The Whole Gospel

I believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins.

I believe that we are saved by grace through faith.

I believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.

But… that’s not the WHOLE gospel. It’s the best part, but it’s not the whole thing.

The whole gospel is that God cares about the whole person. I’m pretty sure Rick McKinley was the first person I heard say it that way. Or it might have been one of the 2,103 verses in the bible that talk about the poor (financially), the oppressed, and the marginalized.

God cares that people don’t have clean, safe drinking water, about people who go hungry, about people who are homeless. He also cares that their souls are broken and thirsty, and in need of healing that I believe can only be found in Him. To be a pastor, you should probably care about both of those things too.

If I had to pick one of those two things as a priority, I’d pick the soul because it lasts forever. But, here’s my beef with that cropped gospel:

People need to live long enough to actually hear that part of the gospel.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can care about, and address both needs.

I write this because twice this week I’ve been questioned about the gospel by two pastors who used to know me pretty well. They asked if I prioritize the gospel enough.


I know that Jesus offers “living water”, but you’ll never swim in that lake if you’re a 5-year-old, malnourished African boy who drinks dirty water every day and suffers from dysentery. If you show up in that kid’s community with a tract about 4 steps and a cute bridge, they’re gonna say YES to your gospel (because they’re polite). But what they really need is a holistic, comprehensive plan for restoration. Not a ticket to heaven. Jesus offers both.

A “gospel” that doesn’t care about physical needs isn’t good news at all.

22 thoughts on “The Whole Gospel”

  1. So true! Have read and thought a ton about this stuff over the last few years. Some good articles and books out there arguing for a holistic gospel.

  2. Great point Ryan. I wonder how different the church would b viewed and the spoken gospel embraced if we were known for showing people our faith by our works of justice and mercy.
    James 2:17,18; Micah 6:8; Matthew 25:34-46 I’m pretty sure caring for the poor and oppressed makes Jesus smile.

  3. It’s official. Chris Gonzalez is an Acts 29 pastor, and he agrees with me. That seals the deal. If John Piper wasn’t on sabbatical he’d probably be tweeting this. Mark Driscoll’s probably at the gym right now working out, but when he gets home he’ll agree too. Maybe even Rob Bell. Uh oh…

  4. That last comment is enough to get a comment out of me, since I am the resident “Piper guy” at Mission. I agree with you. God is executing a plan to slowly bring His creation back to its rightful state, to shalom, where sin and death and disease and hunger and thirst are gone. His gospel is physical and Spiritual. Why He has invited His church to be the incarnation of Jesus, I do not know, but am truly grateful. To miss big parts of what it means to be the hands, feet, face, and eyes of Jesus by reducing His message and reducing His view of His own creation, is something that burdens me. I was raised to think that this place is all getting burned anyway, let’s get as many people saved and get out of here as quick as we can. A verbal “conversion” to Christianity by the unsaved has taken precedent over making sure that when they confess with their mouth and believe in their heart, that it is He as “Lord” they are accepting. Demonstrating that He is Lord over their hunger, their disease, and need for clean water helps us tremendously in our attempt to make “disciples” instead of “converts”. The only part I would add is that if they are elect (uh oh), God will still get to them before we do, in case disease gets to them before we do. Grateful my God saves even if I don’t go, but shame on me if I don’t.


  5. Preach it, brother!

    And, CJ, loved your “uh oh” about the elect. I’m right there with you, hanging out in the field of TULIP.



  6. CJ, you crack me up!

    So… God picked teams for heaven and hell long ago, and picked who gets food & water? Or he set the world in motion with enough grace and food and water and asked us to share?

    It’s questions like this that get you labeled. Don’t question the gray areas, people. Just believe. 😉

  7. Well put. A whole gospel is a holistic gospel, holy, not hole-y. I also believe that this is especially relevant here within our United States, that we have all sorts of marginalized people groups through one way or another, that we must tend to, because we as a church, haven’t done a very good job, even in our own backyards. Thanks be to God for his infinite grace for His body.

  8. I understand what you are saying, and I believe that one goes hand in hand with the other, separating the two is next to impossible. However, you paint a paradox, a, what came first the chicken or the egg. Is one more important than the other. Your story of the 5 year old is true, if the child dies before hearing the Gospel, then the Gospel is no good. But, from a different perspective, if you bring the water that will heal, (medicines, food, whatever) and still the child dies because his afflictions are to great, if no Gospel is heard by the child he not only dies physically but spiritually. Is the one child that dies worth the rest of the children that their afflictions are healed then later receives the Gospel? Not to Christ, the Shepherd will go and save the one, not even one can be lost.
    So it’s a paradox, if you choose the body’s ailments over the souls salvation, then you loose the soul, if you choose salvation over the body’s ailments you may loose also because the body fails and dies. However, one is a higher gamble than the other.

    Quote from Spurgeon:

    The famous naturalist, Buffon, had once a large number of the wise men of the 
Academy of France in his grounds. They were all philosophers; and you know what a 
philosopher is. If you do not know, you should meet one: and I do not think that your 
appreciation of the sect will be increased. However, these were all philosophers, great 
men walking in a great man’s gardens—all great together. In the grounds there was 
a glass globe, and when one of these profound philosophers touched this glass globe 
on the shady side, he found that it was very, very warm, while on the side that was 
exposed to the sun it was comparatively cool. Herein was a marvellous thing. He 
called his brother philosophers around him, and I picture them as they gave out their 
various theories why this glass globe was hotter on the side away from the sun than 
on the side which was bearing the full blaze of noonday. One had a theory of 
reflection, another of refraction, another of absorption: I cannot give you all their 
words, for they were wonderful words, and wonderful theories, and they discussed, 
and discussed, and discussed, till Buffon, not quite satisfied with the philosophical 
conclusions which they had reached, called the gardener, and said, “Gardener, can 
you tell me why this side of the globe, away from the sun, is hotter than the other 
side upon which the sun is shining?” “Yes, sir,” said the gardener, “Just now I turned 
the globe round, because it was getting too hot on one side.” 2138.203

    You can philosophy this subject to death

    In exerts from a John Piper sermon he says the following regarding John 6:27-40:

    “Seeing the World in Two Perspectives –

    Or one other way to put it: We can always describe what’s happening in the world from two side—from the side of man and his responsibility to receive what God offers, and from the side of God and his sovereignty to accomplish his saving purposes. In verses 30–36, we are looking at things from the side of man’s responsibility. In verses 37–40 we are looking at things from the side of God’s sovereignty.

    So the main point of the two sections, when you put them together, is that God’s purpose to give eternal life through Jesus does not fail. Now, far more interesting and more compelling than these general statements are the specifics of this text. So let’s look at them.

    Responsibility Rising –

    In the next verse (v. 33) Jesus reinforces the nature of the “true bread” and the scope of the offer. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” It is the “bread of God,” and it is offered here, not just to a few, but now explicitly for the life of the world. It comes down from heaven and “gives life to the world.” Here we have a global offer and the responsibility of man rises even higher—the responsibility to see and believe and eat the bread of God.

    Their response to this is similar to the woman at the well in John 4:15, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” They say in verse 34, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Be like Moses—just keep on giving us the bread of God, the manna that fills our stomachs.

    Jesus Is the One We Hunger For –

    Now finally, for the first time, Jesus says explicitly in verse 35 that he’s talking about himself: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” It is hard for me to exaggerate the importance of this verse for me. For many years now (especially since writing the book Future Grace) this verse has defined two massive realities in my life. One is the object of my hunger and thirst. And the other is the nature of saving faith.

    Jesus—Jesus himself and all that God is for me in him—is what I hunger for and thirst for. He has been merciful to me—and to most of you—to reveal himself as the supreme Treasure of our lives. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” That doesn’t mean hunger and thirst in our souls does not rise up every day. It means now we know what it’s for. Now we know where to turn. Now we know what to drink and what to eat. We drink down Jesus. We swallow the glory of Jesus. And there is a never-ending supply. This is what we were made for. All other treasures, all other pleasures point to this. Jesus is the all-satisfying end of every longing.

    Never, Never, Never

    Now we have seen both sections of this text. Verses 30–36, from the side of man and his responsibility, describe the offer of God to the world, and how the bread from heaven is rejected. Verses 37–40, from the side of God and his sovereignty, describe how God gives his chosen ones to Jesus so that they come, and how Jesus keeps them, and raises them from the dead according to God’s sovereign will. The first section describes an apparent failure, but the second section describes an invincible saving purpose.

    And the basis of that invincible purpose is God’s sovereign will. It never, never, never fails.

    “I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
    declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
    saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

    And the reason for this revelation, whether in Isaiah or in the Gospel of John, is to make you humble and fearless and loving in the absolute security of Jesus.”

    Does God care about the world’s physical ailments of course He does, ABSOLUTELY! But does He care more weather we here the Gospel? If He sent His one and only son to die for your sins my sins the sins of the world so we would not have eternal death but life, I would think the later. “ “I will accomplish all my purpose!” We must be careful to not think God needs us to accomplish His work, (the work of brining the water, food etc) it will be completed with our without us God does not need us to complete His work, BUT He sure WANTS us to be His hands and feet.

    Chief Theresa said it clearly from the main stage on Sunday, we bring the physical need but at the same time they know WHO it is that has brought them the SAVING WATER physically and spiritually! Jesus Christ


  9. Hey Mary,
    Thanks for commenting. I hope I made it clear in my post which is more important. I certainly wouldn’t pick bottled water over living water.

    When you say, “We must be careful to not think God needs us to accomplish His work, (the work of brining the water, food etc) it will be completed with our without us God does not need us to complete His work” I have to disagree.

    God is omnipotent, but people still starve. God is omniscient, but buildings still crumble. We have a huge responsibility to meet these needs. We can say that God will do it without us, but today tens of thousands of people will die today because they live in impoverished, under-resourced locations. God does need us (command us) to be his hands and feet, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we did that, everyone would have food, water, and buildings that don’t crumble when earthquakes hit.

  10. We do have a HUGE responsibility, and I agree with CJ shame on me, us, if we do not go!

    And one of the things I love about serving with you is God has laid it on your heart to not separate the two, and you have listened.
    And this breaks Gods heart! I wish we had all the answers and we knew why God allows suffering, why do bad things happen.
    God knows, He knows everything that takes place, none of it caught him off guard, He really does have the whole world in his hands (sounds like a song) and when I said He doesn’t need us I mean to say He wants us to choose it of our own free will, choose to be His hands and feet! He being all powerful could put an end to it tomorrow if He chooses. But He has written the end, Revelations is a promise, and He will bring it all to an end, until then every time we don’t choose to go, He is sitting right next to us, His heart is breaking, and saying…go go go do my work.

  11. Great post, Ryan! I agree with a lot of the comments above. I’ve never understood how this conversation comes down to an either/or decision. A missionary once told me that, across the globe, the lost are the poor and the poor are the lost. I haven’t been many places but it seems to be true. It would also seem that sharing the gospel and meeting humanitarian needs compliment each other quite nicely. I know my biggest problem is just doing it! Shame on me.

    And regarding Calvinism and Piper, I’m unsure. I’ve seen some old Calvinist friends pick fights (arguments, really) with others over it and that left a bad taste in my mouth. And I’ve enjoyed many of Piper’s books but I’ve also heard him say some odd things in his sermons and tweet some things that are flat out weird. So…I don’t know.

  12. Great to see discussions on the gospel get some good traffic! I didn’t read through all the comments, but saw the one about Acts 29. I can’t speak for everyone in the network, but I can tell you that most A29 guys have been heavily influenced by Tim Keller and the Gospel Coalition which would have a really robust and holistic gospel.

    (Also, I was over at Mission yesterday. Sick campus! Keep hearing amazing things about all that God is doing there!)

  13. Thanks for chiming in Cody. I agree that they complement each other quite nicely! Yeah, Piper has had some weird things to say (, but he’s also got a lot of great things to say. Right now he’s got nothing to say because he’s on sabbatical, which makes me respect him all the more.

    Chris, we love Tim Keller’s work! I’m a “Gospel Coalition” RSS’er. I heard that I missed you over here at the campus- hope we connect some time.

  14. A question:
    If the 5-year-old malnourished African boy died without the living water, what would happen to him?

  15. RSS’er, some would say that he hadn’t reached the “age of accountability” (which, by the way, isn’t a phrase found in the bible), and therefore wouldn’t end up in hell. Some might say that God would only let a child die if God knew that child was destined for hell all along. I don’t really like being around people who think that way. I’d say the kid was incapable of knowing (or rejecting) anything of eternal scope at that age. He’d be spiritually blind you could say, as Jesus did in John 9. I think grace wins in that one, and the kid is heaven-bound. Someone will probably disagree… stick around, anonymous guy.

  16. Well it seems that every where I turn these days this seems to be the topic of discussion in the Christian world, which is not a bad topic I must add:). I totally agree that one of the most beautiful things in the world is when Salvation is the result of needs being met with love and mercy and I don’t think that anyone is trying to argue which one is more important. That is obvious, at least I hope so. I will say that I have thought about this a lot lately and the thing that God continues to point out to me on a personal level is: Mandy I love your passion for those precious children in Malawi and the children being abused everyday in there homes in the United States but are you hurting for and have passion for those that are lost standing right beside you everyday that you know don’t know me. Do you shed tears for them often like you do for the starving, thirsty, and abused. Unfortunately, through shameful tears over my pride my answer to that question was no. It should be yes! Like I said I am sharing a personal struggle. I think my pride has gotten in the way for a while. Leading a person to Christ at the nurses station didn’t get me as much a credit in this world as going on a trip or raising money for a good cause. Shame on me for me for my filthiness. Thank goodness God is FAITHFUL and he continues to shape and mold me. Don’t get me wrong I believe in every effort to show mercy, justice, and love to the hurting. There was a time long long ago in my life when neither the basic necessities that a child should have or a relationship with Christ existed. However, now that by the Grace of God I have both, I look back on those times and know which one made me whole:)!!

  17. Ryan, I think you are right on track with what you are sharing here. I lived for many years under a distorted and incomplete gospel. It wasn’t the whole gospel, and that caused a lot of damage.

    We can only receive the Gospel and be truly transformed by it when we are able to receive it with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Until then we are only receiving part of it. That is what happened to me, and it left me so hungry and thirsty that I was desperate for more, but so spiritually malnourished that I couldn’t even feed myself and digest what I was learning. I needed whole care to bring me into whole relationship with a Lord who loves me incredibly. I need pure Godly truth spoken to me with love that cared for my whole being, not just my spirit. That is what brought change.

    In Mark 4:33 it says “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.”, and again throughout Luke it says that even the disciples did not understand and the meaning was hidden. Sometimes that meaning is hidden because we are not ready to receive because our other needs are in the way. This is why love and the heart are spoken of so deeply throughout scripture. When we truly love others and seek to reach them to have their heart led to Christ so they can become a disciple and not just a convert, then we will see them as a whole person and our hearts will break that they are in need…physical, mental, emotional, and definitely spiritual need.

    I agree 100% that the soul is the priority of the Gospel, but Christ repeatedly spoke to people about the heart and what stood in the way of them receiving the Gospel.

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