Review: The Hole in Our Gospel

books

The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us?  The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the WorldThe Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What does it look like to live as a Christian?  Being a Christian means that we are assured of our salvation through nothing more than the atoning work of Christ on the cross, yet in the Bible we are challenged to live for Christ who died in our place.

The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? is a book by Richard Stearns who serves a the president of World Vision in which he tells his own story of being a Christian, but living a life that did not reflect his faith in terms of his acts of charity to others.  He points out passages in Scripture that show that the life of the Christian is different and that we should be producing fruits that are in line with that change.  Admittedly, in telling the story of his life as a Christian, Stearns acknowledges that he is not a theologian.  As I critique his book, keep in mind that while I appreciate his challenge I am not especially thrilled with how he comes to his conclusion.  Is there a hole in the gospel or is there a worm in our fruit?

I Want to Be a Sheep

I have to admit that I have been very conflicted about this acclaimed book.  While it indeed challenges us to live a life that is in line with how the Bible describes a Christian, Stearns confuses some of the ways that he presents those teachings.  One such example has to do with the following passage:

[The Final Judgment]

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 

 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)

In a world where nothing comes for free, it is no short matter to read this passage and draw a quick conclusion: the ones who were charitable were the ones that Jesus welcomed and he rejected those who were not.  Makes sense that we would get equal payment for equal work: we did something and we are rewarded by being known and welcomed by Christ.

However, this is not what the passage says.

Look back at what happens first: the sheep and goats are separated.  They are not assessed for what work they did or the lives that they saved or the people who they evangelized.  They are first separated by what kind of animal they are.  By no merit of their own, Christ knows the sheep but does not know the goats.  Look now at the last verses of the passage.  Is it not odd that the sheep, once told what they have done, are completely surprised that they did anything at all?  From the passage, nay from the entire testimony of Scripture, we must then conclude that it is not our works, but the grace of Christ that makes us his. 

Where Is the Hole?

Does the gospel of Jesus Christ have a hole?  Certainly not!  Indeed much is required of us to please God, but we cannot ever please God.  Scripture calls us “children of wrath” and teaches us that even when we want to do good we continue to sin (Romans 7).  What God requires, God provides.  All of the work of following the law (“fulfilling the law”) was done by Christ, on our behalf.  The glory of the gospel is that whatever we were required to do, Christ already did so we do not have to.

I agree with Stearns that when we are freed by that atoning work of Christ, we are thus free to do what God wants us to do.  However, because the weight of requirement is gone we do not have to do what we do perfectly.  We do not have to do everything, after all we still cannot. 

If there is a hole, it is that assessment of a Christian’s fruit.  In a recent sermon, Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, pointed out that we are saved by grace alone, but grace is never alone.  When the grace of God permeates the life of a sinner, the aroma of that grace spills out into every area of one’s life.  When we are changed by grace we cannot help but live differently. 

What Stearns is rightly reacting against is what the book of Hebrews calls “neglecting the gospel.”  As we live our lives in light of grace, we easily come to forget the power that grace has had in our lives.  It is easy to take the love of God for granted and begin to think that our merit is what saves us rather than the undeserved grace of God.  Yet, when we see ourselves in the mirror of God’s law, feel the despair of continuing to fail to meet his high standard, the gospel comes shining through as the only hope we have of a life together with God.  And it is in the light of such glory that we cannot think, but to find ways to celebrate and honor God for his everlasting love and grace to us.

Jerry Bridges encourages us to preach the gospel to ourselves, to one another, daily.  Perhaps if we continue to abide in Christ and in the light of his grace we will produce beautiful, healthy, and nourishing fruit.

Buy the book at amazon.com
Audio version at christianaudio.com

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

5 responses to “Review: The Hole in Our Gospel

  • Scott Johnson

    Great post Aaron! What you discussed also reminded me of the passages in James Chapter 2. Our fruits or works are the supernatural outflow of God’s grace working mightily in us.

    thanks for sharing!

  • Tiffany

    Can I be contrary? 🙂 I don’t think the scripture necessarily implies that the reason the “goats and sheep” are split is because of their salvation. “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry…” “For” typically can be used interchangeably with “because”… I don’t know the original text to know if this was translated accurately, but it seems imply more “come… inherit… because” And if the because is to mean the visible fruit of an invisible change, then what about the 2nd part of that and those that don’t know Christ but have been “good”… fed the hungry, housed the homeless, etc?

  • Aaron Gardner

    But the point is that the division was made according to who we are in Christ, not what we do as a result. We are saved with no good works on our own part, it is all because of what Christ did for us on our behalf, right? I don’t think you mean to argue that we are saved according to our merit, like I am sure that Stearns is also not arguing that his work with World Vision is what saves him.

    As I said in the post, the fruit is the result of who we are in Christ. “We are saved by grace alone; but grace is never alone.” I know it is a fine line, because generally good works comes with a life change that comes with salvation. But it is essential to understand our faith to make that distinction, otherwise we risk making people think that God loves them because they are good enough.

  • Tiffany

    No, I definitely don’t mean to suggest that we are saved by what we do! I’m glad you know that wasn’t what I was trying to say. 🙂 That passage of scripture simply doesn’t work when taken out of context of the rest of the New Testament. When read alone, it could be interpreted to say that salvation is based solely on how you treat the hungry, homeless & inmates. I know plenty of people who are christians that are not involved in those particular ministries and I also know plenty of people who work in those areas but want nothing to do with God. I think God meant it not as specific behavior, but as a general attitude… more like “you saw those in need, and you reached out to them because My love lives in you…” and “you lived a self centered life. when you reached out, it was for selfish reasons because My love is not in you…” Although I believe those are specific visible examples of the inside change that comes from being saved by His grace alone, that’s not the only way we’re called to reach out and live out His love. I guess it’s the difference between the specific literal translation verses the… I don’t know what it’s called… the spirit of the passage?

    Do you believe it is possible to become a Christian and not have those good works follow?

  • Aaron Gardner

    To answer your question: No. That is what is meant in that quote “We are saved by grace alone; but grace is never alone.” If we abide in Christ then we will most certainly produce fruit. The glory of the gospel is that we are free from the demands of the law, are under no obligation to live a moral life, because of what Christ did for us.

    It is only when we fully grasp the weight and ugliness of our sin that we see how amazing and powerful the work of Christ really is. And in that light, who could help but want to please him?

    Tiffany, even if the passage is about our “general attitude” it is still something that we bring to the table. If we contribute to our salvation in anyway it puts the cross to shame and makes it not a work of grace, but it makes it a reward for who we are, not who Christ is. We are at the mercy of the cross, completely and fully, with nothing to offer. We are dead in our sin, and Christ’s sacrifice raises us to life. But even then it is the life that we have because we abide in him, and the work we do is Christ’s and not our own. So if we do have a different “general attitude” it is because we have been regenerated by the grace of God and that attitude is placed there by the Holy Spirit.

    So it still makes the passage about who we are in relationship to Christ, and nothing about what we bring to the table, that allows us to be known by him.

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