. I want to live a life that is all about the glory of God. I fall short of that desire all the time. But I strive for it. I strive to live for Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and discipleship. EVERYTHING else is just extra.

Maybe I’m crazy. I honestly feel that way at times. But I can’t escape the fire in my heart that drives me to want to spread the Kingdom of God on earth. I want to light a fire in the hearts of others as well.

Just this morning, I started a biography on Hudson and Maria Taylor, missionaries to China. I was knocked off guard in the first pages by the reality that Hudson’s father, get this, PRAYED FOR HIS NOT YET BORN SON TO BECOME A MISSIONARY TO THE VASTLY UNREACHED CHINESE PEOPLE. I write that in all caps because it blows me away.

Who is doing that today?

Are we praying that God would send their future children into dangerous parts of the world for the spread of the Kingdom of God?

Or are we praying that our future children ‘make an impact for Jesus’ while accumulating all the benefits of the American dream and likely selling their soul for earthly trinkets?

Church, this must not be.

It cannot be.

This morning I also began a book on the state of the global church. The two brilliant authors spoke about the following:

  1. The Western church is polarized by doctrine and social issues. Sound familiar?
  2. The Pentecostal church is exploding throughout the globe, due to its emphasis on God still being at work.
  3. Jesus didn’t come to simply establish traditional modern churches. He came to inaugurate the Kingdom.

Here’s my quick takeaway. To my fellow Westerners, what is your passion? Is it truly the gospel and discipleship? If someone looked at your time, money, conversations, and arguments, would they see a desire to make God known?

I don’t think that would be the answer for most of us. If you asked me, I’d think that most would see us Christians as the most polarizing of all. Just look at what you’ve said about Covid-19. Have you posted about politics and plots and government takeovers? Or have you posted about God and His glory, for instance how Psalm 9 says that all of the nations are under His control (by the way, when it says ALL nations are under His control, there’s no caveat dependent upon whether a Republican or Democrat is in office)?

The other night, one of my close friends showed me this awesome new telescope he had just purchased. It’s awesome.

This guy is a stinking genius, so once he got to talking about the intricacies of the telescope and the intricacies of space, he lost me. But he was so passionate about it. It was awesome.

I started thinking, I wish I was that passionate about Jesus. Not my doctrinal beliefs. Not my vision for our church (albeit these aren’t bad things). Not my political opinions or my favorite hobbies. Not even my family or my dog. What if I just couldn’t help but talk about Jesus?

What if the Kingdom of God was everything to me?

And just like that, the spark was lit afresh.

Maybe you’re there. Maybe, the spark is lit in your heart.

Here’s how you fan it into flame.

Reflect.

If you aren’t reflecting on the truths of the gospel, you obviously will have no passion to share it.

Just think about Ephesians 2. We were DEAD in our sins. Straight up dead. And then we get this phrase:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, – Ephesians 2:4

The verses that follow this one tease out the gospel message.

Just think.

We were dead.

But God was rich in mercy and great in love.

Commune.

The times I’m most on fire for Jesus follow the times I’m deeply communing with Him. I’m talking distraction-free time with Him. For me it looks like leaving my phone away, grabbing a Message version of the Bible, and going to pray. I love to study Scripture and journal and go through reading plans, and so I have to keep it really simple so that I’m actually communing with God rather than filling my mind with more knowledge.

I don’t know what it will look like for you, but commune with God your Father. Let Him fan your heart into flame.

Disciple.

I will try and keep this simple.

Meet with someone.

One on one.

Around Scripture.

We need to remember there is a difference between spiritual community (a common faith in God that bonds friendships) and Biblical community (a common study of God’s Word).

I have lots of spiritual community, but I’m not sure how much Biblical community I have.

But discipleship, that lights my fire.

I had lunch yesterday with a young man I used to mentor and then met with a young man I currently am mentoring. Hearing them talk about Jesus is the most amazing thing in the world.

Our churches will die without discipleship.

Oops, I hope that was simple.

Go.

This book I read on the global church talked about how the church how we know it is dying. It is.

The church will not grow by pragmatic plans or programs. It won’t grow by clinging tight to tradition and ‘how we’ve always done it’. It won’t grow by complaining or arguing or debating. It won’t grow by simply wishing things were different. It won’t grow by coming up with some great new model of church although those things aren’t bad. It certainly won’t grow by sitting in our ivory towers and judging the world around us for how they dress, talk, and live.

It will grow by doing everything we can to reach a new generation while clinging to the truth of the gospel. This gets me amped because student ministry shouldn’t be a thing. We’ve created a mini church for youth because our churches as a whole won’t often adapt to them. We are called to disciple them, to grow together. Older men and women investing in younger men and women. That’s the call of the book of Titus. If we as churches did this, I wouldn’t have a job. The church would reach the next generation, not one man. And I would be so overjoyed if that came to pass.

The church will grow by going.

By using every single day, every one, to make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

Why are you here?

To make it to the weekend? To get a promotion? To raise ‘good’ kids? To leave a legacy for your own name and praise?

I want to live in such a way that I am answering my own prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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Belief On My Terms

We’re entering a season of the church calendar when we reflect on the final days of Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection. In light of this time of the year, I’ve been reading a little in the Gospel of Matthew. And while reading the portion prior to Jesus’ death, I was struck by the audacity of the crowds. I was struck with conviction in my own heart too.

Imagine you’ve followed this man around, a philosophy and theology teacher who seemingly came out of nowhere. You’re pretty certain he’s something special, but you just can’t put your finger on it. You also know you’re looking for a rebellion to start to remove the oppressive Roman government from ruling over you. Maybe this Jesus guy is that guy.

But all of a sudden he starts talking a little crazy. He’s saying things about tearing down the temple where everyone worships, including you and your family. The major religious teachers you respect and follow on Twitter are saying he’s blasphemous. He calls himself the Son of God, which might mean he’s actually God somehow? You’re not really sure what to do, or think, or say.

You just want to follow God.

Then everyone around you gets riled up. Let’s kill this crazy man. He’s making bold claims, but he’s not delivering on a political revolution. So you get swept up in the frenzy. You’re sold, this man is a blasphemer. He’s distracting people from God. He might be the Adversary himself!

Everyone gathers around Pilate, who is going to give you a choice of who you want to be freed from prison on behalf of your annual festival. And this happens (Matthew 27):

15 At the festival the governor’s custom was to release to the crowd a prisoner they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Who is it you want me to release for you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

You listen. You consider the options. The religious authorities speak up.

20 The chief priests and the elders, however, persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to execute Jesus. 21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

“Barabbas!” they answered.

This is your preference as well. It’s the first of three preferences you will get to make this day. Pilate speaks up again.

22 Pilate asked them, “What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Christ?”

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 Then he said, “Why? What has he done wrong?”

But they kept shouting all the more, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them and, after having Jesus flogged, handed him over to be crucified.

Another preference. Let’s crucify Jesus. You’re fired up, you’re certain this is what God would like. Let the one who deceives be judged and condemned.

A little while later you finally see Jesus led to Golgatha, the mount where criminals are crucified. And you look up and see Jesus and two others hanging there. You join in the festivities, mocking Jesus, who is getting what he seemingly deserves.

38 Then two criminals were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him and said, 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue him now—if he takes pleasure in him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him taunted him.

Everyone was taunting and mocking Jesus. You and I would have done the same if we were there. How do I know that? Because we still taunt and mock Jesus with our words and actions. If you’ve mocked another human, an image of God, then you’ve mocked God. If you’ve cursed yourself, an image of God, then you’ve cursed God.

Some of us are bold enough to have even mocked and cursed God in the midst of prayer–whether we believe in God or not.

And we’ve wanted our preferences all along the way.

Our first preference as part of the crowd was for Barabbas to be freed. Our second preference was for Jesus to be crucified. Our final preference was for God to save himself instead of us.

We are so foolish.

Our preferences are twisted and corrupt because we are sinful. Our default is sin.

And we are so deceived by sin that we think we can dictate how God should show up in our lives and in our world to save it. We think highly of our own plans and our own wisdom, a wisdom that is mere foolishness to God.

I don’t even know what to do with this. I’m still processing what it means to be so foolish. I’m still processing my own preferences, even for what following God is supposed to look like. I’m processing my own preferences for what makes a good life.

But I’m praying for wisdom. I need eyes to see the mystery of God’s work in this world.

I don’t want to be foolish enough to claim Jesus as my savior but my own self as lord.

I don’t want belief on my own terms.

Please pray for me.

– Matt Welborn