In America, it often seems like Christians are divided on how to define the gospel. In evangelical circles, leaders tend to express the central gospel message (in content) but may neglect to apply this message to the social turmoil surrounding them (in context). On the other hand, those in mainline Christianity tend to see the church’s mission as mobilizing social action to alleviate injustice, representing the Kingdom of God, and loving our neighbors—but may seemingly forsake the message of Christ’s atoning work.
However, in defining the Gospel, if we choose one emphasis over the other, we miss the full gospel. Our behavior as Christians is an outward expression of what we believe, and what we believe should trace back to the words of King Jesus. Our lifestyle should line up under Jesus’ lordship, both socially and spiritually. Jesus tells His disciples to “make disciples of all nations” and “[teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). And so, in our Kingdom ethnicity, the social and spiritual commands of Jesus should inform everything we do.
In His teachings, Jesus gives His followers commands that are to be obeyed in real time through our lips and our lifestyle. Here are a few examples of the social commands of Jesus:
- Practice human flourishing. (Matthew 5:3-12)
- Let your light shine. (Matthew 5:14-16)
- Proclaim God’s law and Jesus’ fulfillment of the law. (Matthew 5:17)
- Reconcile your strained relationships. (Matthew 5:23-25)
- Stop lusting. (Matthew 5:27-28)
- Stop lying. (Matthew 5:37)
- Serve your oppressor. (Matthew 5:38-42)
- Love your enemies. (Matthew 5:44-46)
- Be perfect. (Matthew 5:46-48)
- Seek God’s Kingdom first. (Matthew 6:19-21)
- Do not judge wrongfully, but make discerning decisions. (Matthew 7:1-3)
- Live the Golden Rule. (Matthew 7:12)
- Walk the narrow and unpopular path. (Matthew 7:13-14)
- Protect and value children. (Matthew 18:10)
- Confront sinning Christians and restore them in love. (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Honor marriage as God defines it. (Matthew 19:4-6)
- Always serve the poor. (Luke 14:12-14)
- Pay your taxes. (Matthew 22:19-21)
- Make disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20)
In addition to these social commands, Jesus calls us to obey His spiritual commands:
- Repent. (Matthew 4:17)
- Follow Jesus only. (Matthew 4:19)
- Store up treasures that are eternal. (Matthew 6:19-21)
- Never stop praying. (Matthew 7:7-8)
- Know and listen to God’s voice. (Matthew 11:15)
- Love God and your neighbors holistically. (Matthew 22:37-40)
- Become born again. (John 3:3-8)
- Keep His commandments. (John 14:15)
As Jesus’s people, we don’t separate the spiritual commands from their social impact. We represent Jesus to the world. When we make these social and spiritual commands of Jesus the framework of our lifestyles, we show the distinction between God’s people and the people of the world. In Luke 24:46-49, Jesus said that His suffering, death, and resurrection occurred so that His followers could proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to every ethnicity. His followers were to begin in Jerusalem, where they were geographically located, and they were to wait in that city until they were given power from on high. The power from the Holy Spirit would give them the boldness to make Jesus known in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and throughout the entire world (Acts 1:8). In fact, the church became mobile because of persecution (Acts 8).
Throughout Scripture, we see that God does not want His people to remain stuck in the false idea that this earth is their final home. God’s people are sojourners walking with God (Psalm 39:12), citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), sojourners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11), and strangers and exiles on the earth who are looking toward the heavenly City of God (Hebrews 11:13-16). These descriptions apply equally to Christians today. We must not let other factors distract us from our obedience to Christ. Our roles, our nationalities, our occupations, and our social status are not to be the crux of our identification. Instead, we cling only to the cross of Christ and identify ourselves with him.
Every broken soul who comes to Jesus feels His healing embrace and is welcomed into His Kingdom. The Kingdom of Jesus knows no geographic or political boundary. No human nation holds a monopoly on Jesus’ Kingdom. Every Christian, no matter where they live on the globe, is part of the one people of God.
Every Kingdom citizen recognizes that our primary citizenship is in heaven. Christians , regardless of where they reside, must be like the fathers and mothers of our faith who lived in exile with hope, knowing there will come a day when we will enter God’s City. The primary document that should shape the beliefs and lifestyle of every Christian is the Bible, God’s Word. The ruler and commander in chief of our lives is King Jesus. As we seek to make disciples of Christ and proclaim His Gospel, at home and abroad, we should commit to obeying all of His commands – both the ones that are focused on our own spiritual restoration and growth, and those that compel us to share the love we have received with our fellow image bearers in our communities, and around the world.