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What Luther Says

'Lifestyle Evangelism' (Or 'I Don't Need To Talk About Jesus!')

Please settle in and get comfortable.

I'll tell you upfront that this will be a LONG one today, but I'm only trying to think of the Christian who is going through what I've been going through lately and how a post like this might be helpful to them. I pray that it is and that God is glorified in the process.

We'll begin with a video. This is an excellent 3-minute video that debunks the common misconception that "Lifestyle Evangelism" (or this idea that "I Don't Need To Talk About Jesus Because My Lifestyle Is My Witness For Christ!") is just as effective -- if not more so -- than actually confessing the truth and proclaiming the Gospel with someone in the manner God expects us to and like we're expected to in our various vocations.

Before we address the content found in the above video, I want to reference a related conversation I had on my Facebook page.

For those who missed it, a lively debate erupted on my Facebook page over the past few days in response to a quote by a Lutheran Pastor who wrote something for his local paper that had something to say about this very same subject.

I recently saw a picture that somebody had posted on Facebook that bore the words: "Live A Life That Jesus Will Be Proud Of." That would be a nice sentiment -- if only it were possible. But the reality is -- I can't. It's just not possible. I, like everybody else, have a problem with this thing called sin. It has been our problem since we were conceived and it will be our problem until the day we die (Romans 6:23). And the issue with a sentence like the one above is that it focuses me on everything I need to do in order to impress Jesus.

But here's the rub -- because of our sinful nature -- that is simply impossible! That statement is a statement of Law; it is concerned with what I must do to please God. And that is just something I am unable to do. And quite frankly, if I really examined my life against those words of "wisdom," I would be left in despair! How can we fix this statement? How about: "Christ Lived A Life For Me That God Is Proud Of." That right there is genuine, 100-proof, unfiltered Gospel! It takes the focus off of my efforts that, even at their very best, are still tainted with sin (Isaiah 64:6), and instead zeroes in on what Christ has done for me -- lived perfectly according to the Law, sacrificed Himself on the cross for me, died for me, and rose again on the third day for me!

And the wonderful byproduct of looking at things in this way, is that now, when I go about living my life, (attempting to do what is right and quite often finding my efforts never quite matching up like they should), instead of despairing that I am not making Jesus proud, I can rejoice because I simply ask for forgiveness and receive it through the grace and mercy of Christ's death on the cross!

*- Pastor Sean McCoy

That prompted a discussion about our "good works" and attempts to "strive to please God" -- whether we should be conscious of both and whether either is even possible according to the Bible.

In addition, there was some real animosity that the good Pastor would take a seemingly "innocuous" statement like that and turn it into an occasion to mention Justification and to preach the Gospel.

It was bizarre to watch the comments come in one after another that repeatedly were so seemingly annoyed and upset that a Pastor would use a statement like that as an opportunity to write about the Doctrine of Justification (We Are Saved By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, In Christ Alone) and to preach the Gospel even if those who object truly feel he "hijacked" the original and "innocent" statement or used what they believe to be an unfair "tactic" to do so.

To put it another way, there was a not-so-veiled attempt to offer commentary that the Christian life should be about "Deeds Not Creeds!" since "Doctrine Divides!" and shouldn't be our primary focus as believers.

Seriously, there was a real disdain for anyone who wanted to discuss "theological points" with others. Of course, you know how I feel about that (just work your way through our Archive).

I'm sorry, but this is what our shared and cherished faith is all about -- Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon the cross for you, for me, and for all mankind as He purchased our salvation with His own blood through His death and resurrection.

1 Corinthians 9:16 (ESV) For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

I mean, after all, isn't preaching on Justification what it's all about for Pastors?

Isn't that the most essential theological point that all Pastors like him should be concerned with confessing (and confessing accurately, clearly, and faithfully) to sinners in this fallen world above all else?

Shouldn't all Pastors strive to "please God" by preaching that Jesus plus nothing equals everything however and whenever they can?

Shouldn't all Pastors strive to "please God" by preaching Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind and how one receives God's gift of salvation?

Shouldn't all Pastors strive to "please God" by always pointing us back to Jesus' work upon the cross as often as possible?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

I even reached out to the source himself (Pastor Sean McCoy), connected with him on Facebook, and sent him a quick email. He was gracious enough to not only quickly glance at all the comments, but to also offer a brief response for clarification. In addition, he gave me permission to share the private email he sent back to me.

I briefly looked at what you meant as far as controversy...fun stuff. I try and stay away from these online discussions as they become runaway trains very quickly (as you no doubt have noticed!). If my quick glance caught anything it would be that there was a lot of focus on who is taking the 'live a life...' comment which way and turning it into something it isn't etc etc. Context is certainly king in these situations -- and if there was anything to add to the conversation, I would say that my article was written for a local small town newspaper that is almost 100% extreme-law-heavy Baptist/Pentecostals and the regular contributors to the faith column all put in things that are VERY heavy on the Law and its demands. So this was more a reaction to that. The merits of which way you want to take a Facebook picture (was it about justification/sanctification) are certainly worth debating, but it's also easy to lose sight of who this was initially targeted to: Christians who are routinely burdened by preaching that tells them they MUST be better, do better so God will be happy with them. Anywho -- maybe that will help in the discussion.

*- Pastor Sean McCoy

Good enough for me! Not only do I agree with his original statements, but I also agree 100% with these most recent ones.

Unfortunately, there were some who still had a tough time accepting any of it as they pushed back and demanded further clarification from me.

But how do you "clarify" what's already been said a gazillion different times in a bajillion different ways? (yes, I think I just made up my own two words! haha). How do you not waste time repeating yourself and why is the onus on someone like me when I even provided some links to a couple of appropriate articles by Pastor Todd Wilken on the topic and one of the individuals openly admitted that he has absolutely no desire to even take a look at them!?!

In all seriousness, it was just unfortunate to see some of these same dear brothers in Christ attempt to use 2 Timothy 2:14-15 and 2 Timothy 2:23-25 to justify their stance that we all shouldn't be debating such things as doctrine (as if a proper understanding of our justification is ever a waste of time).

"When the Word of God is preached, there will be faith created or hearts hardened, but it never does nothing."
*- Pastor Timothy Winterstein

Isaiah 55:11 (ESV) so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

I tried to patiently point out how Christ's righteousness and sacrifice on our behalf is glorified, lifted up, and made the center of our attention in what Pastor McCoy wrote rather than mere man and his potentially pious "good works" and asked where the harm is in that even if it was a "harmless, well-intentioned statement" that the good Pastor took and "misused" as a "tactic" to make the most important doctrinal point of them all.

Look, we shouldn't ever shy away from a pure confession of the faith or water down the Gospel in any way to make it more palatable or non-offensive to non-Christians or other Christians even.

Let's face it, the cross is offensive (Galatians 5:11)! Doctrine, or what we believe, does matter to Jesus, doesn't it? Sure, nowadays, and as previously mentioned, the prevailing wisdom is "Deeds Not Creeds!" but that's not Biblical. Others caution that "Doctrine Divides!" too.

Yes, doctrine may also divide...but then again that was always its intended purpose since Jesus Himself said "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34-39; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19; Galatians 1:6-10; Jude 1:3).

So, while I will certainly concede that Christians should strive to live lives that are "pleasing to God" by striving to carrying out their vocations and striving to love one another and their neighbors (and that the Scriptures say that that's a noble pursuit and even possible to varying degrees as it relates to our Sanctification by His grace and power alone and not our own), I must continue to steadfastly disagree that that there is anything "wrong" when it comes to this Pastor's approach and desire to emphasize the Doctrine of Justification (a.k.a. "How One Receives Salvation From Their Sins") over and above the Doctrine of Sanctification (a.k.a. "How One Is Able To Live A Christian Life After Receiving Salvation").

I will always view the former as being greater than the latter and believe it should be what we talk about and write about more than anything else.

I guess I just have a tough time accepting that other Christians will see it as a "turn off" or that it will "drive people away" whenever we make persistent attempts to want to talk about Jesus and the cross when that's the fundamental tenet of our faith; the focal point we should be rallying around.

Not that it can't happen (it definitely does and will!), but that it shouldn't happen, because that response wouldn't be at all pleasing to God.

Good thing His grace is enough to cover that sin too, because He knows that I've fallen short many times by not loving Him by giving a pure confession of my faith, or by not loving my neighbor as I should.

But I repent, am renewed by eating His body and blood and hearing His Word each week, and strive again to live a life that's pleasing to Him once more. Thank goodness Jesus already lived a perfect life in righteousness so I don't have to!

Yes, strive to live a godly life, but understand that you're only able to do that by His grace alone, and not when you focus on yourself and what you can do for Him. Yes, let others witness that daily (the good, the bad, and the ugly), but do be ready to tell others about the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 4:2), or about the only doctrine that matters the most.

This disturbing trend in our local churches lately and this notion that "Loving Your Neighbor" means you NEVER tell them about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ let alone preach Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind is absurd!

My dear friends, what good is it if I "Love My Neighbor" by merely clothing them and feeding them? What good is it if I "Love My Neighbor" by modeling for them what I'm told is the type of "Christian Lifestyle" that I and they should always want to aspire to? What good is any of it?

Without giving them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all I'm doing is burdening others (including myself) with the Law and really just "Loving My Neighbor" to Hell since they'll still go there even with a full belly, warm clothes, and a warm-and-fuzzy feeling in their hearts.

Perhaps you've seen this famous quote making the rounds online that sort of ties in to all of this too...

I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, "Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so," or "Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!" But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . . And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god.

*- Phil Vischer, Creator of Veggie Tales

Pop Quiz: Are you loving or unloving?

After all, how "loving" is it really if you never verbally invite people to your church to hear the Word preached, or if you never verbally tell people why they need the Savior, Jesus Christ, especially if you say you believe that those who die without Christ are going to Hell?

That's the harsh reality, my dear friends. Doing "good works" for strangers "In The Name of Jesus" is an appropriate thing for Christians (despite what Isaiah 64:6 says because of other passages of the text like 1 Thessalonians 4:1-13 and the Epistle of James too), but we can't continue to believe that "good works" is synonymous with "evangelizing" others through our God-given vocations.

People do not hear the full Gospel of Jesus Christ simply by observing the way in which we live our lives in His holy name. The Gospel isn't heard and believed by osmosis.

You might want to check out our last podcast that looks at the "Doctrine of Vocation" as it applies to all of this so please do to help you prayerfully consider the points we're trying to make here today.

I apologize, because I know this is A VERY LONG POST already, but you'll be happy to know that Pastor McCoy was gracious enough to issue another respond within the last hour that should help to bring this to a close for us.

Very interesting discussion - good stuff! I have to apologize for not reading through everything as carefully as I should in this thread - but with Lent starting, I've got a full plate! The conversation may have reached a natural conclusion - if so - I don't intend to stir the pot - just a few last thoughts that came to me as I read through the discussion:

One of the most important things for a pastor (or any theologian, whether clergy or lay person) to ask when approached with a theological question is "why do you ask?" This is almost always crucial as to how one will respond: with Law or Gospel. The most clear example is this: a woman come to you asking if God will condemn her for having an abortion. How do you respond? It entirely depends on why she is asking! If she is considering having an abortion and she wants to hear somebody give her the all clear, then you wouldn't give her Gospel (Jesus forgives all sins), you would certainly deliver the Law that this is most indeed a terrible sin. If, however, she has recently had one and she is wracked with guilt and is despairing - the Law has already done its work, and she needs to hear the Gospel. God's Word comes to each of us in one of these two ways. I think the distinction between Law and Gospel may be of good use in here in regards to how this article speaks to people.

Now, of course, in a sermon, in which I'm speaking to my congregation, I would not just make a statement such as: "God is not pleased with your works." It is much more detailed. Certainly I could quote Isaiah and show how even our righteous deeds are but filthy rags before God - but if I were to do so, I would immediately move to how, as baptized Christians, Christ now works through us, and so our works are now good because it is He who works through us, etc etc etc. Unfortunately, the constraints of writing a 500 word article for the local paper prohibit me from getting too detailed. To be honest, I struggled greatly writing the article because I'm not a fan of soundbite Christianity. I'm not one gifted enough to articulate deep doctrine in a short space (if you couldn't notice already!) So it wasn't without some hesitation that I submitted that - knowing that it could ruffle some feathers. However, given the context of this small town - I felt those feathers could use some ruffling!

And my final comment would be more along the lines of how I preach these sorts of things - and this is obviously the Lutheran in me: but it boils down to "God doesn't need my good works, my neighbor does." So when it comes to the motivation of doing anything really - I honestly am not that worried about if I'm making Jesus proud. I'm constantly aware that my sin displeases Him greatly and, I can't help but sin. But I know that in God is pleased/proud of me only through His Son's sacrifice on the cross. I now live in Christ, and therefore am joined to Christ's great work, and I can now say that I am pleasing to God - but always through Christ. Now, when I go about doing those good works that God has set out for me to do before I was even born, I know I am doing them for my neighbor and His benefit - to be God's means of delivering their daily bread.

It's always a thorny discussion that veers into justification and sanctification. There is always nuance and depth that needs to be unearthed to help understand where people are coming from. Trust me - I know how difficult it can be! On the theological spectrum, I am more on the "my good deeds are filthy rags" side - greatly due to my personal journey. A member of my congregation is way on the other side of things with more of a "every time I do something good, Jesus smiles on me" attitude. We often will collide because, although we are both on the same foundation, we are coming from different places. Theology is a messy a affair sometimes, but that's because we are messy sinners I like to look at it that this is why God renamed Jacob to Israel - because the people of God struggle with Him, we wrestles with His Word and our sinful flesh. It's not easy because we all want to come out on top and be "right." And it's a wonderful thing that while we all struggle against and with each other in our ways of approaching these things, we can, at the end of the day, slap each other on the back - confess that we are all sinners - and rejoice together that God got it right for us and makes us right ins spite of ourselves

Good discussion - blessings to you all this Lenten season!

*- Pastor Sean McCoy


In a Lutheran layman's terms, yes, our "good works" are an important and a necessary part of a Christian life that is pleasing to God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-13), but just be careful that you're not communicating to others that it's WHAT THEY DO that makes them a Christian and "approved" in God's eyes.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that perhaps wouldn't be too big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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