Show and Tell

Words and deeds always go together

When I was in kindergarten, one of my favourite days was show-and-tell day. I’d get to bring in a toy (like my Super-Grover from Sesame Street) and tell my classmates all about why it was so awesome.

In a way, the Christian faith is like that too. Throughout the Scriptures, we see this really interesting interaction between words and deeds. It looks like this: proclamation then confirmation. Take a look at the way Matthew illustrates this pattern from Jesus’ ministry (Matt. 4:23-8:4). There we see Jesus going about to the synagogues teaching “and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matt. 4:23 ESV). Great crowds draw near and He teaches. They are astonished “for He was teaching them as one who had authority” (Matt. 7:29 ESV). Then, after He was done teaching, Jesus comes down from the mountain and heals a leper as great crowds continue to follow him (Matt. 8:1-4).

When Jesus sent out first the Twelve (Matt. 10:7-8) and then the Seventy Two (Luke 10:1-12), He commanded that they both proclaim that the Kingdom had come near and heal the sick and cast out demons. When the early church began scattering because of persecution, they “went about preaching the word.” Philip went to Samaria to proclaim Christ, “and the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did” (Acts 8:4-6).

The pattern we see over and over is gospel proclamation accompanied by signs to confirm the message’s truthfulness.

This pattern is important because it reminds us that words and deeds always go together. Our deeds are a sign our faith is real. “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV) The truth of our profession of faith will be proven by what we do. But there’s always a temptation to get the relationship confused. For some, the temptation is to see deeds as having little or no value. The danger of this approach is that how we live can become secondary— we might preach a good message, but how we live shows we don’t believe it. A good message from a bad messenger is more easily dismissed.

For others, though, the temptation is to put far too strong an emphasis on our works. I once read a book in which the author explained that when his organization distributed aid to an African village, the entire community heard the gospel—though not a single word had been spoken. I’m thrilled whenever an NGO does great work, but the problem is that we give deeds the same power as gospel proclamation.

Works are important. What we do matters. Our deeds serve as a wonderful confirmation of our testimony and can serve as the launch point for a conversation about the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

But deeds alone don’t make disciples.

And making disciples is the mission of every Christian. 

One of the things I love about this ministry is Compassion’s understanding of the importance of sharing the gospel. It’s not just because of poverty’s roots in the fall of mankind; Compassion understands that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 ESV).

Faith—true, saving faith—only comes when the gospel, “the word of Christ,” is proclaimed. The Holy Spirit breathes life into the spiritually dead. He reconciles sinners to the Father, transforming “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) into “sons of God” (Gal. 3:26)—that they would walk according to the good works God has prepared for them (cf. Eph. 2:10).

We are called to go out to all nations, making disciples and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commands (Matt. 28:19-20). When the gospel is preached, children and families come to know the Lord Jesus and become His disciples—thus changing their communities from the inside out. We show and we tell. That’s what making disciples is all about.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Compassion Today.

Written by: Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books, including Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty.