…maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when He appears. – 1 Peter 2:12 (NET)
The Gospel is inherently social. Because it is the declaration of Jesus’ Lordship, with this Lordship being the Lordship not just of individual lives and souls, but over the whole of the cosmos, it has a social element. This is a far cry from the Gospel being reduced to a “social gospel,” but rather, it is to say that the implications of the declaration demand to be worked out in a tangible, visible way, on display for a society to see.
Just as the worshipers or proponents of the Caesar declared his lordship, and in doing so were not asking people to make a private confession of faith in Caesar or to cultivate a personal and private holiness that would somehow be pleasing to Caesar, neither were the proponents of Jesus insisting upon such a thing. The Gospel (Jesus is Lord) was and is public. The reaction to the Gospel (the fact that Jesus is Lord) demanded a community context. The presentation of Caesar’s gospel (Caesar is lord of all) resulted in certain activities (the erecting of statues, sacrifices, festivals, submission to his earthly rule, etc…) that made it clear to all that his gospel was being accepted, so it would be expected that an alternative Gospel, especially in that day and age (and of course for all time) would demonstrate the same.
When the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) was preached into a world that was accustomed to a regular hearing of a gospel message (Caesar is lord), it was preached into a world that was prepared to hear such a message, and it was preached into a world that would have expected public, community oriented demonstrations of what it was that was being trumpeted. Yes, the Gospel was and is meant to be transformative. That transformation, of course, is intensely personal, but that personal transformation was and is to be manifested in positive public behavior---not simply a negative (i.e. “I don’t do” these things and neither should you).
That public behavior is not, as is so commonly proposed, merely that which takes place in church gatherings where singing, praying, lifting up hands, and giving are taken as the evidences of the inherent power of the Gospel and of transformed lives. Public behavior is not that which is primarily concerned with a dramatic abstention from participation in life’s pleasures, accompanied by thinking that it is by constant refraining and restraining efforts that holiness is demonstrated.
Those things can certainly be evidentiary, but they are only the primary evidence if one exalts the individual, rather than the body (and its Lord), and if one places private spirituality in the context of a personal quest to achieve heaven upon death higher than offering tangible service as and for a community (being lights to the world). Such a focus seems to run counter to the movement of Scripture, in which the Creator God is constantly calling a people to Himself, beginning with Abraham, so that they might exemplify divine blessing and be a blessing to the whole of the created order. Persons are called, and they are called to be a part of a people, for the primary purpose of being a blessing to the world so that the God that calls them into covenant might be glorified.