If one listens to Christian radio these days it is easy to get a faulty impression of the gospel. It seems that half the songs today are about overcoming major problems like drug abuse or a faulty sense of self-worth. Most of the other songs tell us that we should be doing more about homelessness, poverty, and various kinds of abuse. The gospel of gospel music seems to be a social gospel. Jesus died so that we might go out and feed the hungry.
This world is full of social ills that need to be addressed by Christians. If we don’t deal with the world’s ills, who will? Jesus even requires it of us.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt 25:27-40)
In one of the basic theories of motivation, Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs. Until one meets the lower levels of the pyramid (the lowest including physiological needs such as food, shelter, and water), one can never move to the next level. Jesus understood that until such things as food, drink, clothing, and freedom were addressed, people would never see the need to address the problem of sin.
Yes, the songs are right; we do need to do something; but that is only the very beginning. Our programs to help people are good, but they are meaningless without going beyond the basic needs. It is good to help others, but the best and only lasting help is to teach them the gospel. Not the social gospel; the gospel of salvation.
We all have needs, but the truly basic need is forgiveness of sin. We may not understand that until other needs are met, but ultimately the only permanent need is forgiveness. As much as we hate to admit it, food and all the other basic needs are only temporary. We do need them while we live in this world; indeed, without them we cannot live in this world. Ultimately, though, this life is not all there is. We have a better world waiting for us in which we don’t need these things.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:42-44)
A return to God is what we all need for eternity. Sin is the basic problem of life. Not all poverty, hunger, or sadness is a direct result of sin, but we will not realize our sin and our need of a savior while these things exist. But we need to realize those things. Until we understand that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness, our most basic need will never be met.
The songs do remind us of our need to meet other peoples’ needs. The problem is that they make it sound like that is the be-all and end-all of our existence. Doing something should not be the end; it should be the means to an end. Unless the gospel is preached along with the social, we are no better than unbelievers who do the same things we do. Paul spoke of physical training, but what he said is valid in meeting physical needs as well: “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim 4:8)