There’s an ongoing attempt to dissuade people from using the phrase “live the gospel,” (which sometimes is just an imprecise way of saying “live in accordance with the gospel,” and sometimes means something a bit different.) Those who object do so for a few reasons. One is the Lutheran view that wants to limit the word “gospel” strictly speaking to a message that is heard, a message about what is “done”. The Gospel can never be something lived in that case, it can only be a message heard, as the Law contains all imperatives of things we must do. Another kind of objection is similar, which directed at another casual phrase, commending that we “be Christ to people.” This is objected to because it is seen as undermining the unique role and activity of Christ (as particularly expressed in the good news about what Jesus has done for sinners).
I understand and appreciate the thrust of these objections, but I still think they minimize important threads of biblical teaching. And I also find that worthy people of the past have had no problem with those kinds of expressions (Spurgeon was one), so I wonder why these expressions are being framed as betrayals of the “pure simple true” message gospel of past ages.
Today I came across two quotes which portray the two phrases (though not in those precise forms) positively. The first, interestingly, is from Luther himself
I will therefore give myself as a a sort of Christ, to my neighbor, as Christ has given himself to me; and will do nothing this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbor since by faith I abound in all good things in Christ….so ought we freely to help our neighbor by our body and works, and each should become to the other a sort of Christ so that we may be mutually Christs, and that the same Christ may be in all of us; that is we may be truly Christians.
With the caveats that Luther says a “sort” of Christ, this is what I think is meant when we note that the way Christians act is in fact modeled and drawn from the very salvific acts that Christ performed for us. When we do good to our neighbor, as we should, we are not just doing it because its the right or appropriate thing for a redeemed and forgiven person to do in gratitude (do in accordance with the gospel) but because the work Jesus did in the gospel itself is a pattern that we are to replicate and emulate.
Tim Keller is the source of the second quote, from Prodigal God:
if the preaching of our ministers and the practices of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus has, then we must not be declaring the same message Jesus did [emphasis mine]
Keller links the practices of the parishioners to preaching as itself a kind of message. A kindness done by a Christian is not just an act done in conformity to the law: it’s an act that sends a kind of message to the person who receives the kindness. It’s a concrete form of communication that is itself help or good news to the person who receives it. It isn’t the ultimate good news of salvation in Jesus to be sure, but without it, the message of the good news proclaimed suffers and, I dare to suggest, may be insufficient on its own, because it is contradicted by the “mixed” message sent by say cruel or indifferent actions.
Some who use this “live the gospel” phrase may be missing something significant; that seems very clear when the “preach the Gospel always; use words if necessary” phrase is deployed as well. Words will always be necessary for actions to be understood as ‘gospel’ to the recipient. The cup of cold water given, must be given ‘in the name of a disciple’.
Our good actions towards neighbors will never atone for their sins or be regarded by God as so worthy that they can be imputed as good works to an unrighteous person who has nothing, but that doesn’t mean that they do not function as messages of their own of the kind of Good News of unmerited love in Jesus that the Gospel contains.