There can be a misapprehension in some circles about how we minister to the poor effectively. I was at a conference recently and the discussion centered around handing out food and other necessities. My frustration was that this is often the apex of help given to the poor and needy when what is needed is a much more comprehensive approach to this ministry.
The poor need to be taught as part of our service to them. They need to hear the gospel, and when some respond (as they will), they need to be taught in order for them to grow, mature and be allowed to move into positions of leadership. Of course, all doctrine and teaching is important, but here are some reasons why I believe teaching the doctrine of the atonement is vital to our ministry among the poor.
1. It gets our foundation right in terms of understanding the human condition. We have offended our Holy God and His wrath rests upon the guilty sinner. God must and will punish the guilty sinner, and His full wrath will be brought to bear. If he did not spare His own Son, then we have no justification whatsoever for thinking that there will be some sort of “get out clause” at the end for the poor and destitute.
2. It helps us to understand the seriousness of the task at hand. We are preaching to people lost in sin and under the just condemnation of God. It is easy to forget that and make excuses, especially in places full of the “disadvantaged.” There is no special dispensation for those of us who have had a crap life. We must take responsibility for our sins. What sinners need above all else is to be humbled by the gospel and not to have their self-esteem boosted by self-help nonsense.
3. It teaches our people proper theology and doctrine. The popular Christian mantra that “Jesus loves you,” whilst a truism, is not the good news on its own. We need to explain how Jesus has loved us to death on the cross through his atoning sacrifice. He died because of the seriousness of our sin. Wrath currently rests upon the sinner, and in love God has made a way possible to escape this. We must not confuse this, otherwise sin gets diluted along with the gospel.