Every Thumb's Width

In the Flesh

My fork is in the (small) piece of the evangelical pie that cares about words. I mean we really care. We care about the truth and we work to understand the Bible accurately so that we can explain it faithfully. Words are powerful, yay, vital for eternal salvation and sanctification, so phrases and sentences are, you know, important and stuff.

A couple days ago Tim Challies shared a YouTube clip calling attention to “theological understanding and the theological precision in the way we speak.” The “video” (really, an audio-over-still-picture) is titled “You Cannot Live the Gospel” excerpted from a message by Voddie Baucham. He left no doubt about his position.

The gospel is news….We do not live the gospel. We cannot live the gospel. That’s foolishness. You don’t live news.

[The gospel] is news that happened yesterday. You can’t live it out.

Baucham either anticipated or figured from the response of the audience that not everyone liked what he was saying. He commented that it was probably because we hear the phrase “live out the gospel” so often that we’ve adopted the language. He was urging his hearers to be more precise.

You can live in light of the gospel. You can live because of the gospel. But you cannot live the gospel.

You have to use words to preach the gospel. Whether they are written words or spoken words, you have to use words. Why? Because the gospel is news!

I appreciate his point and agree. The gospel is the good news that Jesus suffered and died so that sinners who believe in Him could have eternal life. More precisely, believers are united with Christ in His death and also raised with Him in His resurrection. He is risen as He said! He lives! That means we who believe live too! This is really good news that we ought to proclaim.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t practice it as well. The apostle Paul lived it and I think he means for us to follow his example. He wrote to the Corinthians that he and his fellow ministers were:

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)

The gospel is news that Jesus died and rose again, giving His life for others. Paul lived it out day by day. The gospel ought to be stated with our mouths and demonstrated in our bodies: “in my body,” “manifested in our bodies,” “in our mortal flesh.” The living and dying we do isn’t just part of our personal discipleship to Jesus, it is also for the benefit of others: “death is at work in us, but life in you.” Paul wasn’t being sarcastic, he was saying that the life of dying to bring life to others is effective. That’s how the gospel works because that’s how God made the world to work.

Baucham objects to the idea of “living the gospel” because he believes that someone who claims to do so is offering a substitute gospel.

For me to think that I can live the gospel is to put myself in the place of Christ. That is blasphemy. “You don’t need the news about Jesus, just watch me.” (emphasis his)

That would be blasphemous to die in order to bring life to someone with no reference to Christ. But “we who live are always being given over to death,” in other words, we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) so show off Jesus, “so that the death of Jesus” and “the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (4:10). We don’t die and live in place of Jesus but as a picture of Jesus and “for Jesus’ sake” (4:11). This “carrying in the body the death of Jesus” is what shows “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (4:7).

Paul says a similarly disturbing thing in his letter to the Colossians.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, (Colossians 1:24)

The apostle’s work “for the sake of [Christ’s] body, that is, the church” included suffering “in [the] flesh.” Paul was not arguing that his suffering–his life of dying–was redemptive. It was, however, illustrative. He wasn’t a replacement for the gospel, he was a living representation of the gospel.

Baucham mocked the idea that someone could

turn on the television and there’s a bunch of people out there just sort of living their lives and you look at it and somehow you’re supposed to determine what the news is.

Yet doesn’t dying for someone else beg the question Why? “Why would you die like that?” Answer: because we’re imitating our Lord who died for us. We do indeed reenact the news on a daily basis.

Paul’s didn’t separate the practice of dying to bring life from his preaching about Christ’s death to bring life. He had a stewardship “to make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25), he did a lot of proclaiming and warning and teaching (Colossians 1:28). He didn’t “tamper with God’s word” (2 Corinthians 4:2), he proclaimed “Jesus Christ as Lord” (4:5), and he spoke because he believed (4:13).

But “this treasure” (verse 7), held in “jars of clay,” was a gospel ministry and not just a message. The only “speaking” in the the paragraph about the treasure (verses 7-12) was his life of suffering and living and dying.

If we want to have “theological precision in the way we speak,” and we should, then we need to read, and obey, all the words. After all, we are the “Word” people. We should also pay closer attention to the life of dying that the gospel requires and not only to crafting our sentences about the gospel. Propositions and persons, preaching and practicing the gospel are not contradictory or competing. They compliment each other. The gospel is news, yesterday’s news and today’s news, and it is a way of life.

I like Baucham. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve listened to some messages he’s preached, read a couple books he’s written, and watched a few interviews he’s given. I disagree with this limited three-minutes of talking because of 2Co4 and because Baucham does live out the gospel. He clearly is a man who takes responsibility for others, who gives his life to serve and suffer for them, and he does it all in Jesus’ name, following Jesus’ example. His dying brings life to many by God’s grace. That’s living the gospel.

Maybe part of the reason that our proclaiming isn’t used by God to shine “in…hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6) is because we think that our platform for proclaiming has nothing to do with the news. Does God need our lives as platforms for the good news? Of course not. Does God use our lives as illustrations of the good news? Of course so. I’d say, per the apostle Paul, we better live the good news that we say is so good.

Enjoying the Process

A Call to Gospel Ministry – Now

When I began pursuing a call to gospel ministry, and even as I started studying gospel theology and pastoral responsibility, I did not realize how much more was required than faithful proclamation of the gospel message on Sundays and at funerals. There are a thousand and one ways to get exegesis and theology wrong. The temptations for a preacher to compromise or remain silent are legion. But proclaiming the gospel with accuracy, boldness, and constancy is not as difficult as also ministering the gospel through dying, forgiving, and hoping.

Around and since my ordination, I’ve developed a few convictions about personal pastoral practice. A call to gospel ministry requires (at least) sacrificial service and suffering, reconciling and peace-making travail, and consuming, happy confidence in God’s promises.


A preacher’s work extends beyond the sacred desk (the pulpit) and beyond his study desk (in private). A preacher works with people, not merely at people or for people, and they often cause him pain. The preacher is called to model the gospel in a life of death.

Maybe some day I’ll write out posts for a few messages I taught from 2 Corinthians 4, but in summary, the privilege of gospel ministry includes slaving for others. Service is gospel work. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. Those who would lead like Jesus must be servants. So Paul said, “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

The privilege of gospel ministry also involves suffering. That, too, is gospel work. Jesus gave His life for us. Those who would lead like Jesus must also die. Paul said not only that he was brought to the breaking point over and over, but also that death was at work in him (which means that ministry is a dying life). He wrote:

[we are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

In Colossians 1:24 he wrote that “in [his] flesh” he was “filling up what [was] lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” Like Paul, a pastor’s death isn’t redemptive, but it is illustrative of Christ and the gospel. We proclaim a message of death and resurrection from a platform of dying.


A preacher doing the work of an evangelist preaches forgiveness. First and foremost he implores men, “be reconciled to God.” The gospel, Jesus’ substitutionary punishment taking, enables God to be righteous and forgive our unrighteousness. Vertical forgiveness restores relationship between God and repentant rebels. That is the powerful work of the gospel.

Horizontal forgiveness is secondary but it is not less relevant. In fact, because restored relationships between men and other men are only possible due to Christ’s work on the cross, we devalue the gospel to the degree that we don’t insist and work for sinners to be reconciled to each other. Pastors are called to preach, counsel, and mediate reconciliation. They must also model forgiveness.

We prove nothing about the value or power of the gospel if we only love those who follow our lead, who compliment our sermons, and who rewrite their mental theology as soon as we speak. We’re not in the wrong place if there are others who hurt us. We’re in a better place to show how fantastic forgiveness looks.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, all Christians are called to put on tender hearts like Christ, forgiving each other as Christ forgave us. Those called to gospel ministry work to equip others to practice forgiveness for the sake of Body unity. Practicing personal forgiveness builds the platform for preaching. Shepherds should be out on the Forgiveness Front as examples to the flock.


Preachers preach the “best” good news; none have a more hopeful message than those in the gospel ministry. And yet, it’s a short downhill slide into discouragement and pessimism. We see dead men everywhere. Many of the spiritually living men we’re around struggle with doubt and disobedience. We counsel broken people in broken relationships. We work against the flow in a fallen world and our efforts often appear futile. Plus, last week’s offering was low, again.

Thing is, the gospel doesn’t require good circumstances for its effect. In fact, the gospel presupposes problems, problems that are above every preacher’s pay grade. It is good news precisely because things are bad. The gospel makes alive! The gospel grows! The gospel sanctifies! The gospel heals! Because of the gospel promises, no ministry death is wasted. Fruit will be yielded in due season and our resurrection cannot be concealed. We can serve, suffer, die, and forgive with indulgence.

Yes, we’ll be burdened when we see sin in ourselves and in our flocks. Suffering is called suffering for a reason. But we have been born again to a living hope! Of all the things people observe of gospel ministers, humble and explosive hope should be obvious. It’s an area in which I’m working to make progress.

Throwing around the word “gospel” is ironically faddish. It has emerged as a cover for all kinds of “evangelical” activity. But we shouldn’t let those who don’t appreciate the call define the call. I’ll admit that my understanding was not then what it is now. The call to gospel ministry is much bigger and more comprehensive and costly and applicable than I realized. I anticipate it only intensifies from here, and I’m looking forward to it.