"This February 27th, join us and other Freedom Fighters from around the world as we SHINE A LIGHT ON SLAVERY. Draw a RED X on your hand. Tell your world that slavery still exists and YOU WON’T STAND FOR IT. Just use your influence any way you can to help us carry the message of FREEDOM so even more people know. Let’s make this SHINE A LIGHT ON SLAVERY DAY even brighter than ever."
This is the premise behind the End It Movement, a group dedicated to highlighting the reality of modern day slavery and the need for our world leaders to wake up to an issue that is largely being ignored and needs to be shut down. Right now, 27 million men, women, and children around the world are trapped in slavery ranging anywhere from sex trafficking to forced labor. Because of that reality, I happily drew a red X on my hand and even sent my kids to school with X's on their hands. No, awareness alone is not enough to stop slavery, but without awareness the issue of slavery will never even be addressed.
The catalysts behind the End It Movement are Christians, men and women who believe that grace means more than just saying that "I'm saved." But if you look at the End It Movement website, there is no mention of Jesus or the gospel on it. Instead, you find a whole bunch of like-minded people and organizations who are united in their desire to see a gross injustice rectified. The End it Movement and others like it understand that the gospel is the undercurrent to every act of grace that there is. Grace is to be extended to the least of these in our world even if they choose not to respond to the gospel of Jesus or the gospel is not even uttered. You see, grace and action are not mutually exclusive; they are not separate entities.
Throughout the gospels we see Jesus in and out of towns and villages healing the sick, casting out demons, meeting real physical needs. We also read of Him proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (the gospel) in those same towns and villages. Sometimes we read a story of Jesus just teaching, while at other times we read of His incredible miracles of healing without there being any mention of His proclaiming the gospel. Now this doesn't mean that Jesus did not mix the two at every location, just that it is not always recorded that way.
Which brings us to a very important question: Is it okay to only preach the gospel but not physically help people?
If you are a Christian, that question probably seems pretty ludicrous to you. I mean, who actually thinks it's okay to preach to people but not help them in the midst of their needs at the same time? Who thinks like that? Christians, that's who, and we do it all the time.
We sit in worship services and learn about the needs of people around the world. Many of us gather in small groups to discuss gospel issues and the plight of the poor and needy inevitably comes to our minds. You drive down the road and see the man on the corner holding up a sign pleading for help. The national news shows yet another story of a country boiling with unrest under the strain from a godless dictator. Your heart aches for those in need and you hold out hope that those people in need would find help and most importantly would enter into a relationship with Jesus.
That's usually when you think to yourself, "I can't help everyone who has a need and no matter how vocal I become about social injustices, my solitary voice will rarely be heard by those who can actually enact change." Therefore, many of us throw our hands up and assume that here will be others who have more influence with the world's change-agents who can actually get the job done. We'll just wait for them to step up and do what we know they are capable of doing while we continue to go to church and study our Bibles together and remember to pray for those around the world who are struggling. Where is Bono when we need him?
Here's the problem with that line of thinking: Its completely un-Jesus-like. Jesus never separated grace from action because to Him they are not mutually exclusive. Grace is not about works - never has been, never will be - yet grace without works is hardly grace at all (James 2:14-26, "Faith without works is dead."). No, you probably can't change the world by yourself, but you can do something. So do it.
That leads us to another relevant question in our conversation: Is it okay to help people in need without preaching the gospel to them?
In order to address that question, let's highlight one example from Jesus' life in Mark's gospel. At the beginning of Mark 8 we know that Jesus has previously fed 5,000 people from just a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish, and now He and His disciples find themselves in a similar situation with a large hungry crowd in front of them (Mark 8:1-10). In this example, it does not say that Jesus had been teaching the crowd, although we assume He probably had been since the crowd had been with Him for three days. Instead, Jesus' focus is on their physical needs:
Jesus saw people in need and instantly His heart went out to them. He had to do something. And we are given no indication at all that the action of feeding these people in any way was conditional on whether or not they had sat down to hear a gospel presentation. The compassion that Jesus felt was born out of the reality of the grace of the gospel that He came to live out among us.I have compassion on the crowd, because they've already stayed with Me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home famished, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a long distance. (Mark 8:2-3)
It must be the same for us. Our desire to help others in need must be born from the reality of what grace has done in our lives and not whether we are able to successfully promote an agenda. Yes, it would be fantastic if every person that we helped would surrender his or her life to Christ; if every mission trip that we undertook to help those in poverty resulted in tremendous harvests for the kingdom of God; if this campaign to end slavery and human trafficking resulted in countless men and women falling in love with Jesus. Oh how I pray that his happens!
Yes, we must continue to preach the gospel to those in need because the gospel is ultimately the only thing that can satisfy. At the same time, let us seek to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and free the captives with all of our efforts, even if it means that we are not able to proclaim the gospel message as we would hope to do. We do so because our actions are driven by grace, the grace that has transformed us and given us hearts to love as Jesus loves, and because grace and action are not mutually exclusive. As we strive to be grace givers and grace livers, the power of God in and through our actions will not return void. Needs will be met. Hurts will be healed. And the gospel of grace will be proclaimed.