One of John MacArthur’s Grace to You elders, Cameron Buettel, wrote an excellent article warning Christians about the ‘whole Gospel’ teaching which focusses on socio-political works.

In ‘Is the Social Gospel the Whole Gospel?’ we discover that, not only are today’s celebrity evangelists promoting something St Francis of Assisi never said, they are also abusing the context of the Gospel of Matthew, turning it into a socio-political one.

Tony Campolo is a primary mover in this regard, advocating the ‘whole Gospel’. Yet, as Cameron Buettel explains, this is not only inaccurate but it also confuses believers who think that by doing charitable work they are effecting their own salvation which comes only through divine grace through faith.

If we are grace-filled and obedient to Christ, we will automatically be drawn to give of ourselves in charity to others. Such acts are the fruits of our faith.

However, we must not expect charity to deliver us to the pearly gates if we lack faith.

Buettel unfolds the argument (emphases mine):

Advocates of the social gospel … appeal to Matthew 25 as their apex argument:

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:34–46)

Was Jesus saying that our eternal destinies hinge on feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, and visiting the oppressed? And how would that square with salvation by grace through faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9)?

Buettel explains that Campolo:

is implying that proclamation of the good news is only a partial gospel and must be accompanied by social action in order to become a complete or “whole” gospel. But his imbalanced emphasis betrays his mishandling of Matthew 25:35–40.

The Bible repeatedly teaches that good works are ultimately God’s works because they are the natural fruit of salvation; never the cause (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27; James 2:14–17). And in Matthew 25 you don’t see judgment based on works, you see works revealing who is truly saved by faith.

No doubt with the refugee crisis these verses are at the forefront of European Christian activism. However, it is worth remembering that throughout the New Testament the predominant message was exercising charity to fellow believers as well as non-believers. We are not meant to put non-believers above our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Buettel expands on this in a comment (#18) to a reader:

… if you read the post through you’ll see that I also mention our responsibility to love our neighbors and our enemies. My point is that Matthew 25 is not an argument for social responsibility to unbelievers. Scripture is also clear that Christians must have a greater priority on caring for fellow believers than unbelievers. Note that I did not say only priority.

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Ultimately, Matthew 25 warns against false beliefs — and this ‘whole Gospel’ misinterpretation of it may well turn out to exemplify what our Lord referred to:

the division Christ makes is not between the church and the pagan world, but between true and false Christians. While the pagan lives in open unbelief, the false Christian is an imposter who has blended in among God’s people. False Christians are the recipients of Christ’s most terrifying judgment:

So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:20–23)

Matthew 25:34-46 makes a similar division between those who have genuine faith and those whose faith is false, according to the evidence of their works. Note carefully that both groups of people think they are Christians because they address Jesus as “Lord” (Matthew 25:37, 44). Both groups are also surprised by the verdict. The surprise reveals humility among Christ’s people (“when did we,” Matthew 25:37–39) and self-righteousness among those who are faking it (“when did we . . . not,” Matthew 25:44).

Let us give careful consideration to how and why we are performing charitable works and getting involved in political activism.

Above all, may we pray for the wisdom and grace to care for our own — less exciting? — Christian brethren: the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. They are right on our doorstep. They deserve our love first and foremost.