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preaching article Niceness Is Not the Gospel

Niceness Is Not the Gospel

based on 17 ratings
Feb 20, 2013
Scripture: none
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When Gianna Jessen (an abortion survivor) spoke at our church recently, she said many memorable things. The one I’ve been thinking about most is to be a follower of Christ you need to be willing to be hated.

I agree.

Of course, this does NOT mean being hateful. Nor does it mean seeking to be hated. Or having a persecution complex, so you think people don’t like you because you’re following Christ, when they actually don’t like you because of how you’re acting.

I am all for graciousness, kindness and servant-hearted love as we speak the truth. I seek to practice this with the non-Christians I’m around. But at some point the greatest kindness we can offer them, coming out of a life of humility and faithfulness to Christ, is the good news about Jesus. That good news actually involves some very bad news about human sinfulness, which is what makes the cross an offense, meaning that it ticks people off.

The danger comes when we live in such fear of being mislabeled that we don’t step forward as unapologetic and unashamed all-out followers of Jesus. They can call us Jesus freaks or ignorant or uncool or intolerant or anything they want; that’s fine. We should do what we believe pleases our Lord, regardless of how it pans out in opinion polls. That includes loving others and giving radically and ministering to the down and out and addressing addictions and saying we think it’s wrong to kill children of all ages and helping people find alternatives. We do such things not seeking the approval of our culture, but of our King.

If we seek our culture’s approval, we’ll either never get it or get it only at the expense of failing to represent Christ. We are promised that if we “live godly lives in Christ Jesus” we “will suffer persecution.” If we’re not suffering persecution, at some level, then what does that suggest?

We should certainly be nice, and it’s sad when Christians aren’t. But it’s also sad when we imagine “niceness” has greater impact than it really does. Niceness is not the gospel. Some modern concepts of evangelism are little more than being nice to your neighbor and loaning him your hedge clipper and hoping that somehow he will come to Christ without you actually having to say the WORDS of the gospel, which would run the risk of him thinking you’re weird. Our good example is important, but it’s not sufficient. There are actual truths that must be grappled with in surrendering to Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-6). And these truths are expressed in words.

I’m all for audience analysis and understanding the perceptions of this generation and speaking in a way they can understand. But instead of letting the world set our agenda and the ground rules of what we can and can’t say, let’s ask the Lord how best to take the timeless message of the gospel to these people.

But — and I say this coming out of some of the conversations I’ve had with cool Christians — the answer is not altering the contents of the gospel to make it something everyone can easily agree with. If the gospel becomes nothing more than the reflection of a worldview they already have, it has nothing to offer them. It’s God’s gospel. Given the price He paid on the cross to offer it, He has the right to say difficult things such as Jesus is the only way to the Father and we are hell-bound without Him. That message is not popular and never will be. Our job isn’t to edit the message, but to deliver it.

Among some believers the new definition of a good Christian is holding your beliefs privately, not challenging those who publicly share beliefs that dishonor Christ, and avoiding controversy at all costs lest we be perceived as “those kind of Christians” who hate gays, oppose abortion, favor inquisitions and love to burn witches. We so much want the world to like us that we end up distancing ourselves from the historic Christian faith, from biblical doctrine (including hell) and from churches (because they’re all hypocrites except us). We end up making ourselves indistinguishable from the world, and therefore have nothing to offer the world.

Sometimes we assume the moral high ground by rolling our eyes at those street preachers, congratulating ourselves that we aren’t like that. Street preaching’s not my thing, but I can give you names of people who have come to Christ through street preaching. It’s more of a stretch to name those who’ve come to Christ through Christians who think it’s not cool to tell people the biblical truth that they need to repent of their sins (a synonym for evils; basically a big insult) and turn to Christ to be saved from hell.

It’s not our job to be popular. We are not contestants on American Idol. And we are not Christ’s speech writers or PR team, airbrushing Jesus so He has greater appeal to people who don’t want to hear what He said about sin and hell. He’s the King, He calls the shots; we’re just His ambassadors. So let’s represent the real Jesus, the whole Jesus, not just the culturally acceptable one.

There is nothing new or postmodern about the gospel turning some people off. That’s always been true, just as it’s always been true that some people are longing to hear it and will deeply appreciate the fact you had enough courage to tell them about Jesus.

As D. L. Moody said when someone criticized his approach to evangelism, “I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t do it.”

It is not gracious and kind to withhold the gospel from those who, according to Jesus, are going to hell without Him. Sometimes what we imagine to be our graciousness and kindness is actually indifference or cowardice.

“All men will hate you because of me.” Mark 13:13

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” John 15:18   

This article appeared in the Spring 2009 Eternal Perspectives and originally appeared on Randy Alcorn’s personal blog, January 28, 2009.



Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching biblical truth and drawing attention to the needy and how to help them. Before starting EPM in 1990, Alcorn for 13 years co-pastored Good Shepherd Community Church outside Gresham, Oregon. He has ministered in many countries, including China, and is a popular teacher and conference speaker. Randy is a best-selling author of over 30 books including Heaven, The Treasure Principle, and the 2002 Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home. 

Talk about it...

Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
Great article Randy!!!!
Lafern Cobb avatar
Lafern Cobb
0 days ago
"Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words." St. Francis .................
Keith Jackson avatar
Keith Jackson
0 days ago
LaFern, Two comments. 1) That quote so frequently attributed to St. Francis of Assisi...he didn't actually say that. 2) It's ALWAYS necessary to use words. That's the whole point of the article!
Leslye Haller avatar
Leslye Haller
0 days ago
Amen, Amen, and AMEN!!!!! Thank you for writing this article!
Leslye Haller avatar
Leslye Haller
0 days ago
Keith, I agree with you that we are indeed to spread the Good News with our words. But sometimes that's not possible, i.e. when we're in a crowd and/or standing in line, etc. And when that's not possible, we should let our actions speak for our words.
David Buffaloe avatar
David Buffaloe
0 days ago
The Gospel is based in words and shown in actions. Great article!
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
We are saved by THE WORD OF GOD, not actions! Romans 10:14-17. Just watching someone live a moral life will never save them. They need to understand the gospel. The death, burial, and resurrection, and then receive it. Without words there is no salvation.
Mark Baker avatar
Mark Baker
0 days ago
But... but ... we need to make people like Jesus ... you know... "they like Jesus but don't the church" ... so we can't make any judgments ... because that would push people away ...
George Bush avatar
George Bush
0 days ago
Being new to your web site I have a question, How do you define "Gospel"? I see the letters of Paul and the books of the New Testament as doorways into the thoughts of Jesus followers, not the Word of Jesus. The Gospel gives us an historically accepted view of Jesus and not just the thoughts of others, no matter how inspired. We owe the word of Christ the respect to look at it in it's whole and not just picking a verse that suits our needs.
John Mitchell avatar
John Mitchell
0 days ago
To often we are not trying to get people to like Jesus or the gospel we are actually wanting them to like us. But due to the fickleness of mankind our duty is to please our God. Jesus wasn't worried about being liked. He had a purpose before His father, and so do we. We are encouraged to love through our actions not just words and to love those who hate us. This can only happen by God's grace flowing through us. Ours is a relationship in Christ to enjoy and a duty to share his good news with others in the hope that we can save some.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
@George, the gospel is found in the Word of God. 1 Cor. 15:1-4. The Bible says that in order to be saved one must understand that they are a sinner (something many people do not like to HEAR), Romans 3:10, 23. They need to HEAR that unless they repent they will perish in hell (another thing many don't like to Hear), Luke 13:3, 5; Romans 6:23. They need to HEAR that salvation is putting your faith in Jesus and what He did on the cross and not works (again, something many don't like to HEAR) Romans 4:1-5, Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:5. They need to call on Jesus for salvation because Jesus is the only way to be saved (many don't like to HEAR that either), John 14:6, Romans 10:9, 13. That is THE GOSPEL and unless one receives it, they will go to hell. And it isn't a social gospel which is another gospel and that sends people to hell (Talk about not wanting to HEAR that), Gal. 1:6-9. Hope that answers your question.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
@ George, and by the way I don't quite know what you mean by "I see the letters of Paul and the books of the New Testament as doorways into the thoughts of Jesus followers, not the Word of Jesus." Jesus IS THE WORD. John 1:1, 14.
Steven Leapley avatar
Steven Leapley
0 days ago
I agree with the article...and to some of the comments.....we need to remember that we are following Jesus...Jesus was different...most of us talk a good talk..... but do we walk the walk of Jesus..... Graciousness, niceness, being bold.....all that stuff sometimes feels like a fine line, and sometimes doesn't. @Keith...the point of the quote (regardless of who said it or it is attributed to) means as we all know actions speak louder than words..... but the REAL question when it comes to 'following Jesus' is are you TRULY following His example.... I ask you this question rhetorically....when was the last time you hung out with a drunk? When was the last time you talked to someone struggling with drugs or porn..when was the last time you ACTED like Jesus and loved someone in the gay community instead of judging them? Im not trying to get into any religio-political debates here, but the fact is quite clear..Jesus hung out with scum..didn't judge them...loved them and many of them shed their sinful lifestyles and followed Him...Isn't that the point of following Jesus...to walk In His Steps....to Rise Above the Level of Mediocrity... to show others more than Mere Christianity????
Zachary Bartels avatar
Zachary Bartels
0 days ago
YES!! More Randy Alcorn in this space, please! Great stuff...
Matt Krachunis avatar
Matt Krachunis
0 days ago
Great article Randy. I'm not arguing for arguments sake, but here's where I struggle- often times Christians are more passionate about being against homosexuality, abortion, fornication and the like, and not equally as passionate about sharing the Jesus Christ came to save sinners. I agree with you that the boldness and the WORDS need to be shared, but I think its the boldness of the truth that christ came to reconsile God to man. Not getting all amped up on these social issues. I'm pro bible, pro grace, pro Jesus. I'd just rather use my words to challenge the notion that people don't need a savior more than people shouldn't be smoking weed. I think it puts the cart before the horse.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
Niceness is not the Gospel. Agreed. Jesus was hated, and so shall we be. Agreed. But I think it is important to point out exactly WHO it was that hated Jesus, because I think that doesn't get enough attention. It was the powerful. The religious leaders, mostly, but secular ones as well. Those were the ones who hated Jesus the most, and who received most of his rebukes. On the other hand, Steven pointed out, it was the "sinners" who LOVED being with Jesus. The corrupt publicans. The prostitutes. The powerless. The ones on the margins of "respectable" Jewish society. So, maybe the bigger question is not, are we hated or not, but rather WHO are we hated by? The powerful? Or the marginal?
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
Just to make sure no one here misunderstands, no one is saying we shouldn't treat people with respect, no one is saying that we shouldn't live like Christ in front of them. But we don't know how many days we have left on this earth, I may die, they may die, the rapture could take place. We are not promised a tomorrow (Prov. 27:1, James 4:14-15). Therefore, just saying I'll live a good life in front of them and hopefully they ask me why I live this way doesn't cut it. They need to know WHY we LIVE the way we do. We need to share the Gospel FIRST, then live it out in front of them. They need to HEAR the WORD of GOD today, because tomorrow may be too late.
Glenn Hawkins avatar
Glenn Hawkins
0 days ago
Randy, spot on as far as I'm concerned. I think where many struggle is with the whole "God is love" vs. "God is holy" contrast. If we understood the essence of God is holy (holy, holy), and not love, love, love, then I think we'd have the right priorities. It is more than true that God is love, but it seems to me that we 21st century American Christians believe His essence is love. As I read Scripture, I read that God's name is holy, what the angels around the throne declare, continually is His holiness, and that He has called us to be holy, because as He says, "I am holy." On the other hand, it seems to me that love is much more what God gives and demonstrates, rather than part and parcel of who He is. When we see the essence of God is holiness, and that we are going to stand before our holy God one day, then we are in line with Paul's motivation to preach the gospel regardless of personal cost: "For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that we will receive in the body what we have done, whether good or bad. THEREFORE, knowing the Terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . ." It seems to me that things fall into place much more easily when we see God as He is (holy, holy, holy), and allow that vision to permeate our hearts, than begin with the love of God and try to use that as part and parcel of what motivates us in sharing the gospel. Finally, on the birthday of the church, in his Pentecost sermon, I find is curious that Peter didn't mention one word about the love of God. But he did hammer home the justice and holiness of God. And when he was done, God used the apostle to see 3000 come into the kingdom.
Matt Krachunis avatar
Matt Krachunis
0 days ago
Great article Randy. I'm not arguing for arguments sake, but here's where I struggle- often times Christians are more passionate about being against homosexuality, abortion, fornication and the like, and not equally as passionate about sharing the Jesus Christ came to save sinners. I agree with you that the boldness and the WORDS need to be shared, but I think its the boldness of the truth that christ came to reconsile God to man. Not getting all amped up on these social issues. I'm pro bible, pro grace, pro Jesus. I'd just rather use my words to challenge the notion that people don't need a savior more than people shouldn't be smoking weed. I think it puts the cart before the horse.
Matt Krachunis avatar
Matt Krachunis
0 days ago
Great article Randy. I'm not arguing for arguments sake, but here's where I struggle- often times Christians are more passionate about being against homosexuality, abortion, fornication and the like, and not equally as passionate about sharing the Jesus Christ came to save sinners. I agree with you that the boldness and the WORDS need to be shared, but I think its the boldness of the truth that christ came to reconsile God to man. Not getting all amped up on these social issues. I'm pro bible, pro grace, pro Jesus. I'd just rather use my words to challenge the notion that people don't need a savior more than people shouldn't be smoking weed. I think it puts the cart before the horse.
Hoyt Roberson avatar
Hoyt Roberson
0 days ago
The gist of the article is OK - we should be Christians and speak truth to others, while not being disagreeable. However, the Gospel message is not that people are sinful and are going to Hell - that is hardly good news. Except for those who were "blind" and arrogant, Jesus did not lecture folks or point out their faults. What he did was heal them; tell them that God wanted them back; and gave them object lessons. Sure we can tell people they're going to Hell; it might be a bit more good news if we were to call them to live the life they were made to live.
Lafern Cobb avatar
Lafern Cobb
0 days ago
Keith, two comments to you. Yes it is true that some argue that St. Francis never said that quote, but just as many agree and credit St. Francis with the quote. Since I wasn't alive when St. Francis was, I never heard him myself. But I side with those who say he did make that comment. Secondly, the quote wasn't meant to support this article, it was meant to show that words aren't as important as how we live. Have you not heard the quote "actions speak louder than words?" And no I don't know who said that except my Mother used it often. Our lives more than our words will lead not shove people to Jesus. I wish there was more niceness in the pulpit, there might be more people in our churches.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
LaFern, who said what really doesn't matter if the quotes are not biblical, neither quotes you give are. No one is saved if they do not realize they are a sinner, and the only way they will learn that is from the WORD of God, not by me or you or anyone else living a good life. Many people in many religions that are not Christian live good lives, but what they believe will send them to hell no matter how they live. Again, you can live a good life in front of someone but if they died without knowing why you lived it and who you lived it for they will go to hell. Let me give you a quote and I know whom said it, Paul, speaking for God says, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by THE WORD OF GOD." Faith does not come by someone seeing someone live a good life!
Charles Ingwe avatar
Charles Ingwe
0 days ago
Cardinal I trust as well is to find out how Christ hang out with say prostitutes. Was it in an embracing way of what they were doing? The danger I have noted in our time is exageration. Christ befriended to minister not just for the sake of hanging out. What must be discouraged is a message of condemnation whilst not forgeting that Christ did instruct us to dust off our feet when all avenues of convertion have been exhausted and one stays hard hearted. It is not hanging out without end even when some continue willingly to dispise the gospel. When the hanging out purpose is not well defined I am sure we end up being yoked up with sin which Paul disputes. As we teach grace I trust we do it the way the spirit leads us because at times we show love when we are supposed to rebuke and rebuke when we are supposed to show love.
Charles Ingwe avatar
Charles Ingwe
0 days ago
Cardinal I trust as well is to find out how Christ hang out with say prostitutes. Was it in an embracing way of what they were doing? The danger I have noted in our time is exageration. Christ befriended to minister not just for the sake of hanging out. What must be discouraged is a message of condemnation whilst not forgeting that Christ did instruct us to dust off our feet when all avenues of convertion have been exhausted and one stays hard hearted. It is not hanging out without end even when some continue willingly to dispise the gospel. When the hanging out purpose is not well defined I am sure we end up being yoked up with sin which Paul disputes. As we teach grace I trust we do it the way the spirit leads us because at times we show love when we are supposed to rebuke and rebuke when we are supposed to show love.
Joseph William Rhoads avatar
Joseph William Rhoads
0 days ago
To all regarding Francis of Assissi. No, he did not utter the words, "Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words." That is a distortion of what he actually said. Not enough space to give you the whole quote, but the jist is this. The Catholic church authorized who could preach. The men under Francis' direction were not yet ordained by the church to preach. He told them to use their deeds as their preaching until their received their orders allowing them to preach (that is, verbally) from the Church. And, even if, that pithy little quote was actually said by Francis. There's just one little problem. It isn't biblical. We are commanded to preach/share the gospel with words. See Romans 10. You may think actions speak better/louder than words, but Almighty God says words lets the lost hear the gospel, and they need to hear the gospel in order to believe. This does not negate the need for a life lived like Christ, however.
Leslye Haller avatar
Leslye Haller
0 days ago
Oh my goodness, I don't believe LaFern is saying that we should not spread the Gospel with our words. We so should. People need to know that just being a good person is not a ticket to heaven. However, if we spread the Gospel with our words, but do not live the Gospel with our actions, the world see us as hypocrites. Sometimes people who we have not yet had the opportunity to speak with will watch how Christians react to a situation. Those actions do speak louder than words that they may not yet be ready to hear and accept.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Glen, God is holy, AND God is love. Both are in Scripture, and I don't see on what basis you can rate one attribute as more important than the other. You can't just pick and choose which attribute of God is his "essence" based on what makes more sense to you or is easier for you to understand. We will achieve our right priorities only when BOTH attributes of God--his holiness and his love--as well as all his other attributes, are held TOGETHER, rather than pitted against each other in a false dichotomy.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Leslye, I think you're correct. This is another false dichotomy that is often brought up: words vs. deeds. And the answer, of course, is BOTH. That's how I interpret the quote. Who cares who said it?? The point is that there is a time to speak words, and the quote says that when that time comes, use words. And yet, even when we are not using words, our lives and deeds continue to preach. And our lives and deeds can either confirm our words, or subvert and undermine them. And that quote says that, as well. There is no reason to pit words against deeds. They are BOTH important and they both have their place.
Jerome Mcpherson avatar
Jerome Mcpherson
0 days ago
Hi Randy, I could not agree with you more. When I was a young convert I witnessed to anyone the closes to me. Whether it was on the bus, street, at the shop, school or at church and I saw the fruits of that. Gods Words are seeds and if we sow sparingly we shall reap sparingly. Many of the people I spoke to , I've only seen once and maybe I was their last opportunity to hear the Gospel so my time with them did not allow living the Gospel. The others that I saw more frequently could see me living the Gospel. The people that are having a problem with speaking the Word are those who are disobedient to the Word of God. Rom1:17 Faith cometh by hearing and hearing through the Word of God. To Lafern Cobb, my brother the Bible says go to the by ways and high ways and compel/shove them, if they don't want to come. Our old human nature and the devil doesn't want us to do what God wants us to do.

So, what did you think?


Thank you.