It’s not insensitive, it’s simply the truth

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It’s not manipulative or insensitive to bring up the urgent nature of salvation. It’s simply the truth. The time of opportunity will end.

As Christians, we’ve come alive to the truth that history isn’t cyclical, always repeating in an endless rotation of events, spinning till any given part of it becomes meaningless. No! We know that God has created this world, and that he will bring it to a close at the judgment. We know that he gives us life, and he takes it away. The time that we have is limited; the amount is uncertain, but the use of it is up to us. So Paul tells us in Ephesians to “make the most of every opportunity (5:16).”

Like a collector buying up a collection, we should desire to capture each fleeting hour and to turn it into a trophy for God and his grace. As Paul said, “The time is short. From now on … those who use the things of the world [should use them] as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29, 31).

What are your circumstances right now? Trust the Lord to use you in them instead of seeking for new ones. Don’t let the passing permanence of your world or the lulling tedium of certain long hours and minutes make a fool of you. The days are “evil” (Eph. 5:16) in the sense that they are dangerous and fleeting, and we must redeem the time and make the most of every hour. So we say with Paul that, in view of a certain judgment, Christ’s love compels us to tell the good news to others (see 2 Cor. 5:10–15). We must be honest not only about the cost of repentance, but also about the expiration date of the offer. Such honesty compels us to urgency.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 58-59

(photo credit: snaps via photopin cc)

Brothers, don’t ignore the devout nations

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Recently, Time shared the list of the most and least godly cities (which, incidentally, was updated here). Careful readers will hopefully find much to be encouraged about in it—there is much work to be done in America, and there are many who have not been reached with the gospel, so there’s much to be excited about. But there’s one item I hope missionaries and church planters ignore entirely:

Christian missionaries can apparently steer clear of Tennessee, as the report suggests the state is the most devout in the union. Chattanooga was found to be the most Bible-minded city in America, a title it won from last year’s victor, Knoxville.

I’ve got a lot of friends in Tennessee (in fact, we’re going for a visit in just a few weeks—you have been warned), and I’ve gotta say, there are some amazing churches and ministries in this fine state:

  • LifeWay’s doing some amazing stuff, with the Gospel Project and a number of other initiatives;
  • Ray Ortlund and Immanuel Church are seeking to “make the real Jesus non-ignorable,” (which, by the way, is one of the best mission statements ever);
  • Josh Howerton, Matt Svoboda and the crew at The Bridge are doing great things down in Spring Hill.

Then there’s The Fellowship, Grace Community Church, Christ Community Church… and those are just a few of the ones I know about surrounding Nashville!

There are so many wonderful, gospel-loving, Jesus-proclaiming churches in a state like Tennessee that it’s easy to forget that there are still a whole lot more that are either soft on the gospel, or have abandoned it altogether. In my own homeland, Canada, we don’t have remotely close to the remaining cultural openness to Christianity that America does, but we still have many good, faithful churches.

And you know what those churches need?

They need more faithful churches around them.

They need more faithful brothers and sisters working alongside them, sharing the good news about Jesus, preaching the Scriptures unashamedly, shaking sleepy churches out of complacency, and rescuing people from the clutches of damnably apostate ones.

In our country, where there are tens of thousands of churches across the land, and yet anywhere between four and eight per cent of the population are evangelicals, and is home to the single largest unreached people group in North America, there is a great need for the gospel. In fact, it’s a need at least as great as that of many lesser developed nations. Though it was once so, a devout nation we are not.

Brothers, we must go out to all the nations. We dare not neglect the call to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples from every tribe, tongue and nation (Matt: 28:19-20).

But don’t ignore the “devout” nations, either.

Evangelism means being honest

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Let’s not believe that we are simply all engaged in some search for truth. The fall did not leave people neutral toward God but at enmity with him. Therefore we must not pretend that non-Christians are seekers by the simple virtue of their having been made in the image of God. The Bible teaches that people are by nature estranged from God, and we must be honest about that.

What is repentance? It is turning from the sins you love to the holy God you’re called to love. It is admitting that you’re not God. It is beginning to value Jesus more than your immediate pleasure. It is giving up those things the Bible calls sin and leaving them to follow Jesus.

When we tell the gospel to people, we need to do it with honesty. To hold back important and unpalatable parts of the truth is to begin to manipulate and to try to sell a false bill of goods to the person with whom we are sharing. So however we evangelize, we aren’t to hide problems, to ignore our own shortcomings, or to deny difficulties. And we are not to put forward only positives that we imagine our non-Christian friends presently value and present God as simply the means by which they can meet or achieve their own ends. We must be honest.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 56-57

Which matters more-our reputation or their salvation?

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It is a tragic and ugly thing when Christians lack desire, and are actually reluctant, to share the precious knowledge that they have with others whose need of it is just as great as their own. It was natural for Andrew, when he found the Messiah, to go off and tell his brother Simon, and for Philip to hurry to break the good news to his friend Nathanael (Jn 1:40ff.). They did not need to be told to do this; they did it naturally and spontaneously, just as one would naturally and spontaneously share with one’s family and friends any other piece of news that vitally affected them.

There is something very wrong with us if we do not ourselves find it natural to act in this way: let us be quite clear about that. It is a great privilege to evangelize; it is a wonderful thing to be able to tell others of the love of Christ, knowing that there is nothing that they need more urgently to know, and no knowledge in the world that can do them so much good. We should not, therefore, be reluctant and backward to evangelize on the personal and individual level. We should be glad and happy to do it. We should not look for excuses for wriggling out of our obligation when occasion offers to talk to others about the Lord Jesus Christ. If we find ourselves shrinking from this responsibility and trying to evade it, we need to face ourselves with the fact that in this we are yielding to sin and Satan.

If (as is usual) it is the fear of being thought odd and ridiculous, or of losing popularity in certain circles, that holds us back, we need to ask ourselves in the presence of God: Ought these things to stop us loving our neighbor? If it is a false shame, which is not shame at all but pride in disguise, that keeps our tongue from Christian witness when we are with other people. We need to press on our conscience this question: Which matters more-our reputation or their salvation? We cannot be complacent about this gangrene of conceit and cowardice when we weigh up our lives in the presence of God. What we need to do is to ask for grace to be truly ashamed of ourselves, and to pray that we may so overflow in love for God that we will overflow in love for our fellow men, and so find it an easy and natural and joyful thing to share with them the good news of Christ.

—adapted from Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

When you ask and apparently do not receive

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photo: iStock

This past week was spent with my extended family in a cottage on the shores of Rice Lake. This is something of a family tradition (if four years counts as a tradition) and it’s always an interesting experience (and a good deal of fun). One thing that always come from it is a push for Emily and me to pray for opportunities to share Christ with our unbelieving family.

This year as we packed, we prayed for opportunities. When we arrived, we prayed for opportunities. While we were there, we prayed for opportunities.

And yet it seems no opportunities came. If anything, most lines of conversation that could lead that way were shut down.

As you can imagine, this was a bit discouraging. But should it be?

Strangely, I found a lot of encouragement considering the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in John 18:28-38. Here, we read that the religious leaders led Jesus to stand before Pilate to be sentenced to death (John 18:30-32). Pilate calls Jesus to himself and asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered,

“Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:34-37)

Now think about this for a second: Here’s Jesus Himself right in front of Pilate. Pilate asks Him who He is, if He is the King of the Jews. And Jesus answers him in the affirmative. He tells Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world and that the reason He came into the world was to bear witness to the truth—and “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like the ultimate set-up for an amazing gospel conversation, doesn’t it? You expect Pilate to say, “What do you mean? What is this truth you’re talking about?” You almost want an exchange like the one between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 or between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4.

You want Jesus to unpack the gospel and for Pilate to drop to his knees in submission to the Lord.

Instead, we see something absolutely shocking:

“Pilate said to him, What is truth?’” And then he went back outside. Understand, he’s not asking, “Hmmm, what is truth?” as though he were curious. He’s speaking rhetorically. HIs pessimism toward “truth” rivals that of the most ardent post-modernist.

Yet before him is Truth incarnate.

Jesus had the perfect set-up. And He got shut down, all according to the predetermined plan of God.

Now, I want to be careful here: There’s a chance we just completely blew it and missed a great big huge opening, but I’m not sure that happened. When my niece came over to our cottage to play a card game, she mentioned that she and her mom hide every time the Mormons or the Christians come to the door. She also said she’s kind of embarrassed because the leaders at the evangelical church in town know who I am. But when we tried to dig a little deeper, we couldn’t get anywhere. Again and again through the week, we hit a wall.

So what can we learn from this? Probably the key thing is to remember that sometimes there isn’t going to be a nice, clean way to get to a gospel conversation. You might just have to go for it and say, “Okay, I need to talk to you about Jesus. When are we going to do that?” I have a hunch that for many people in our family, this might be the approach we’re going to have to take. It may still get shut down, but it might also be the thing God uses to bring them from death to life.

And wouldn’t that be something?

Mere oratory will only create sham and shame

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Brethren, we have been greatly disappointed, have we not, with some of our converts? We shall always be disappointed with them so far as they are our converts. We shall greatly rejoice over them when they prove to be the Lord’s work. When the power of grace works in them, (“Glory!”) then it will be, as my brother says, “Glory!” and nothing else but glory; for grace brings glory, but mere oratory will only create sham and shame in the long run.…

It is not our way of putting the gospel, nor our method of illustrating it, which wins souls, but the gospel itself does the work in the hands of the Holy Ghost, and to Him we must look for the thorough conversion of men. A miracle is to be wrought by which our hearers shall become the products of that mighty power which God wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly place far above all principality and power; and for this we must look out of ourselves to the living God. Must we not? We go in, then, for thorough downright conversion; and therefore we fall back upon the power of the Holy Spirit. If it be a miracle, God must work it, that is clear; it is not to be accomplished by our reasoning, or persuasion, or threatening, it can only come from the Lord.

Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner

Want to grow in your faith? Share it!

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Sharing your faith with loved ones isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do sometimes, but it’s something we all are called to do. Recently, I mentioned that the small groups in our church have been going through a witnessing workshop intended to give us practical guidance and a biblical foundation for personal evangelism.

While I know there’s some folks reading this who might find the idea of a “witnessing workshop” silly, we should recognize that we need the help. According to LIfeWay Research, while the majority of us agree that sharing our faith is important, few of us do so on a regular basis (if at all).

This despite the majority of people surveyed saying they felt comfortable sharing their faith effectively. 

So what’s the deal? What’s with the disconnect here?

I think it’s because we’ve forgotten something really important:

If you want to grow in your faith, you’ve got to share it.

That’s something we’ve been reminded of as we continue down the road to completing our witnessing workshop and encouraging our small group members to engage with the course’s assignments. And I’ll be honest, we were kind of terrified of doing a lot of it.

But doing it has been a real opportunity to see how God’s been at work through the program so far, both in our role as facilitators and as participants. Here are a couple of quick examples:

One of our first assignments was to ask three people we know what they believe about the afterlife.

Not counter it, not correct it—just ask and listen.

We received some impressive feedback from almost everyone we asked (only one had an answer that amounted to “I dunno”). One of our family members actually provided a two page email in response to the question—giving not only his opinion of the afterlife, but outlining his entire worldview!

And although there was so much that he said that would make you want to cry if I shared it, there was much that we could affirm as true—truths that we would be able to redirect to Jesus.

Another way we’ve seen God at work through it is in our small group members, who, after an initial rough patch with getting started, have started to realize that engaging people in spiritual conversations isn’t terribly difficult. Most people are quite happy to tell you what they believe about practically anything—and by listening, we gain an opportunity to be heard as well.

But none of this would happen if we weren’t all striving to be intentional about sharing our faith.

Our church leaders want to see relational evangelism normalized in the lifestyle of the congregation. All of us still have a long way to go, but those who are embracing the opportunities God provides are seeing their own faith grow.


What are some of the obstacles preventing you from sharing your faith?

Be not content to merely throw truth at them

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Sharing the gospel is never easy, regardless of how much experience you have. I’m not a terribly gifted evangelist; it doesn’t come naturally—but it’s still something I’m required to do. Because it doesn’t come naturally, though, there’s a problem: It’s really tempting to rely solely on facts; more specifically, it can be really tempting to rely on a particular style of presenting the facts of the gospel.

 

Now, it’s not that facts are wrong—evangelism necessarily requires the transmission of truth claims. And it’s not that there is a particular style of evangelism that’s wrong. Some find relational evangelism very effective; others are equally so with street witnessing, and so forth. Our challenge really comes in when our preference for how we proclaim the truth gets in the way of why we proclaim the truth.

J.I. Packer explains this well in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:

Love made Paul warm-hearted and affectionate in his evangelism. “We were gentle among you,” he reminded the Thessalonians; “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:7-8). Love also made Paul considerate and adaptable in his evangelism; though he peremptorily refused to change his message to please men (cf. Gal 1:10; 2 Cor 2:17; 1 Thess 2:4), he would go to any lengths in his presentation of it to avoid giving offense and putting needless difficulties in the way of men’s accepting and responding to it. . . . Paul sought to save men; and because he sought to save them, he was not content merely to throw truth at them; but he went out of his way to get alongside them, and to start thinking with them from where they were, and to speak to them in terms that they could understand, and above all, to avoid everything that would prejudice them against the gospel and put stumbling blocks in their path. In his zeal to maintain truth, he never lost sight of the needs and claims of people. His aim and object in all his handling of the gospel, even in the heat of the polemics which contrary views evoked, was never less than to win souls, by converting those whom he saw as his neighbors, to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Kindle location 440)

No revealed truth may be invoked to extenuate sin

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This is something that we must not forget. Christ’s command means that we all should be devoting all our resources of ingenuity and enterprise to the task of making the gospel known in every possible way to every possible person. Unconcern and inaction with regard to evangelism are always, therefore, inexcusable. And the doctrine of divine sovereignty would be grossly misapplied if we should invoke it in such a way as to lessen the urgency, and immediacy, and priority, and binding constraint, of the evangelistic imperative. No revealed truth may be invoked to extenuate sin. God did not teach us the reality of his rule in order to give us an excuse for neglecting his orders.

J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Kindle edition)

If producing converts was really our responsibility

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If we regarded it as our job, not simply to present Christ, but actually to produce converts-to evangelize, not only faithfully, but also successfully-our approach to evangelism would become pragmatic and calculating. We should conclude that our basic equipment, both for personal dealing and for public preaching, must be twofold. We must have not merely a clear grasp of the meaning and application of the gospel but also an irresistible technique for inducing a response. We should, therefore, make it our business to try and develop such a technique. And we should evaluate all evangelism, our own and other people’s, by the criterion not only of the message preached but also of visible results. If our own efforts were not bearing fruit, we should conclude that our technique still needed improving. If they were bearing fruit, we should conclude that this justified the technique we had been using. We should regard evangelism as an activity involving a battle of wills between ourselves and those to whom we go, a battle in which victory depends on our firing off a heavy enough barrage of calculated effects. Thus our philosophy of evangelism would become terrifyingly similar to the philosophy of brainwashing. And we would no longer be able to argue, when such a similarity is asserted to be a fact, that this is not a proper conception of evangelism. For it would be a proper conception of evangelism if the production of converts was really our responsibility.

J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Amazon | WTS Books)

How can your church be more evangelistic?

I really appreciated this discussion between Darrin Patrick, Mark Dever, and Matt Chandler on how churches can grow in evangelism. I really resonate with the challenge expressed—especially that it gets harder the longer you’re a Christian since you often increasingly have fewer non-Christian friends (and in my case, all my co-workers are Christians), and it’s easy to slip into a mind set of “well, I’m not good at it, so I won’t do it.”

This is a frequent point of discussion in our home as it’s tempting to think there’s some formula or set program you have to follow. But the most helpful thing to remember about evangelism is that a lot of it happens in the day-to-day through intentional relationships in your neighborhood. My wife is great at this (though she doesn’t necessarily believe me). She’s building friendships with other parents, being open about her faith, and sharing the gospel (either in part or in whole) whenever an opportunity presents itself.

The best part is, none of it’s forced. There’s no plotting or contriving of scenarios. Which is probably the best way for it to happen, isn’t it?

If you’re interested in some good, practical books on the subject, here are three I’d recommend:

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer: Amazon | WTS Books

The Soul Winner by Charles Spurgeon: Amazon | WTS Books

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever: Amazon | WTS Books

Questions to consider (and answer in the comments if you so choose):

  • What have your experiences been like with evangelism?
  • How evangelistic is your church’s culture?
  • In what ways can you encourage a greater emphasis on evangelism within your community?

Lord, Do It Again!

Tim Keller, Collin Hansen and Nancy Leigh DeMoss discuss the need for revival (even though Reformed types are a bit freaked out by the term):

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HT: TGC

Hansen recently wrote A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir, a new book looking at the revivals God has sent throughout history to build His church and grow His people. I’d encourage you to give it a thorough read.

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, a former Muslim, interacts with Miroslav Volf’s argument in his new book, Allah: A Christian Response, that one could practice Islam and be 100% Christian. Anyabwile also explains how the fundamental differences in doctrine—particularly regarding the nature of God in the Trinity—are irreconcilable:

[HT: TGC]

Last year, Anyabwile released an excellent book on ministering to Muslims, The Gospel for Muslims (reviewed here). There, he offers three reasons for the necessity of holding fast to the doctrine of the Trinity:

First, because we are bound in humility to accept what God reveals of Himself. After all, we are creatures and He is the Creator; we are finite and He is infinite. Accepting and maintaining the Trinity as central to the Christian faith is to say to God, “I believe You—not others and not myself—as You reveal Yourself.” In short, believing and defending the Trinity is essential to genuine Christian faith and witness.

Second, because to deny the Trinity is to commit idolatry. Here the Christian and the Muslim come to irreconcilable differences. We may not maintain that God is one God in three Persons and at the same time accept that God is radically one with no persons in the Godhead as Muslims believe. That would be to accept a contradiction. And it would be to deny the revelation God gives of Himself, making an idol graven with the tools of our own imagination. God is jealous for His name. He calls His people to “worship [Him] in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Surrendering the Trinity turns us away from true spiritual worship of the only living God to idolatry.

Third, we must cling to the Trinity because apart from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is no possibility of eternal salvation. If we surrender the Trinity, or weaken our presentation of who God really is, we in effect deny the gospel. Each Person in the Godhead plays an essential part in redeeming sinners from judgment and bringing them to eternal life. (p. 37, Kindle edition)

“Why Should I Let You Into Heaven?” “Because I’m Dead!”

A tool that some find helpful in evangelism is a series of diagnostic questions. “Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for sure that if you were to die tonight you would go to heaven?” “If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and God were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?”

Some might bristle at the thought of asking these questions, for fear of being linked to Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (that said, who wouldn’t want to go out street preaching with Mike Seaver?). But they’re actually more helpful than you might think. R.C. Sproul explains:

Once, when my son was young, I asked him these two questions. I was delighted that he immediately answered the first question by saying “Yes.” But when I asked him the second question, he looked at me as if I had just posed the silliest question he had ever heard. He said, “Well, I would say, `Because I’m dead.”‘ What could be simpler? My son was being reared in a home committed to biblical theology, but not only had I failed to communicate justification by faith alone to him, he already had been captured by the pervasive view in our culture that everyone goes to heaven and that all you have to do to get there is to die.

We have so eliminated the last judgment from our theology and expunged any notion of divine punishment or of hell from our thinking (and from the church’s thinking) that it is now widely assumed that all a person must do to get to heaven is to die. In fact, the most powerful means of grace for sanctification in our culture is to die, because a sin-blistered sinner is automatically transformed between the morgue and the cemetery, so that when the funeral service is held, the person is presented as a paragon of virtue. His sins seem to have been removed by his death. This is very dangerous business, because the Scriptures warn us that it is appointed for every person once to die, then to face judgment (Heb. 9:27).

People like to think that the threat of a last judgment was invented by fire-and-brimstone evangelists such as Billy Sunday, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield. But no one taught more clearly about the last judgment and a division between heaven and hell than Jesus Himself. In fact, Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven, and He warned His hearers that on that last day, every idle word would come into judgment. But if there’s anything unredeemed human beings want to repress psychologically, it’s that threat of final, comprehensive judgment, because none of them wants to be held accountable for his sins. Therefore, nothing is more appealing to human beings than universalism-the idea that all are saved.

R.C. Sproul, Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? (Kindle Edition)