What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17, ESV)
Today, I had the privilege to attend a meeting discussing ways in which the larger community of East Texas can prevent and combat the sexual trafficking and exploitation of children. A pretty heavy, difficult topic. One that is much more prevalent stateside than many are willing to admit. The meeting brought back to mind an issue that I have wrestled with for quite some time. The question that keeps tumbling around in my head is this: “Is the church ready for the gospel?”
Some of you may think that a curious question. “Of course the church is ready for the gospel! It exists because of the gospel!” That is not exactly what I mean. Is the church ready for the gospel in its full expression, i.e., what happens if the gospel begins to take root in unprecedented ways? It is the forgiveness of sins and redemption in Jesus that the church proclaims to the world. So, what happens if that actually happens? I will use a few examples to make my point.
What if the gospel took root against an issue like abortion? What if the 300,000+ babies that will likely be aborted in America next year weren’t? What if most of those kids’ parents chose both life and life for the child with someone else? Is the church prepared to support an additional 300,000+ lives with food, shelter, education, medical care, etc.? In our efforts to supply the gospel are we making provisions (in faith) for the success of the gospel?
What if the gospel took root in the sex-trade and trafficking world? Housing for the child prostitutes; jobs for the girls and boys of the trade; rehabilitation for the Johns and the pimps after incarceration…what if the gospel grabbed onto all of these people? Is the church preparing for a world full of both needs and risks?
I am afraid that when we do not plan and prepare for the challenges that await us at the success of the gospel, we are in essence behaving the way James described in chapter 2 of his epistle. “You are in Jesus now. You are saved now. Everything is fine now. Be on your way. Be fed, be warm, and have a nice day.” But that is not what the church is called to at all. The gospel begins with the message of justification, it continues through sanctification, and it reaches to glorification one day. And God, by his grace and wise providence, has empowered the church to be the pillar of this truth. God, through the Spirit and the Bride, says “Come.” And the coming is to a full life of transformation. Not just birth into the kingdom – what we call conversion. Rather, a life of growth, one that is undergirded and supported by the community of faith.
I do not have the answers to all of this, nor have I ventured to supply any here. I do know, however, that the church in its preaching of the gospel must also prepare for the gospel. Is my church ready for the gospel? Is yours? Is this even a part of the conversation? We may be preparing space in our buildings and sanctuaries, but are we preparing space in the real world for new converts? Is the gospel we are presenting full of hope on the front-end and confounded by hopelessness on the back-end? Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t do the initial work of the gospel without these preparations. However, it may be well past time for the church to stop being ill-prepared for the on-going effects of the gospel and to start planning and preparing for the continued work of the gospel. If the church isn’t ready for the gospel, shouldn’t it be?