RPM, Volume 10, Number 52, December 21 to December 27 2008

Gospel Development

A Cross-Centered Vision for Global Change

By Bo White

The Grace Focus of Gospel Development

In recent years, community development has become not only another area of study on many college campuses, but a central theme in the wake of such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesian Tsunami. Of course, the principles of community development have been laid out often by men like John Perkins and women like Amy Sherman and Kit Danley that can be traced historically to giants like Amy Carmichael and William Carey. The concept is not new, neither is it necessarily Christian.

Buddhist teachings undergird development in Tibet, while Islamic teachings form the backbone of much development in the Middle East. Hindu principles still abound in India and secular humanists have all sorts of ideas as to how to remedy the social ills of Western Europe and North America.

In 1898, Abraham Kuyper delivered a series of lectures at Princeton that has had historic ripple effects. Kuyper's first lecture, entitled ‘Calvinism as a Life-System', suggested among other things that ‘an all embracing life system assails us,' in the modern world (we could add postmodern world as well). And to combat a life-system that is devoid of Biblical truth, Kuyper suggests that ‘a life-system of equally comprehensive and far-reaching power,' be taught and lived out by Christians. This life-system, though, ‘is not to be invented nor formulated by ourselves, but it is to be taken and applied as it presents itself in history." 1

Nancy Pearcey, in her book Total Truth, makes the point that:

every philosophy or ideology has to answer the same fundamental questions: 1) Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from? 2) Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering? 3) Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again? 2
Indeed, these questions seem to frame much of what we would call Christian Community Development. At some point, an organization, church, or individual will look at a particular community and ask: "Where did the problems begin?," followed closely by, "What are the core problems and social ills?" and ending with "How can we turn this community around?"

I want to suggest though, that the primary theme of the Bible is not simply to be an exercise of the mind (though this is important and implicit in confessing Christ). The apostles and those who converted to the Way (John 14:6) knew very well that to trust in Jesus was to think differently and unlike many in western culture, these people knew that conversion cost something. The primary theme of the Bible points not to a system of thought, but a person and not to a philosophy, but to the Cross. I would dare say that the grace of God is the single most distinguishing mark of Christianity and I believe it is the extravagant grace of God that should be the mark of development work. So, I would like to offer the term "gospel development," 3 not as a trendy marketing tool, but out of a deep conviction that the only thing that will produce sustainable change in any community is an understanding of and response to the grace of God found in the person and work of Jesus the Christ.

When real human beings who really understand themselves as dead in sin, marred, flawed, and in need of forgiveness experience true release from bondage and the freedom found in faith alone through grace alone, then the extension of grace to others both physically and spiritually changes things. This extension of grace is not because they are trying to cure social ills per se, but because gospel men and women are compelled to love:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Cor. 5:14-15, ESV).
Before the apostle Paul discusses the reconciliation of all things in 2 Corinthians 5:16 and following, he first makes the point clearly that the focal point and motivation for such community development and transformation is Jesus. He tells us we no longer live only for ourselves because we have experienced grace and are "controlled," by His love. The goal then is not simply to impact the mind, but to engage and invigorate the heart as well, so that people would love differently. Instead of selfishness, there is self-sacrifice. Instead of self-preservation, there is self-denial. Jesus preached a message of repentance, coming to the world in "grace and truth," (John 1-2) and he came to "serve, not be served," (Mark 10:45) and to give his life away for the many (Phil. 2; Mark 10). The model upon which Christians build their lives and subsequently their life-systems is that held together by grace, forgiveness, and deep love for sinful people. Unlike so many philosophical discussions, the gospel is not supposed to make perfect sense.

Gospel Development Brings Hope

In a world of terrorism, AIDS, famine, poverty, and war, it is almost ridiculous to hope. Yet, the gospel brings hope because the gospel brings grace. The "obvious need for mercy across all groups of people is sometimes hidden from view. True hope for mercy is also our real need. When the hope for mercy disappears, our vitality for life goes with it. Hope drives community." 4 We must remember the scripture reiterates that "hope does not disappoint," (1 Cor. 13), because it is rooted in certain faith (Heb. 11-12) and authentic love (1 John 3:18).

Without a focus on grace, what hope is there for humanity? If the focus of our work is to get people to think correctly, we are doomed to failure. The church itself on earth is fractured and broken into fragments precisely because people think differently about various doctrinal issues. So, to use Kuyper's phrase "life-system," do we mean that espoused by the Reformed camp, the Wesleyan camp, or the Emergent Church movement? Brian McLaren makes the compelling point in his Generous Orthodoxy that there are seven different teachings about Jesus that he has known. 5 If we are honest, we have heard various teachings of Jesus ourselves. This begs the question, as we do development work, which Jesus do we teach? Is it Jesus the preacher or Jesus the liberator? Is it Jesus the man who hung on a cross or Jesus the one who rose from the dead? 6 Is it Jesus, the one who came to save our sins, or Jesus, the one who will come to judge the world? Of course, this becomes rather confusing to those who have never heard of Jesus at all and even more confusing to those who wonder why we are making such theological distinctions.

This again, is why I would like to place the emphasis on the grace meted out at the cross and the grace that is imputed to those who believe.

Gospel Development Brings Honesty

At this point, people who have lived in urban areas longer than I and in poverty stricken nations longer than I may begin to wonder if I am serious. After all, community development practitioners understand that relocation brings identification and in order to truly understand the needs of a community, one must live in that community. I do not disagree. I simply want to say that we are all a community of sinners in need of grace and that Heaven (more on this later) will be made up not of rich and poor, but of a community of redeemed sinners who have experienced and grasped the grace of Christ. So, you and I and every other human being on planet earth share in the community known as "sinners," and in faith we also share in the community known as "saints."

Because I may be misinterpreted as being negative and rather old-fashioned for wanting to draw so much attention to the Cross, let me just point out a few notes about the Gospel narratives themselves and see if you will not at least appreciate where I am coming from:

First, in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus begins his longest discourse of any of the four narratives with these words, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,' or blessed are those in need of grace. In Luke's Gospel, there are more accounts of Jesus interacting with people outside of the Jewish community than in any other narrative. In other words, a case could be made that Luke is emphasizing Jesus' desire to extend grace beyond the Jews to Gentiles and beyond the upstanding Gentiles to the prostitutes and lepers.

Now, we come to Mark's Gospel where the flow of the narrative speeds up until we get to the cross, making the crucifixion not only the climax of the book, but the focal point of the book's message. In John's gospel, we get to the last week of the life of Jesus in chapter 12 and there is still nine chapters to go. Unmistakably the focus of the book of John is on that one week leading to the Cross while the first eleven chapters cover over three years in rapid succession. If we are honest, then, the emphasis in sheer word count and verbage is overwhelmingly devoted to the last days of the life of Jesus in the Gospels themselves. The apostle Paul picks this up in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 when he writes, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

Our work or view of reality is not necessarily a stumbling block, but the gospel of Christ is a giant obstacle to people. This may seem like I am splitting hairs (and perhaps I am), but I believe this honesty pushes us to clarity and clearly Scripture reveals to us the focus of our message of the Cross and the grace we experience in deliverance from bondage to sin. How is Paul able to sing in prison and rejoice in chains (see Philippians)? Paul sings because grace causes him to do so as he focuses on the humility of Jesus (Phil. 2), pressing on toward the goal (Phil. 3), because to die is gain (Phil. 1).

The focus of Scripture on the Cross, then, pushes us to focus our development work on the Cross. We let the Cross, as it framed the message of the Gospels and the preaching of the apostle Paul, frame the development work that we do. This means that our development work will be characterized by the things that characterize the Cross:

  • 1. Justice
  • 2. Mercy
  • 3. Grace
  • 4. The Defeat of Evil
  • 5. The Restoration and Reconciliation of Creation and Humanity
  • 6. Humility
  • 7. Sacrifice
Of course, the above list could grow. Sinclair Ferguson, in fact, puts it this way:
When we think of Christ dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God's love goes in order to win us back to himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son! We cannot measure such love by any other standard. He is saying to us: I love you this much….The wonder of all wonders is that God counted our trespasses against his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not pass them by; he punished them full in the person who "himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, (1 Peter 2:24).
The cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news for us. He has stood in our place before God's judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the Cross that we could never do ourselves.

However, God does something "to us" as well as "for us" through the Cross. He persuades us that He loves us…. "Welcoming God's grace must be accompanied by a willingness to welcome all its implications…." 7 The implications of God's grace are as wide and as deep as the love of Christ. >h4>Gospel Development Reveals God's Heart Perhaps, the most compelling reason to keep the focus of development work on the Cross rather than get mired in peripheral discussions is because the sacrifice of Jesus demonstrates the heart of God for people. We are commanded to love people, not ideas. We are to love our neighbor, not our intellect. This command or edict comes from the enthroned King, not an elected, democratic leader. We have no vote; we must love people.

The one who is seated on the throne is the Lamb (see Rev. 7) who was slain and once again the Cross of Jesus is center stage as even a glimpse into the throne room of heaven reveals a vision of grace as revealed in the Cross. "God's grace gifts don't just meet the physical needs that we have in this world—there is even a larger work going on. Through the reign of grace, God is reconciling men unto himself and to one another—all sin-created barriers are being broken down!" 8

Gospel development then is framed by the cross and for the purpose of revealing the past grace of God at the cross, the present grace of God found in the risen Christ and imputed righteousness to believers, and the future grace of Christ as all things are being made new. The re-creation of all things begins with the human heart and extends to reversing the curse on the land itself. I believe the thorns were placed on the head of Jesus not simply for pain, but it was as if the earth itself was also placed on the head of the Savior and the thorns that were produced by sin were turned into a twisted crown. At the empty tomb, even that twisted thorny crown would be cast aside as a symbolic statement that not only can mankind be restored by faith alone, but relief can come to the very earth on which we walk. Gospel development goes beyond sustainable communities, to eternal communion. Grace teaches us to say no to sin and no more to sin's reign on the whole earth. One day our physical and spiritual hungers will be completely and totally satisfied. Until then, creation will groan for deliverance and people will groan for release from bondage. All the while, God sings over His own (Zeph. 3) who have trusted in His grace.

Focusing on People in Gospel Development

John Perkins states that "economic development begins with developing people," 9 and with that, reminds us that the gospel is first for the redevelopment of people. Perkins goes on to say that "relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution," are essential to development work. Observant readers will note the comparisons to the work of Christ who relocated (Phil. 2), to provide reconciliation (Heb. 1-3; 10-12), the fruit of which is redistribution of fruit bearing people (Acts 1; Matt. 28; Gal. 5:22-24) as well as the redistribution of material possessions so needs are met (see Acts 2:42-47).

This is an informative starting point because the work of "community development," means very little without focusing on the redevelopment of people after the fall. At the end of God's creative work in Genesis 1-2, the declaration was made that all was good and that in particular, men and women, who were created in the image of God, were very good. The selfishness and rebellion of men and women quickly grieved God (see Gen. 6) so much so that if there was going to be any hope for humanity in the eternal sense, a way must be provided to conquer death and the domination of sin. At the Incarnation, all men and women were dead in their sin (see Eph. 1). So, we were not people who were broken and in need of fixing, but we were dead in need of a resurrection. We needed a new heart, a renewed mind, and by grace, through faith, we were reborn through the perfect life and work of the new Adam, namely Jesus. Those who have rejected Jesus, ignored his teachings, and preferred to live on their own merit and intellect, stand in a state of unbelief and condemnation (see John 3, Rom. 1:18).

Thus far, I have sought to put forth two points of focus. First, that all of God's work in human history culminates in the person and work of Jesus the Christ. Moreover, the distinguishing mark of the Christian life and anything connected to the word "Christian" must be grace. Good deeds do not set Christians apart and neither does feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating for the poor, gathering for worship, singing songs, raising money for those in need, responding to disasters, and the list goes on. Muslims can do charity work, so can Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. Secular Humanists can rally around political policy aimed at a better society, but only Christians can offer grace. Philip Yancey, in fact, writes that the reason "any person goes to church," is because they "hunger for grace." 10 The world is flooded with stories of "people starving for grace." 11 And those who have experienced grace recognize their own need of it, their own personal poverty, and their desire for forgiveness and release from the shallow love so often put forth in our daily lives. Again, Yancey speaks for many of us when he writes:

As I look back on my own pilgrimage, marked by wanderings, detours, and dead ends, I see now that what pulled me along was my search for grace. I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else. 12
The world is fallen, broken, and entire communities are filled with fractured lives that belong to spiritually dead people who are desperate to experience grace. This is reality and this is why social change labeled Christian, must have an intentional grace focus. It is the one thing everyone needs; the one thing the church can uniquely offer.

The second point I have tried to emphasize thus far is that God's development work in the world is focused on people. While the impact of changed people will have far reaching implications, focus remains on people and their needs. Since people caused the strife on the earth today, repentant people should, in theory, have a redemptive effect on the earth as well. There is hunger, poverty, war, and social injustice due to the hearts of people. If the hearts of people change, the world will change. If the church can be a place where people experience grace, the church will be a place where people extend grace. Change can happen and the world will never be the same.

Governments are not built to extend grace, therefore, public policy can only mend the world. Humanity that relies solely on government aid will die in unbelief. This is not to say that state assistance is bad, but let us be clear, without grace, the government can only offer filthy rags to a world already soaked in blood, sweat, and tears.

Amy Sherman reiterates this point when she writes:

The uncomfortable reality is that the Church needs to reform its welfare system for many of the same reasons the government had to change its system. Like the government, the Church has too often provided short-term Band-Aids (soup kitchens, used clothes, free groceries, and emergency cash) to families who need long-term, development-oriented assistance. Moreover, we have sometimes been bureaucratic and impersonal, preferring sterile or "clinical" outreach to humble, hands-on, face-to-face caring. Relief-oriented, "commodity-based" aid has its place, for example when a family loses its home to a fire or has a financial emergency due to unanticipated medical bills. What families struggling in persistent poverty most need, however, is our friendship, spiritual counsel, time, and love. Our outreach is sometimes a mile wide but only an inch deep. We do a multitude of good things-like distributing Thanksgiving food baskets or buying toys for needy kids at Christmas-but we fail to bring about permanent change. Government is not well equipped to provide time-intensive, personalized assistance, but churches can-and should. 13
The church must express love well, experience grace, and extend grace, but to do this will take time. This is difficult in a 21st century world where time seems to always be running out. So often, convenience is seen as a right or core value, but such entitlement fails when we compare it to the patient, kind, love described in Scripture that keeps no record of wrongs and is in no hurry (see 1 Cor. 13). God has the maddening patience of a master farmer who is never dismayed by days of dryness nor put off by weeks of saturating rains. While we may work diligently on a daily basis, we must live by faith that the fruit will come. But, God doesn't live by faith, God actually lives by His Sovereign plan. What we see so dimly, God sees with eternal clarity. God is building something organic, though, but it is not in the natural sense, rather it is in the supernatural sense. A Spirit filled group of people, whose foundation and cornerstone is Christ (see 1 Pet. 1-2), called the church, will make disciples of every nation, language, and tribe, who will set free the captives, reach out to the poor, and point to the risen Christ (see Isa. 61 and Luke 4). The evidence of the Holy Spirit's work and the evidence of the repentant human heart is found in an agricultural image and it's to this that we now turn.

The Fruit Focus of Gospel Development

If you were going to alleviate world hunger, where would you start? If you were going to eradicate poverty, eliminate malaria and AIDS, and battle social injustice, what is the first thing you would want to build? Would you build a clinic, a fundraising campaign, an efficient business, or would you build a water source? Would you create a program that brings together the most innovative technological advances or would you build a team of experts in their respective fields? Well, after praying in the desert for forty days (see Matt. 4), Jesus began his work by building personal relationships and then calling these people to repentance and faith.

The focus for global change is not on the work of man, but on the work of God. In other words, there remains a fruit focus in gospel development. In Galatians 5:22-24, we read that the "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Jesus, scolding the religious leaders of the day, taught them to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt. 3:8). We conclude then, that the fruit of the Spirit that Paul writes about is a direct result of a changed heart (Acts 9) that daily seeks repentance. In John 15:5, we read that people who experience grace and live by faith, can bear "much fruit, for apart from me (Jesus) you can do nothing."

Jesus himself ties together the grace focus and the people focus of gospel development and then ties both foci to the fruit focus in John 15:16, where we read:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
How will we change the world? We will do so by bearing abiding fruit that keeps with repentance and results in love for one another. This love is a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit and not only is this love sacrificial (John 15:13), but this love is physically seen in the laying down of our lives (1 John 3:16), the giving away of our possessions to those in need (1 John 3:17), our confession that Jesus is the son of God (1 John 4:15), our confidence in the coming judgment (1 John 4:17), our lack of fear (1 John 4:18), and our lack of hatred for the church and other Christians (1 John 4:20-21).

Gospel development will ultimately usher in the restoration of all things upon Christ's return and this is also seen when we see the fruit focus of creation. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve disregarded the instruction of God through the eating of forbidden fruit. The fruit that was so pleasing to the eye ruined everything that the eye could see. Through the finished work of Christ, though, we notice that there is not only a fruit focus at creation, a fruit focus at the fall of man, a fruit focus in the teachings of Jesus, our act of repentance, and the application of the Holy Spirit in our daily life, but we also see a fruit focus in the New Heaven and New Earth. In Revelation 22, we read,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Jesus does not focus on other parts of growth as extensively as he does the fruit. Only one type of soil will work for Jesus though others are described (Luke 8:4-8). However, Jesus does something rather rare in his teaching after describing the various types of soil present in the human heart. While other parables leave us pondering their meaning, Jesus explains in great detail what he means in regard to the various types of soil. We see that the soil of the human heart must respond to the proclamation of the word of God, the gospel of grace, otherwise there is no salvation (Luke 8:12), no foundation or root (Luke 8:13), and no maturity (Luke 8:14). When the human heart, though, responds to the gospel of grace, there are people who "bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15).

Quite possibly, the fruit that is in line with patience and repentance is the same fruit that builds sustainable relationships and communities. The patience is a reminder that we must wait on the Lord and seek to do his work in His way. The repentance is a reminder that we are not God, we are prone to wander and to error, and that we are hungry for grace. In bearing such fruit, we can now focus in on the truth and the lies that build up and tear down.

The Truth Focus of Gospel Development

Jesus came "full of grace and truth" (John 1). People are called to worship "in spirit and in truth" (John 4). Jesus himself declared that he was not only the way and the source of life, but he was the truth as well (John 14:6). So, there is a grace focus, a people focus, a fruit focus, and a truth focus to gospel development.

Truth, though is not life changing in and of itself. Romans 1:18 and following describes truth without a response to grace. People who have not repented (2 Tim. 2:24-26) and who do not act in faith, suppress the truth. Without bearing the fruit that is in line with repentance, we are left with something akin to the Pharisees, who memorized, taught, and could articulate true statements, but were completely lost.

Even one of the classic texts on transforming the mind, namely Romans 12:1-2, is dripping with a grace focus. "In view of God's mercy," the apostle Paul asks us to renew our minds. We do not renew our minds in any other way. If we lose sight of God's mercy or ever act as though we do not need God's mercy, then there is no possibility for our minds to be renewed and the truth to sink in. Having said that, the Bible is indeed transformative not only because it's God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) and perfect light for our path (Psa. 119), illuminating the truth of the prophets and of Jesus himself (1 Pet. 1:21 and Luke 24), but because the Bible is a book that is swimming in grace. Indeed, the Bible is trustworthy, but without grace, we would not know it or believe it.

Perhaps, another striking reason that truth cannot be separated at any time from God's mercy and grace is that Islam claims truth, Buddhists claim truth, and Jews claim to live by truth. Truth claims without a focus on the grace of God, the Cross of Christ, and/or in view of God's mercy, present something that is less than Christian or at worst something that is altogether false.

In Buddhist teachings, there are four noble truths. As you read them, ask yourself what is missing and what is positive about them? The following excerpts on Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths are taken from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso' recent book, How to Solve our Human Problems:

"In Sutra of The Four Noble Truths, Buddha says:
You should know sufferings.
You should abandon origins.
You should attain cessations.
You should practice the path.
These instructions are known as the ‘four noble truths'. They are called
‘noble truths' because they are superior and
non-deceptive instructions." 14
Islam puts forth not four noble truths, but five pillars (at least this is historic Sunni teaching. Some sects of Islam call for a sixth pillar, which is seen by some to be heretical). These have historically been as follows: 1) the belief in the oneness of God, the finality of the prophet Mohammad, 2) daily prayers, 3) giving to the poor, 4) fasting, particularly during Ramadan, and 5) a pilgrimage to Mecca. 15

So, if we simply took the truths laid forth by Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews, and if possible, selected the crucial statements, then we would have a list that would look something like the following:

  • 1. There is one God who created all things
  • 2. There is great suffering upon birth
  • 3. One prophet has the final say in revealed truth
  • 4. You should abandon origins and strive for something different
  • 5. You should pray daily
  • 6. You must give to the poor and those in need
  • 7. We should fast and be disciplined in obeying rules
  • 8. We should continue on this path with humility and in meditation
At first glance, in our pluralistic world, these truths may seem to have some synergy with the teachings of Jesus, but in view of God's mercy, there will be no sustainable fruit born in believing such things apart from the person and work of Jesus the Christ. Yet, not even most summaries of Christian truth are as noble as "giving to the poor" and "practicing daily prayer." Is truth important? Certainly, but primarily as it pertains to strengthening and informing our faith and helping us in extending grace or expressing love.

Martin Luther, who sparked what eventually became a worldwide Reformation in many respects, responded not to a truth claim, but to the Gospel of grace and specifically he was transformed through grasping Romans 1:16-17. The "gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes….the righteousness of God (not man) is revealed…the righteous shall live by faith." In his preface to his own commentary on Romans, Luther writes that "faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God's grace," and that the letter of Romans "is the purest Gospel," presentation ever written. With that said, let me tie a few thoughts together from Romans 1, that directly support our truth focus in gospel development.

Since we are prone to sin (Romans 3) and our hearts can deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9), we must not live the Christian life, nor seek to restore communities in any other way except through a "living, unshakeable confidence in God's grace," that bears fruit characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, marked by ongoing repentance and in view of God's mercy.

The Promise of Gospel Development

The vast majority of the world, though, lives on less than two dollars a day. Millions are dying of AIDS, malaria, and water borne diseases. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods claim thousands of lives every year and inner cities battle prostitution, crime, poverty, hunger, racism, and all kinds of social injustice. So, it's fine to focus on grace, people, fruit, and truth, but will anything ever get better? The answer is found in the promise of "gospel development."

Here, I will go no further than two select passages of Scripture. First, Hebrews 12:1-2, tells us that:

since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
We have already seen that the great truth we live by is that the just shall live, not by sight, or ingenuity, or by their intellect, but by faith. The promise from Hebrews 12 is that our faith, not our intellect, our ideas, or our problem solving skills will be perfected. The fruit borne by something the size of a mustard seed can and will be perfect faith in the finished work of Christ "plus nothing on our part." 16

Notice, though, again that in the context of discussing our perfected faith, we are reminded of "sin which clings,"and that the race set before us, if it is anything like the one set before Jesus, involves the need to " run with endurance," and to "endure the cross, despising the shame," looking to Jesus instead, who has conquered death and is enthroned on high.

It is this throne imagery that leads me to the second biblical text that reiterates the promise of gospel development:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said ‘write this down for these words are trustworthy and true" (Revelation 21:1-5).
In contemplating the majesty of the scene, we will also notice the completion of development work. God transforms the world. Then God reconciles all things: pain and sin and sorrow are gone. God redistributes creation (the former things have passed away). The vision of all of this is relational (husband and bride) and we are told that this will happen because "these words are true." And so "gospel development" is fulfilled as it is promised. By faith, through grace, everything will be made new.

Now, in light of all that God has said in Holy Scripture, after dozens of human agents, sixty-six books, and thousands of years, what is the last thing you would want someone to remember? What taste would you leave in the mouth of the reader? Well, look at it, the very last sentence of the entire Bible is this: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen."

Therefore, we conclude the same way we started, by focusing on the grace of the Lord Jesus. Gospel development can and will change the world. This will happen first and foremost by focusing on the grace of God, embodied in the life and love of Jesus. Then, gospel development will focus first on people, the fruit of which will change creation, communities, and entire countries. Gospel development will then equip people of faith with the truth, so that men and women, who live in daily repentance, may live in humility and trust. After all, the just shall live by faith. Finally, we trust that gospel development will be forever transformational, not because of the work of man, but because of the redemptive, restorative, work of God who never fails to keep His promises. This will become a reality, because the very Lamb who has extended grace to sinful people, is the one who sits on the throne and commands the wind and the waves. We will see the end of sorrow, sin, and suffering, but in gospel development, this will only happen by God's grace and through the gift of faith expressing itself in love. And this is ultimately, only seen in Christ's triumphant return.

Love that is born of the Spirit, meets physical and spiritual needs, and is alarmingly patient. Loves that lays down life because the God, who is love, will one day raise us up again; this is the love that is compels us to grateful, loving, sacrificial action because it's been soaked in grace. Great is the faithfulness of God; His mercies are new every morning.


1. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, Eerdman's, 1931, p. 11-12.

2. Nancy Pearcy, Total Truth, Crossway, 2005, p. 25.

3. Here I resonate with Kim Riddlebarger's assessment that "God has decreed that our involvement in this world and our prayers on its behalf really do make a difference in improving the course of events in the meantime, by restraining evil and promoting the good of our neighbor, and by serving as a means God uses to bring redemption in the midst of increasing evil. From our perspective, our involvement does change things….On a limited scale we can see injustice remedied, the homeless fed and clothed, and the rape of the earth undone while we await the Lord's return. Thus, there is a realistic appraisal of the world and the human condition, and a promise that our efforts do make a difference based upon the knowledge that our Lord will come back to set all things right," from Thy Kingdom Come, March/April 1992, Modern Reformation magazine, "Christ and Culture." Our efforts make a difference in and through Christ and by grace through faith in Christ alone. Gospel development, in this sense, may resonate with positive amil and post mil camps in humbly, but actively seeking the renewal of humanity and creation.

4. Scott Roley, God's Neighborhood, IVP, 2004, p.135.

5. Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, Zondervan, 2004, p. 43-67. while I do not agree with all of what McLaren writes, here I reference a discussion he encourages about the theological and practical implications inherent in our personal understanding of Jesus. What we believe about Jesus really does matter every day that we get up in the morning both practically and theologically. So, it is worth your own personal reflection in asking what your understanding of the Christ truly is?

6. All over Latin America, I witnessed first hand the struggle of people as they saw crucifixes hanging in the cathedrals and over the bedposts with Jesus still hanging on the cross. While I appreciate the centrality of the cross, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is alive and is not on a cross. The Jesus — through us — walking in their midst and meeting individual needs is the Christ of the Cross.

7. Sinclair Ferguson, Grow in Grace, Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, p.56-61.

8. Scotty Smith, Reign of Grace, Howard Publishing, 2003, p.281.

9. Quoted in "Models of Effective Compassion: Dr. John M. Perkins and the Three R's of Community Development," by Michael Barkey, Policy Analyst, Acton Institute,June 29, 2000 http://www.acton.org/ppolicy/comment/article.php?id=19. [Last Accessed March 3, 2008]

10. Philip Yancey: What's so Amazing About Grace? Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1997; p. 15.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid, p. 16.

13. Amy Sherman: "Rethinking Mercy," from Congregations, September/October 1997; http://www.hudsonfaithincommunities.org/v2/equip/publications/articles/RethinkingMercy.html [Last Accessed March 3, 2008].

14. http://www.meditateinlondon.org.uk/buddhism-the-four-noble-truths.php. [Last Accessed March 4, 2008]. The book mentioned in this reference, How to Solve Human Problems, by Kelsang Gyatso, can be found through Tharpa Publications, October 2004.

15. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Pillars_of_Islam [Last Accessed March 4, 2008]as well as, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/practices/fivepillars.shtml [Last Accessed March 4, 2008].

16. See Francis Schaeffer's True Spirituality and in particular chapters 1-4 for an exposition of this understanding of faith.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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