Romans 10:14-17 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? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
If you have spent any amount of time in a typical American Evangelical church, especially a seeker-sensitive mega church, you have undoubtedly heard the phrase (wrongly) attributed to St. Francis of Assissi which says, “Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words.” Despite the fact St. Francis never actually said this, I’m bewildered by how quickly Protestants have adopted and fashioned a (false) quote from a Catholic friar and preacher into a bludgeon to beat their evangelistic brothers and sisters in Christ over their collective heads.
Not only is the quote itself theologically flawed but, again, I’m absolutely bewildered that Protestants would so gleefully adopt something said to have been uttered by a leader in the theological cult known as Roman Catholicism. I suppose in the sinfully ecumenical Christian climate in which we live, I shouldn’t be surprised that biblically illiterate Christians don’t realize that Roman Catholics aren’t together with us when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A good Roman Catholic is not a Christian. An apostate Roman Catholic might be saved, depending on the nature of their apostasy. The scope of this article, however, does not include illustrating the anti-biblical nonsense of Rome, so let us move on.
A simple Google search unearths a plethora of articles both for and against this quote. Why then do I feel it necessary to write an article of my own? The answer is simple, I’ve noticed this faulty mindset creeping into my community and it needs to be snuffed out before it can do any more damage– and yes, it does damage the church. More on that later.
President emeritus of Wheaton College, Duane Litfin, writes, “It’s simply impossible to preach the gospel without words. The gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the gospel is inherently verbal behavior.”1 The Word of God allows one to speak with authority on such matters, hence the reason President Litfin writes so confidently regarding the only logical method of spreading the Gospel.
The Bible clearly explains how we are to share the Gospel in Romans 10:14-17. However, before we dive into those three verses, we want to make certain we always read in context. So, beginning in Romans 10:5-10, Paul begins to lay out the message of salvation to all. He writes:
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Paul makes it very clear that righteous standing before God on the basis of obedience to the law, requires perfect adherence in every minutiae– which is impossible for fallen man. He goes on to make the point that righteousness of faith does not require some trek through the universe to find Christ; we need not bring him down to Earth as God already sent him, nor should we think we must bring him up from the realm of the dead because God already raised him. What God requires is not superhuman works but faith in the Gospel Paul preaches and saving faith is not mere intellectual agreement but deep inward trust in Christ at the core of one’s being.2
Paul goes on to write in Romans 10:11-13:
11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
In verse 11, Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16 and not only demonstrates that salvation by grace through faith alone has always been God’s salvation plan, but that no one—including Gentiles—was ever to be excluded.3 Further, the word “shame” (καταισχύνω, kataischunō) here refers to the humiliation of those judged on the last day when they are cast into the lake of fire.
So, the Gospel proclaimed by Paul (righteousness by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his work on the cross) is available to all who call on His name. Further, saving faith consists of three elements: 1) mental: the mind understands the gospel and the truth about Christ (Romans 10:14–17); 2) emotional: one embraces the truthfulness of those facts with sorrow over sin and joy over God’s mercy and grace (Romans 6:17; 15:13); and 3) volitional: the sinner submits his will to Christ and trusts in Him alone as the only hope of salvation. Genuine faith will always produce authentic obedience (John 8:31; 14:23-24).4
With the definition of the true Gospel message clearly identified, Paul makes it clear that a clear presentation of said message must precede true saving faith. He begins with a series of rhetorical questions Romans 10:14-15:
14 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? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
True faith always has content– the Word of God! Salvation comes to those who hear and believe the facts of the Gospel.5
Also, verse 14 is linked to verse 13 with the word “call” (ἐπικαλέομαι, ĕpikalĕŏmai). So, again, the logic of these verses is clear: people will call on Jesus to save them only if they believe he can do so; belief in Christ cannot exist without knowledge about him; one hears about Christ only when someone proclaims the saving message; and the message about Christ will not be proclaimed unless someone is sent by God to do so. That is why Paul was so urgent about spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, for he believed that the only way to be saved was to hear and believe in the Gospel. Since salvation comes only from hearing the Gospel, the feet of those who bring the message about Christ are beautiful (Isa. 52:7), probably because the feet carry the messengers to their destinations.6
Sadly, as Paul goes on to point out in Romans 10:16, not all who hear the Gospel will be saved:
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
As we’ve determined, hearing the Gospel is absolutely necessary for salvation. However, hearing is not enough to save. One must then respond to the Gospel message with faith and trust in Christ. In v. 16, Paul quoted Isaiah who prophesied that not all who hear will believe. The broad principle here is that there are many sincere, “religious” people who are wrong in their beliefs because they’ve believed a lie– a false Gospel. Preaching the Word is not always easy. The message we are required to proclaim is often offensive. Christ Himself is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense;7 but preach it we must.
Paul sums up his point in Romans 10:17 when he writes:
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
In his summation, Paul succinctly makes his point that one can come to faith only through hearing (ἀκοή, akŏē) the Gospel, specifically the “word of Christ”, which is the good news of Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord and Savior.
With that Biblical foundation in place, the light of truth shines brightly on the utter foolishness of the quote, “Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words.” One cannot share the Gospel without preaching it, or using words. The Gospel is news. The word for Gospel, εὐαγγέλιον (ĕuaggĕliŏn), means announcement or news. You do not live the Gospel. We cannot live the Gospel, you don’t live news.
As Voddie Baucham rightly points out, “For me to say, ‘I’m going to live out the Gospel’ is like me saying, ‘I’m going to live out the front page story in the newspaper from yesterday.” That’s illogical nonsense. If someone were to approach you and say, “Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words”, you know immediately that person has no understanding of the Biblical Gospel message. No one who knows what the Gospel is would say such foolishness.
Whether the words are written or spoken, the bottom line is that in order to share the Gospel one must always use words. Again, Voddie Baucham makes the point, “Substitute the word ‘news’ for Gospel and say the quote again. ‘Give the news and, if necessary, use words.’ So, you turn on the television and all you see is a bunch of people living out there lives and you’re supposed to somehow determine what the news is.” Again, nonsense. You cannot live out the Gospel; you can live in light of the Gospel, you can live because of the Gospel, but you cannot live the Gospel.
In fact, the Gospel is news about what God has done in Jesus Christ. Pastor Baucham rightly points out, “For me to think I can live the Gospel is to put myself in the place of Christ. That’s blasphemy! You don’t need the news about Jesus, just watch me. Help you, if you can say that without having a desire to crawl up under your desk.”
So, aside from the obvious blasphemy, why is this such a big deal? It’s a big deal because it’s damaging the church, #AmericanEvangelicalism in particular. First and foremost, this anti-Biblical concept proliferates the idea that street evangelism is a bad thing and pushes people away. Sure, there are some street preachers and evangelists who only preach law and never give the Gospel message, but do not throw the baby out with the street preaching bath water. As President Litfin also rightly points out, “The gospel’s inherent power does not fluctuate with the strengths or weaknesses of its messengers.” There are many being the hands and feet of Christ and spreading the Gospel through street evangelism; which leads me to the next instance of faulty thinking damaging the church, friendship evangelism.
“Friendship Evangelism,” also known as “lifestyle evangelism,” “servant evangelism,” or “relational evangelism,” is a form of evangelism commonly practiced in present-day #AmericanEvangelicalism. The overarching principle in “friendship evangelism,” regardless of the methods employed, is to befriend an unsaved person with the hope of one day having the opportunity to share the Gospel with him or her.8 This is nonsensical. For an in-depth reason as to why this is not Biblical, I implore you to read Tony Miano’s article over at CARM.org. Sure, there are times when you may determine it wise and effective to befriend someone with hopes of them being more receptive to the Gospel message, but I’ve yet to run across a single person who quotes the St. Francis line who doesn’t say that street/cold evangelism is fine; to a man (or woman) they abhor it.
Pastor Mike Abendroth wisely remarks, “Friendship evangelism is a cloak used by some who are too frightened to open their mouths about the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.” If you’re offended by that statement, prayerfully check yourself.
Finally, “preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words” gives the faulty and damning impression that the growing “social gospel” movement is true biblical evangelism. This idea that Christians can merely go and serve the less fortunate, without ever presenting the Gospel to them, and call that evangelism is extremely dangerous. It’s truly wonderful to serve the less fortunate but if you’re not giving the Gospel to those you’re serving, then why are you doing it in the first place? Sadly, the answer usually lies somewhere between trying to earn favor with God through good works and simply wanting to do something that makes you feel good about yourself.
Considering what Paul teaches us in Romans 10, I submit to you that serving the less fortunate by only feeding and clothing them does nothing more than make them more temporally comfortable on their way to eternal conscious torment in hell. As we learned, if they do not hear and respond to the Gospel of our crucified and risen savior Jesus Christ, no amount of food or clothing will save them from the suffering to come.
Pastor Gabe Hughes makes a great point in his book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses and What They Really Mean when he writes, “To have the gospel and not share it? The message that has the power to save a person from death? How can we say we are in Christ if we keep it to ourselves? Any and every good deed that we do, any and every opportunity we are given to serve someone else, is an open door to share the Gospel—not by action, but by word.”
The American church is in the midst of a Biblical illiteracy crisis. People do not know their Bible and they do not have Pastors rightly teaching it to them. Therefore, nonsensical and anti-biblical statements like the one addressed in this article are able to take root in our church bodies and they slowly take over like a weed, choking out those who raise questions.
Preach the Gospel, brothers and sisters, and ALWAYS use words.
This article was originally published at Pulpit & Pen.
- Litfin, Duane. “Works and Words: Why You Can’t Preach the Gospel with Deeds.” ChristianityToday.com. 30 May 2012. Web. 7 May 2015. ↩
- Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2175). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. ↩
- MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., pp. 1712–1713). Nashville, TN: Word Pub. ↩
- MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1692). Nashville, TN: Word Pub. ↩
- MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1713). Nashville, TN: Word Pub. ↩
- Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2175). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. ↩
- MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Ashamed of the gospel: when the Church becomes like the world (p. 31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. ↩
- Miano, Tony. “What Is Friendship Evangelism?” CARM. Web. 7 May 2015. ↩