Rely on the Power of the Gospel
About the Guest
There's power, power, wonder-working power, in the blood of the Lamb. So proclaims our hymnals, but do we believe it? Former pastor and theologian Duane Litfin reminds us that our primary mission as Christians is to preach the gospel and share who Christ is and what He has done and to reach out with deeds of compassion to others. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily, Liftin confides, but the church is called to balance proclamation and demonstration, always remembering that the gospel is power.
Duane LitfinDr. Duane Litfin served for seventeen years (1993-2010) as the seventh president of Wheaton College. He holds an undergraduate degree in biblical studies and a master's degree in theology. His two doctorates are from Purdue University (Ph.D., Rhetorical Theory and Communication) and Oxford University (D.Phil., New Testament). He came to Wheaton from Memphis, TN where he served the First Evangelical Church as Senior Pastor. Prior to that he spent a decade as an Associate Professor at Dallas Th...more
Duane Litfin reminds us that our primary mission as Christians is to preach the gospel.
Rely on the Power of the Gospel
Bob: Dr. Duane Litfin says, “If we’re committed to our faith being demonstrated by our actions, then, our actions are going to include talking about our faith.”
Duane: Here’s a general exhortation: “Love your neighbor.” Okay, what does that mean? Well, it could mean anything; but it could certainly come down to meaning, “Do you love them enough to share the Gospel with them, even though you feel it’s risky?” If I love my neighbor, I’m going to venture—I’m going to risk myself and stand there, with the Lord Jesus, in order to share the Gospel with this person.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Dr. Duane Litfin joins us today to talk about how we strike a balance between saying too much and doing too little or not saying enough about what we believe. We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have a friend of mine, who—he, and his wife, and family live—I don’t know if I’m still supposed to say that they live in a large Asian country or if it’s okay to say China—[Laughter] but that’s where they live; okay? Well, you know, it’s just hard to know anymore. I won’t tell who my friend is so that should keep it all on the down-low; okay?
So, he lives in China—he and his wife—and they are involved in ministry to orphans in China—cast-out kids—kids who are left on doorsteps. They bring them in and care for them. I was talking with him about what they do. He said, “It is astounding, to the natives, who live in the village we live in, that we would care for these kids. They don’t understand why we would care for these kids.” He said, “That opens the door for a Gospel conversation.”
He went on to say that—he said, “What we have to be involved with is both the proclamation and the demonstration of the Gospel.” He said: “The train we’re riding on has two rails—two tracks. You take away either of the tracks, and the train goes off in the ditch.” I thought, “That’s an interesting observation.” Ties into what we are talking about this week.
Dennis: It does. We’re talking with the author of Word versus Deed, Dr. Duane Litfin. Duane, welcome back.
Duane: Thank you.
Dennis: You’re a former pastor, professor, and theologian. You’ve written this book because you’re passionate about what you believe should be the Church’s primary mission—it’s the Great Commission. Why don’t you comment on that?
Duane: Yes. The primary mission—the centerpiece of what the Church is about—is this business of preaching the Gospel. Charles Malik, the famous ambassador from Lebanon, who was a believer—he used to talk about the two tasks. The second task is the intellectual task of the Church.
So, the first task of the Church is evangelism—preaching the Gospel—sharing who Christ is and what He has done—what God is, and has done, and is doing, and will do in and through the person of the Lord Jesus. That’s the primary task of the Church—is to carry that message. The great privilege, of all of us, is to carry that word to a needy world—who desperately needs that word.
Having said that—that does not exhaust the calling of the Church. We have all sorts of other things the Lord calls His people to—and not least, are the issue of our deeds of compassion, and deeds of justice, and standing up for the oppressed. This, also, is a part of what the Bible calls us to.
I was struck by your intro about the two tracks. I think I really would want to call that into question, actually. I think both tracks are biblical. Whether in every case both tracks have to be present is another question; and it’s a question worth asking.
Bob: We’re talking about proclamation and demonstration? I hear you questioning whether demonstration is essential.
Duane: Well, I would, actually, cut it both ways. I think there are times when demonstration, or our deeds, are all we have. That’s all—that’s the only thing we can do. We do not have the opportunity to share the Gospel. Does that mean that I don’t try to feed the hungry in that situation or drill that well for that African village that desperately needs clean water?
Or there are other times when all I have is the opportunity to give a verbal witness. I’m sitting on an airplane, next to someone; and I have an opportunity to share the Gospel. This is not a setting in which I can engage in serious deeds, but it is a case where I can give a verbal witness.
The Church, as a whole, is called to both tracks; but I think in any given case, it may be that we are called—we have the opportunity or a call to one, or the other, or some sort of a balance.
Bob: I think the challenge is—if the Gospel witness in any community, in any environment, in any setting—is exclusively one or the other—if that’s all people are hearing or seeing that is Gospel-witness, they are not seeing a full-orbed presentation of the work of Christ; are they?
Duane: No, I think the Church is called to a balance between these two things. That’s certainly the case. Having said that—even where that imbalance takes place because of our shortcomings, and blind spots, and inadequacies, as human beings, who are believers—and so, we aren’t striking the balance—if the Gospel is being preached according to the witness of Scripture, it still has its own power. Let’s face it. The Gospel is powerful, in spite of us. Even at our best, the Gospel is powerful, in spite of us. We are such fallible vehicles. At our best or, maybe, at our less-than-best, the Gospel is still powerful. That’s the witness of the Scriptures.
If I would love to see anything come out of this, it’s people coming away with more of a confidence—not that that excuses us from reaching for that true, biblical balance between word and deed—but we still need to build our confidence in the power of the Gospel, which is, as Paul says, “The power of God unto salvation.”
Dennis: You and Sharon have raised three children. How did you do this with your kids when you were raising them—in terms of wanting to equip them to be able to both proclaim and also demonstrate as they interacted with their peers, all the way up in and through adolescence into adulthood?
Duane: That’s a really good question. I’m not sure I want to hold ourselves up as some sort of a model there. Our kids have grown up, and are serving the Lord, and have done very well—very strong and balanced, as Christians. They all have a heart for the very kind of balance we’re talking about here; but if I were to ask them—maybe, I’ll go home and ask them, “To what extent is this balance, that all three of you demonstrate, would you attribute that to having learned it from Mom and Dad?”
Bob: If a family is listening and they are thinking: “Okay, we’re trying to present a balance to our kids. We go to church and we hear the Gospel proclaimed at our church. We support some relief organizations.” Have they gotten there? Is that sufficient for the model; do you think? Or do we need to be doing the charity and the kindness ourselves?
Duane: Well, I think there’s probably a—it’s probably a false choice. I’m not sure that we have to choose. It’s a different way of giving of ourselves. It’s one thing to give our money to some charitable organization. That’s one way we give away of ourselves—of what is our own.
But another way is to give our time, to give our attention, to give our prayers, our thoughts, our cares, and our concern that this situation is genuinely a weight upon our shoulders that we carry with these people, who have these needs. Maybe, it calls us to go there and be there. Maybe, radically, so—pick up, and move, and go to a third world situation, or something less than that.
It’s going to vary from place to place and situation. In my situation, and the way I was raised, and the way I probably raised our kids, I think they would have been better at articulating the verbal witness, and the need for that, than they would have the non-verbal—the deed. But what I see, in our kids, is a desire to get their children into—out on the frontlines, in terms of the deeds, without, in any way, sacrificing the verbal witness. I really would want to encourage that.
I think that’s—take the kids to the local homeless shelter, to the soup kitchen—or take them to needy situations, around the world—or get them involved—have them praying for this orphan in Guatemala—or just the kinds of things where you can give—but you’re not just giving money. You’re providing a goat for this family, in some place in a village—some place where that goat can, actually, be a source of milk and so on for that whole family.
There are just—wonderful ways of getting our families involved in these things, on the side of the deeds. It’s equally true—getting them involved at the level of verbal witness. That’s closer—probably closer to home, at school, among their friends. You know, outreaches in their church and so on.
Dennis: I would not hold us up as being the perfect model either, Duane—kind of like you had that disclaimer. Yet, when they were teenagers, we tried to have an outreach at the high school. It was an evangelistic outreach, trying to reach their peers.
I’m now watching, like you are—watching my children get involved with the orphan. In fact, even as we speak, right now, one of our children and their kids are in South America—in a country—living in an orphanage. They are going to be there for two months. It was a deliberate step to get out of the comparison / rat race of our culture, and the busyness, and go take a step back and evaluate, “How can we give our kids”—and this is what they are saying—“a heart for the world—” and again, “—not just meeting their physical needs but, also, their spiritual needs, as well?”
I like the way you put it in your book. We’re never going to have perfect balance. I mean, only the Church is called to balance and keep the proper tension between deeds and our words; but as families—raising the next generation—we need to make sure we’re training our kids to understand the Great Commission is not an option.
Duane: That is so true. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment, both are incumbent upon us. To love our neighbor and to preach the Gospel—this is the balance we’re actually after.
I really commend your family for that kind of thing—I think getting out there, and having our kids in that kind of a setting, and breaking free from the insulation that we often work at providing for ourselves from the truly needy. If we have the resources to do it, we can build all sorts of—
Duane: —boundaries that insulate us from the real needs of the world. Christians just have no business doing that! We need to go to those needs, taking Christ with us into that situation, rather than pulling back from them simply because we can. Sometimes, it requires a fairly radical—just like you said—to actually go there—be there for an extended period of time—it’s costly.
But look at the model the Lord puts up in the Samaritan—who not only cared for this man that his Jewish brothers walked by him—but here’s this outsider, this out-cast, who stops and invests in this man, who had been beaten and robbed. But he also takes him to the inn and says, “I will cover his costs.” Now, there is costliness to stepping out and serving Christ with our deeds to the needy of the world. We probably—as much as we need to also be about the verbal witness, we probably need to be putting ourselves on the line for this sort of thing a lot more than we do.
Bob: You mentioned the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which comes up in Matthew 22, right after Jesus has been asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” He says, “You love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Then, He says: “The second is like unto it. You love your neighbor as yourself.” Somebody says, “Who’s my neighbor?” And He tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
There are people who have read that passage and said, “This is what I’m commanded to do: Love God and love my neighbor. I don’t see a lot about preaching the Gospel in there.”
Duane: Well, if you only had that single passage of Scripture, then, it might be a legitimate response. The fact of the matter—the Bible has—
Dennis: I knew that was the way Duane was going to answer your question! [Laughter]
Duane: The truth is the Scriptures give us a much fuller and richer picture of what it is Christ is calling His Church to be and do than simply latching onto one passage and saying, “This is it!” Well, it’s not it.
Bob: But it’s the greatest. It’s the Greatest Commandment, “Love God and love my neighbor.” If I do that, all of the Law and the Prophets is summed up in that; right?
Duane: Yes, Jesus, actually, makes exactly that statement. But then, you are, inevitably, back, asking the question: “What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love my neighbor?” If you really love your neighbor and their greatest need, according to Jesus, is to come into a right relationship to God—
Duane: —apart from which they are under His sentence of condemnation—there is no more loving thing you can do for your neighbor, who needs to hear the Gospel than to be faithful in sharing the Good News of Christ. So, loving your neighbor is not simply about binding up wounds or feeding the hungry. It’s a larger issue.
Dennis: Let’s talk about an illustration, you use in the book, that I thought was really helpful. You explain how there is a ladder. At the top of the ladder—it’s the abstract—and the bottom of the ladder is the concrete—and how as we communicate the Gospel, the truth about Jesus Christ, and the real need of the human soul. It’s good that we understand that ladder and how it works.
Duane: Yes. The ladder of abstraction is really something drawn from the field of communication. As we move up the ladder, from the concrete level, we sort of leave out detail. You know, at the bottom of the ladder is: say, “Fido”. That’s the category of one—a dog. Then, above that is a broader category, “Dog”. Then, above that is a broader category, “Mammal.” Then, above that, is a broader category called “Living thing”, and so on up that ladder. The higher you go—you come to a more abstract term. The lower you go—you go, right now, to the concrete specifics.
Well, the Scriptures are all about that ladder—general truths, that have to be lived out in our lives—the Gospel has to be lived out in the concrete details of our lives. We’re moving up and down that ladder. You know, we are told to “love mercy and do kindness.” What does that mean? Give me specifics of what that means. That’s a broad observation—to love mercy and to do kindness to our fellow man—but that has to be fleshed out. What does that actually mean? So, you move down the ladder to the specifics. The Bible is all about moving up and down that ladder. It is theology applied: “This is what is true of God”—
Dennis: That’s the top of the ladder?
Duane: Yes. “God is holy.” Well, you say, “What does it mean, at the bottom of the ladder?” Well, it means, “Because ‘I am holy, be ye holy.’” You’re to be holy. What does holiness look like in me? Because He is holy, if I belong to Him, I should be holy. Now, what are the specifics of what that looks like? So—but all of it is—the connection is because He’s holy. It’s about God, and it’s to be worked out in the details of our lives.
Dennis: Okay, apply that, now, to me witnessing to my next-door neighbor or me sharing Christ with a friend at work. How does that ladder apply in that situation?
Duane: I would use the ladder more in a case of helping us understand what the Bible is teaching us. It teaches us everything from the general profound truths all the way down to the specifics of concrete detail. So, we are to love our neighbor. One of the ways we love our neighbor is, if they have need of the Gospel, is to be willing to put ourselves on the line and to—
Dennis: —engage in conversation?
Duane: — to engage in conversation and to venture—one of the reasons—when you talk to people about evangelism or personal evangelism, what are the major reservations people have? Well, you get the standard, “I don’t know enough,” “I can’t answer objections”—
Dennis: “I don’t want to offend them.”
Duane: —“I don’t want to offend them.” But one of the major ones—and it’s one that people may not even be in touch with that well, but it is very true—is, “I’m afraid of being rejected,”—of how they will respond. Venturing—if I love my neighbor, I’m going to venture—I’m going to risk myself or being willing to put myself on the line and stand there, with the Lord Jesus, in order to share the Gospel with this person.
Here’s a general exhortation: “Love your neighbor.” Okay, what does that mean? Well, it can mean anything; but it can certainly come down to meaning, “Do you love them enough to share the Gospel with them, even though you feel it is risky to yourself, and to your ego, and to your….?” It’s safer to just say, “No, I’m not going to say anything,” for fear of rejection. To me, that’s a very specific application of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself—put yourself on the line for your neighbor.
Dennis: What I want our listeners to really hear is—what Duane’s heart is in writing this book. He wants to put responsibility on our lives to proclaim—yes—and speak the Gospel, in word, to those who need to hear; but also, on all occasions, be living out that Gospel in front of people so there would be no reason not to listen. There would be no reason not to consider your words.
I just appreciate you, Duane—your ministry in my life, as a young seminarian, and now, as a man, on a board with you—Dallas Seminary Board. Appreciate you as a friend, and I really like your work here. It’s stimulated some thoughts in me, just in terms of being more responsible on both points—just proclaiming and remembering people are lost.
I really think, if I err in an area, it’s that I don’t see people as the Scriptures paint them. If they don’t know God—if they aren’t rightly-related to God through Jesus Christ—they are lost. They don’t have a relationship with Him. That has eternal consequences. In fact, just in case there is someone, listening to this broadcast, would you just share the Gospel with them, right now?
Duane: The Good News is always to be understood in light of the bad news. The Bible teaches both very clearly—that there is bad news out there—that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, we stand under the sentence of condemnation because of our sin, because of our being out of step with Him—in fact, even in mutiny against the Sovereign Ruler. We’re often not in touch with it, but the Bible says it very clearly that we are resisting. What we need, desperately, is to hear the Good News that God, Himself, has provided the solution to that sin problem—that condemnation. “He, who has not believed, is condemned already,” we are told.
Well, we come to the Gospel. The Good News is that, in Christ—Christ died for our sins. He took the penalty upon Himself that we deserve because of our sin. By simply coming and trusting ourselves to Him, we receive His forgiveness. We bow humbly at the foot of the cross, receive His forgiveness, and call Him, “Lord,” and set out to serve Him. It’s a life-changing, total revolution in our lives. When we—the Good News is that we—
Dennis: It is.
Duane: —can discover forgiveness, and meaning, and purpose, and direction for our lives all because of this Gospel that we’ve been talking about. The Good News of Christ and Him crucified—that He was buried, He was raised from that grave, taken back to heaven. And because of His finished work, on our behalf and in our place, we can find new life—eternal life in serving Him.
That really is the Good News—that if people really understand their plight before a holy God, apart from Christ—the very thing you were just talking about—there could not be better news. It starts out with bad news; but thankfully, it doesn’t end with bad news. It ends with good news; and that is, the Good News that God loved us enough to send us His Son to die on our behalf—that we can have new life in Him.
Dennis: And no matter what you’ve done, He died for you to forgive your sins.
Dennis: And when He shows up in your life, and cleanses you, and declares you, “Not guilty,”—you’re exactly right—transformation occurs because where Jesus Christ shows up, He changes lives and gives purpose, adventure. He will enable you to be able to live as He designed you.
Bob: Yes. If our listeners are interested in looking more carefully at what it means to follow Jesus—to commit your life to Him and to become a Christian—you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. On the left side of the screen, where it says, “Resource Center,” open that tab. You’ll see a link to what says, “Two Ways to Live.” It’ll spelled out clearly what it means to be a follower of Christ and why God calls all of us to submit to Him, to follow Him, to obey Him, and to trust in His Son. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Look on the left side of the screen under “Resource Center” for the link that says, “Two Ways to Live”.
And while you’re on the website, you can find out more about Dr. Duane Litfin’s book, Word versus Deed. You can order directly from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order Word versus Deed. The number is 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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Now, I hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you join us back on Monday. Pastor Dave Stone is going to be here. We’re going to talk about raising kids to love the Lord and about raising selfless kids in a self-centered society. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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