June Woo | 16
We all know the saying, “Walk the talk.” But I think we can flip it around and say that we must talk the walk too. Actions are powerful, but so are the words that give context to those actions. For instance, giving your friend a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies without any explanation, is quite different from giving her the cookies alongside the explanation that you noticed that she was having a rough week and made cookies with her in mind. Though this is a minor example, words have the ability to create significance.
For most of my life, I tried to show others the love of Christ through the way I lived my life, rather than through words. Those around me knew that I was a Christian, and I hoped that they would connect the dots between this fact and my actions. This is not to say that all of my actions were loving and perfect; I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded. But, I do remember my friends asking me now and then how or why I was a certain way, and rather than pointing to the God who challenges and transforms me to become like him, I would give a vague answer of “I don’t know” or attribute it to my personality with “It’s just the way I am.”
Among Christians, it is easy to err on the side of not speaking of our faith in clear and direct terms. In fact, the famous saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words,” is representative of our desire to love others without sharing the reason or source of the love that we have. This is unsurprising considering that as Christians, we have the unfortunate reputation of being seen as hypocritical. With such a reputation, it is preferable to show love through actions rather than speak of love, fall short of it, and be considered hypocritical. However, this reputation of hypocrisy overlooks the imperfectness of humans and diminishes the perfectness of God.
While we as Christians are imperfect, we serve a perfect God. When the focus is on our actions, we lose sight of this. Our failures are not a reflection of the God that we serve, but of our own sin and the ongoing process of being transformed to become like our creator. This is not to excuse mistakes and wrongdoings, but to realize that our brokenness is the very reason why we need God.
Granted, faith without works is dead (James 2:26), but works without faith is in vain because it is impossible to please God apart from faith (Hebrews 11:6). At their best, works are a representation of the faith that transforms us and propels us to act. Yet in truth, the Christian faith is not primarily about what we as Christians do and how we act, but it is about what God has done.
As such, proclaiming what God has done is integral to Christianity. In the New Testament, the word “gospel” is used in two ways, as a noun and as a verb. In its noun form, evangelion, the “gospel” means the message of “good news.” It is typically paired with the verb kerysso, which means, “to preach.” When used as a verb, evangelizo, the “gospel” refers to the action of “preaching good news.” Both in its noun and verb forms, “the gospel” is inseparable from the act of preaching or proclaiming. In fact, when the apostle Paul writes to a church in Rome, he says, “‘[E]veryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:13). He then goes on to ask, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). The gospel necessitates speech.
What, then, is the good news of which we speak? Proclaiming the good news means to communicate or relay the justice of God. Jesus himself came to “proclaim justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). When we think of “justice,” we often think of just us, as victims of injustice. But we are all perpetrators of an injustice of cosmic proportions, because we have wronged and spurned a perfect, holy, and benevolent God. Our disobedience to God is a sin deserving of eternal punishment, as a crime against the all-powerful and almighty God is one that deserves the most severe sentence. Yet in his generosity, God provided a way to enact righteous judgment and thereby establish justice, while simultaneously absolving us from the punishment of death. The recognition of this fact requires humility and repentance. As the prophet Micah declares, “I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication” (7:9).
It would be unjust for a just God to simply overlook sin. But God satisfied his justice through the death of his son, Jesus Christ. Jesus became the propitiation for our sins, receiving the judgment that we deserved and dying on our behalf. It is through him that we are made righteous: “[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). God’s grace never undermines his justice. God is both the creator and the bearer of justice, and he himself is just.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, we too are made righteous and just. A culture that does not acknowledge the accountability that we have to God ignores both the root cause of injustice and the solution, as it is our disobedience to God that leads to injustice and our reconciliation to God that results in righteousness. “[I]n Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20a).
As bearers of this message of reconciliation, we are called to speak. It is when we are reconciled with God, that we can be reconciled with others. The first step in being reconciled with others is proclaiming: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthans 5:20b). The works that follow alongside this proclamation are an effect of our own reconciliation with God. Jesus himself came “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). When we ourselves are reconciled to God, and when we call others to reconciliation, we are taking part in the justice of God, which naturally results in an outpour of love for our neighbors (Mark 12:31).
June Woo, Bowdoin Class of 2016. English, Bowdoin Teacher Scholar. Seattle WA.
On her second grade report card, June’s teacher wrote, “Needs to speak more.”