There has been a buzz phrase going around the internet about a fifth Gospel. No, this is not coming from a group such as the Jesus Seminar opting for the Gospel of Thomas (that was in the 90s). This is coming from well-meaning evangelical Christians who believe that Christians themselves are the Fifth Gospel.
The idea is that while we have the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in the Bible, the lives of Christians are the fifth Gospel. Our lives, our grace, our kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and good works are a witness to such a degree that we are the final good news. When our lives reflect Christ in a true way, we are his message.
Problems with Calling Christians the Fifth Gospel
We are Still Sinners
Martin Luther said that we are simul justus et peccator “same time just and sinner.” Now, Martin Luther was not inspired, but he was communicating a very biblical idea that while we are covered by the righteousness of Christ and that faith alone (without good work) is what justifies us before God, we are still sinners.
Even the great Apostle Paul, who was inspired at times, wrote about his inability to consistently live the Christian life in Roman 7:19
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Rom 7:19 ESV)
Peter, again, at times inspired, lived for ten years from Acts 2 (when the Holy Spirit came upon him) until Acts 10 with extreme prejudice (a terrible sin) as he would not associate with Gentiles. God came and corrected him, but he still had his problems, it seems, for the rest of his life (see Gal. 11:2-14).
All of us still sin. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (John 1:8). Until glory, we will both represent Christ through our good works and misrepresent Christ through our sin. This is a fact of life. Therefore, our status as the fifth Gospel, if this means that we are not still riddled with sin, is not well-put.
We are Still Doubters
Not only do we sin, but our belief is imperfect. We doubt, waiver, believe more one day, and believe less the next. As “believers” we will always hold to our belief, even if by a thread (as Christ will not let us go—John 10:28), but belief is not a black or white thing. Hopefully we are believing more and more every day, but as of today, our belief is not perfect. As those who believe-yet-doubt, we are not the fifth Gospel. I think this creates great authenticity and is very endearing for those who need Christ (at least when we are honest about our imperfect faith), but cannot be said to parallel the Gospels.
I believe, help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)
We are Often Wrong
As much as we like to think we have it all-together doctrinally speaking, there is a lot we are wrong about. If we knew what these things were, then we would change. The Gospel writers, while not omniscient, were never wrong. When we get to heaven, there will be a long class, packed to capacity, called “Corrections 101”. I will be in the front row.
This does not mean that we are going to be wrong about the essentials of the faith (the sinfulness of man and the person and work of Christ), but about a lot of the particulars (non-essentials), we will be taken to the woodshed. Although Arminians will have a separate class that us Calvinists will be excused from!
We are Always Going to Contradict Each Other
As much as we would like to see unity in the church, there will not be this side of heaven. This is both a good and a bad thing. It is good due to the fact that it causes us to think more deeply about every issue. Here we see the principle of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17). And seeing that this has been the case throughout all of church history, it is obvious that God wants it this way for now.
Further Reading: “Why Are there So Many Divisions in the Church?” by C. Michael Patton
It is bad in that, ultimately, we all want to be right. Knowing truth and being unified reflects God’s character. But contradictions in the way we think, differences in personality, and the way our minds work are, this side of heaven, always going to be.
We are Not Inspired
Most importantly, we are not the “Fifth Gospel” because we are not inspired. The Gospels give a particular message about Christ and the men who wrote them were moved along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). What they wrote was “God-breathed” (1 Tim 3:16)—inspired. It was true in every respect. We are not. We do the best we can as we hope to be illuminated by the Holy Spirit, but the words we speak, the advice we give, and the attitudes we have are not inspired.
Recommended Resource: The Historical Reliability of the Gospels DVD Course, Craig Blomberg
We Point People to the Gospel
In the end, all we can do is do our best to be informed by Scripture and live in accordance with this. We point people to the Gospels (and the rest of Scripture), humbly admitting our imperfections. Our lives are to be inspiring, give hope, and glorify God. We are to live a life in accordance with the Gospels. But due to our continued failure to live up to God’s standards, all we can do is point people to the Gospel and the One who forgives us of our shortcomings.
In short, we are not the fifth Gospel, but others should see us sitting at the foot of the cross saying “have mercy on me, the sinner” (Luke 8:13). The hope that we leave with—the hope of the Gospel—should cause people to ask us, “Why do you still have hope” (1 Pet. 3:15).
*Please understand that I know that people who are writing about this and have published books about this would not necessarily disagree with this post. I am writing this only to warn about using the phrase “we are the fifth Gospel.”