How do you perform deeds of mercy and keep a strong emphasis on proclaiming the gospel?
D.A. Carson offers one suggestion:
Ideally, the place to start is with ministers themselves who know what the gospel is and who are faithful to it in their preaching and teaching.
In our day and age, we get a lot more credit in the press if we work with a whole lot of people to overcome poverty or open a pantry. But if we preach the gospel and say that only in Christ can men and women be reconciled to God, then the popular press views us as right-wing bigots and narrow-minded fundamentalists and all the rest. So obviously there is social pressure on us to emphasize the first and not the latter.
I will not soon forget a Gospel Coalition member who said, “I’ll tell you how to fix the problem. Preach hell.”
We looked at him. This particular chap is known for his bluntness. We wondered: How does that answer the question? How do you preserve gospel faithfulness while doing deeds of social mercy? We knew this chap. He is into racial integration in his church. He is very concerned about these things. How do you keep those things from swamping the whole direction of the church?
So we asked him to explain. He said, “In the first instance, as long as you are still preaching the wrath of God against all rebellion and all sin, then you are preserving in your own mind and in the consciousness of believers in the church, that you are interested in the relief of suffering both in time and eternity. You start fudging on that corner and you lose that eternal dimension.”
Then he said, “At the practical level, as long as you are preaching hell and the way to escape hell through responding by the strength that God gives through the Spirit to the gospel, to what God has done in the person of his Son, in repentance and faith… As long as you are still preaching hell and the need to be saved from hell, then a lot of the broader, quasi-liberal social justice crowd don’t want anything to do with you. And that preserves you as well.”