About Dan C.

Retired U.S. Army Special Forces SGM (28 years). Currently employed as a government contractor. Member of Christian Military Fellowship (www.cmfhq.org) for 25 years. Married for 35 years to the lovely Dee; three children and 2 grandchildren.

Why the Reformation Still Matters

by Michael Reeves

Last year, on October 31, Pope Francis announced that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics now “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.

But tell that to Martin Luther, who felt such liberation and joy at his rediscovery of justification by faith alone that he wrote, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Tell that to William Tyndale, who found it such “merry, glad and joyful tidings” that it made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Tell it to Thomas Bilney, who found it gave him “a marvelous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.” Clearly, those first Reformers didn’t think they were picking a juvenile fight; as they saw it, they had discovered glad tidings of great joy.

Good News in 1517

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Europe had been without a Bible the people could read for something like a thousand years. Thomas Bilney had thus never encountered the words “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Instead of the Word of God, they were left to the understanding that God is a God who enables people to earn their own salvation. As one of the teachers of the day liked to put it, “God will not deny grace to those who do their best.” Yet what were meant as cheering words left a very sour taste for everyone who took them seriously. How could you be sure you really had done your best? How could you tell if you had become the sort of just person who merited salvation?

Martin Luther certainly tried. “I was a good monk,” he wrote, “and kept my order so strictly that I could say that if ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I should have entered in.” And yet, he found:

My conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, “You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.” The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more daily I found it more uncertain, weaker and more troubled.

According to Roman Catholicism, Luther was quite right to be unsure of heaven. Confidence of a place in heaven was considered errant presumption and was one of the charges made against Joan of Arc at her trial in 1431. There, the judges proclaimed,

This woman sins when she says she is as certain of being received into Paradise as if she were already a partaker of . . . glory, seeing that on this earthly journey no pilgrim knows if he is worthy of glory or of punishment, which the sovereign judge alone can tell.

That judgment made complete sense within the logic of the system: if we can only enter heaven because we have (by God’s enabling grace) become personally worthy of it, then of course no one can be sure. By that line of reasoning, I can only have as much confidence in heaven as I have confidence in my own sinlessness.

That was exactly why the young Martin Luther screamed with fear when as a student he was nearly struck by lightning in a thunderstorm. He was terrified of death, for without knowledge of Christ’s sufficient and gracious salvation—without knowledge of justification by faith alone—he had no hope of heaven.

And that was why his rediscovery in Scripture of justification by faith alone felt like entering paradise through open gates. It meant that, instead of all his angst and terror, he could now write:

When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”

And that was why the Reformation gave people such a taste for sermons and Bible reading. For, to be able to read God’s words and to see in them such good news that God saves sinners, not on the basis of how well they repent but entirely by His own grace, was like a burst of Mediterranean sunshine into the gray world of religious guilt.

Good News in 2017

None of the goodness or relevance of the Reformation’s insights have faded over the last five hundred years. The answers to the same key questions still make all the difference between human hopelessness and happiness. What will happen to me when I die? How can I know? Is justification the gift of a righteous status (as the Reformers argued), or a process of becoming more holy (as Rome asserts)? Can I confidently rely for my salvation on Christ alone, or does my salvation also rest on my own efforts toward and success in achieving holiness?

Almost certainly, what confuses people into thinking that the Reformation is a bit of history we can move beyond is the idea that it was just a reaction to some problem of the day. But the closer one looks, the clearer it becomes: the Reformation was not principally a negative movement about moving away from Rome and its corruption; it was a positive movement, about moving toward the gospel. And that is precisely what preserves the validity of the Reformation for today. If the Reformation had been a mere reaction to a historical situation five hundred years ago, one would expect it to be over. But as a program to move ever closer to the gospel, it cannot be over.

Another objection is that today’s culture of positive thinking and self-esteem has wiped away all perceived need for the sinner to be justified. Not many today find themselves wearing hair-shirts and enduring all-night prayer vigils in the freezing cold to earn God’s favor. All in all, then, Luther’s problem of being tortured by guilt before the divine Judge is dismissed as a sixteenth-century problem, and his solution of justification by faith alone is therefore dismissed as unnecessary for us today.

But it is in fact precisely into this context that Luther’s solution rings out as such happy and relevant news. For, having jettisoned the idea that we might ever be guilty before God and therefore in need of His justification, our culture has succumbed to the old problem of guilt in subtler ways and with no means to answer. Today, we are all bombarded with the message that we will be more loved when we make ourselves more attractive. It may not be God-related, and yet it is  still a religion of works, and one that is deeply embedded. For that, the Reformation has the most sparkling good news. Luther speaks words that cut through the gloom like a glorious and utterly unexpected sunbeam:

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. . . . Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore, sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.

Once Again, the Time Is Ripe

Five hundred years later, the Roman Catholic Church has still not been reformed. For all the warm ecumenical language used by so many Protestants and Roman Catholics, Rome still repudiates justification by faith alone. It feels it can do so because Scripture is not regarded as the supreme authority to which popes, councils, and doctrine must conform. And because Scripture is so relegated, biblical literacy is not encouraged, and thus millions of poor Roman Catholics are still kept from the light of God’s Word.

Outside Roman Catholicism, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is routinely shied away from as insignificant, wrongheaded, or perplexing. Some new perspectives on what the Apostle Paul meant by justification, especially when they have tended to shift the emphasis away from any need for personal conversion, have, as much as anything, confused people, leaving the article that Luther said cannot be given up or compromised as just that—given up or compromised.

Now is not a time to be shy about justification or the supreme authority of the Scriptures that proclaim it. Justification by faith alone is no relic of the history books; it remains today as the only message of ultimate liberation, the message with the deepest power to make humans unfurl and flourish. It gives assurance before our holy God and turns sinners who attempt to buy God off into saints who love and fear Him.

And oh what opportunities we have today for spreading this good news! Five hundred years ago, Gutenberg’s recent invention of the printing press meant that the light of the gospel could spread at a speed never before witnessed. Tyndale’s Bibles and Luther’s tracts could go out by the thousands. Today, digital technology has given us another Gutenberg moment, and the same message can now be spread at speeds Luther could never have imagined.

Both the needs and the opportunities are as great as they were five hundred years ago—in fact, they are greater. Let us then take courage from the faithfulness of the Reformers and hold the same wonderful gospel high, for it has lost none of its glory or its power to dispel our darkness.

__________________________

Dr. Michael Reeves is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in Oxford, England. He is author of several books, including Rejoicing in Christ. He is the featured teacher on the Ligonier teaching series The English Reformation and the Puritans.

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Salvation Can only be Found in Christ

by Martin Luther

“…The devil does not intend to allow this testimony about Christ.  He devotes all his energy to opposing it and will not desist until he has struck it down and suppressed it.  In this respect, we humans are weak and stubbornly perverse and are more likely to become attached to saints than to Christ.  Within the papacy they have preached about the service rendered by these beloved saints, that one ought to rely on their merit.

And I, too, believed and preached thus.  St. Ann was my idol, and St. Thomas my apostle.  I patterned myself substantially after them.  Others ran to St. James and strongly believed and firmly trusted that, if they conformed, they would received all they wished and hoped for.  Prayers were said to St. Barbara and St. Christopher in order to avert an early and sudden death, and there was no uncertainty here.  So completely is man by nature bent on renouncing this testimony of John the Baptist.

For this reason it is necessary constantly to persevere and adhere to John’s testimony concerning Christ.  For it requires toil and effort to continue with word and testimony, for a person at death to be able to say, I must die, but I have a Savior concerning whom John the Baptist testifies; on him and on no other creature, either in heaven or on earth, do I rely.  However, that a person can die as cheerfully by believing in St. Barbara, in an indulgence, or in a pilgrimage to Rome, as in the man to whom alone John the Baptist points, is out of the question.  Also, that a person can build as strongly on monkery or monastery life as on holy baptism is a forlorn hope.

“What I am telling you is that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”

Quotes are excerpted from volume five of Luther’s 7-volume set of sermons (page 79).

Why Some People Reject Jesus

By Scott Redd, Tabletalk Magazine

As an anthology, the four Gospels reveal two complementary responses to the person of Jesus Christ. Some people are inexplicably drawn to Jesus while others are just as inexplicably repelled by Him.

Philip is an example of the former. He leaves behind his livelihood to follow this itinerant preacher who beckons him to “follow me” (John 1:43). No questions. He just follows.

The crowds and disciples described in John 6:60–66 represent the latter.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60–66)

Having left their homes to follow Jesus and His teaching, the crowds already know that He preaches like no other rabbi and that He can handle adversity with insight and authority. They have seen Him perform miracles that defy explanation and point to deeper truths about His identity and purpose.

In spite of all of this, when they hear Jesus preach that God the Father and the Holy Spirit are integral to their coming to faith in Him, they leave in droves.

This passage deals with the inner spiritual dynamics of conversion. It is about the spiritual reality of coming to faith, the divine hand behind the act of believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Three Aspects of Conversion

From this passage, we learn about three significant aspects of conversion to Jesus Christ.

First, belief is more than swearing membership to a group. Saving faith is more than saying the right words, more than following Jesus in His teaching ministry and counting yourself as one of His disciples. The disciples who abandon Jesus in John 6 had previously given the impression that they were His followers—they had left their homes and jobs to travel with someone the religious authorities claimed was a fool, or worse, a madman. Even though they had given up so much, they were not ready for the heart of the gospel. Perhaps they accepted the teaching of Jesus the rabbi, but they did not accept the teaching of Jesus the divine Son.

Second, hypocrisy is common in gospel community, even when Jesus is the preacher. The church will always be filled with broken people, some of whom are drawn by the Spirit to repentance and faith, and others who are drawn by their sin to hardness and nominalism. Pastors and church leaders must remember that they are always preaching and teaching to a mixed audience. The best way to serve that audience is to lovingly, confidently, and prayerfully teach the whole counsel of God from the Scriptures.

Third, saving faith is the result of the Holy Spirit’s giving life more than it is the result of collecting empirical evidence. Jesus says: “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:62–63). To be sure, Christians should present the gospel in a way that is contextually sensitive, and yes, evangelists should seek to remove any offense that is not intrinsic to the gospel message. But Jesus is saying that He could take to flight before their eyes and His audience would still not believe if the Spirit did not regenerate their hearts and minds. Conversion is the work of the Spirit in attendance with gospel proclamation. Reason, experience, and imagination all play a role in salvation, but if the Spirit does not give life, saving faith will not result.

Comfort and Challenge

We should find comfort in the necessary role of the Spirit in our evangelistic efforts. Many will patiently listen to our gospel message only to politely walk away without a moment’s hesitation. We should always check our hearts and methods when this happens, but we should also remember that people walked away from Jesus as well.

We should be challenged when we realize that a person’s response to the gospel is ultimately out of our hands. Every Christian has someone in their lives who they believe could never come to saving faith. Jesus’ teaching in John 6 is proof that no one can escape the life-giving work of the Spirit if it is willed by the Father. Who are we to doubt the power of regeneration in the lives of those around us?

The Trinity and Evangelism

Last, don’t miss the Trinitarian tone of John 6 and how it helps us keep a balanced view of evangelism and salvation. No one receives the Son unless the Spirit gives life, as it is granted by the Father.

Keeping this Trinitarian foundation in view protects us from two common errors, one that sees conversion as arbitrary and the other that sees it merely as a matter of persuasion. Because the Father directly grants salvation according to His good pleasure, it is the least arbitrary of all human experiences. Because salvation relies on the regeneration of the Spirit, we know that conversion rests on something other than a well-framed sales pitch.

I’ll conclude with a third error that this Trinitarian teaching helps us avoid. Because of the revelation of the Son, we should resist the error that leads us to complacency in evangelism. In His humiliation and exaltation, the Son provided the groundwork for our redemption. As a result, for those who are in Him, there is every reason to proclaim His gospel with confidence in the light of our Trinitarian faith.

______________

Dr. Scott Redd is president and associate professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Presuppositional Apologetics and Personal Evangelism

Sounds rather ominous, doe it not? Really deep stuff! Well, not necessarily. First, let’s define our terms.

“Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian”.[i]

 To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[ii]

We all have presuppositions, certain beliefs or assumptions with which we enter discussions. They frame our thoughts about a matter as well as our argument. In matters of personal evangelism, it means that we believe what the Bible tells us about ourselves as human beings, as well as what it has to has to say about lost sinners. We let those truths guide us in our sharing of the good news.

So, what does the Bible tell us about ourselves as human beings? For me, the two most significant facts are found in Romans, Chapter 1.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of (fallen) men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19) Emphasis mine.

First, since fallen men are full of ungodliness and unrighteousness, they are subjects of God’s wrath. Secondly, fallen men know that God exists, yet the suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists.

With that truth in mind, what else the Bible have to tell us about those with who we desire to share the gospel? We’ll share just a few.

1. They don’t seek God.

 “As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11)

2. They hate God and can do nothing to please him.

For the mind that is set on the flesh (the only mind the sinner has) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8) Emphasis mine.

3.  They cannot, in and of themselves, even understand the gospel!

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4)

 

So how does this affect our evangelistic efforts? There are several ways:

1. If all of us, by nature, already know that God exists, we do not have to ‘prove’ the existence of God. In fact, some would suggest that if we engage in proving the existence of God to an unbeliever, we are presenting a ‘case for God’ and making the unbeliever the ‘judge’.

2. If it’s true that the unbeliever is living in rebellion against the God he/she knows exist, that person by nature also hates God’s gospel. We are actually presenting the gospel to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.

3. If it’s also true that the unbeliever, in his/her natural state, cannot even understand the message of the gospel why do we present it at all?  I tell you why I do.

You see, along with believing what the Bible says about us as fallen creatures (our presuppositions), I also believe that God saves all those whom he has chosen to save in exactly the same manner (another presupposition). Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into a long dissertation about the doctrine of salvation. But I do believe that there are two ‘steps’, if you will, in God’s saving of sinners.

1. God opens hearts to hear the gospel.

2. God sends a messenger to present the gospel to that divinely opened heart.

Do you remember Lydia in Acts, Chapter 16? Paul and company went down to a river outside of Philippi looking for a place of prayer and there was a small group of women already gathered there. Paul spoke to them and we are told:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) (Emphasis mine.)

In short, God opened Lydia’s heart to hear the gospel, sent Paul as his messenger to present that gospel and Lydia was baptized (along with her household) and invited Paul & company to stay at her house!

 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:15)

We don’t need to be told specifically that ‘Lydia was saved that day’; the text speaks for itself. God had a purpose ion opening her heart and God’s purposes cannot fail.

So, what does that mean for personal evangelism? It means that we have the great privilege to be God’s ‘gospel’ messengers. Our job is to ‘get the gospel right’ (Christ died for our sins) and share it with others. Our prayer for the lost is simple. “God, open their hearts to hear.”

We don’t need to try and pry open hard hearts with clever presentations. We don’t even need to ask people to open their own hearts. They can’t. That’s God’s business. Unless God opens a heart to hear the truth of the message, our words are just words. But when God opens a sinner’s heart and the gospel is heard, salvation happens.

In summary, presuppositional apologetics –  believing what God says about fallen men and believing what we are told about how God saves sinners actually simplifies our evangelism. Our ‘work’ is knowing and being faithful to the gospel message (See 1 Cor 15:1-5) and being available to share that message as God leads us. No tricks, no gimmicks. We’re not ‘salesmen’. We’re simply messengers. It is God who saves sinners!


[i] John Frame, 2006

[ii] Alistair Begg, Crossing the Barriers

The Parable of the Sower and Bad Evangelism

by John MacArthur

One of the dominant myths in evangelicalism is that the growth of Christianity hinges on its popularity. The idea that more people will repent if only the preacher were cooler or funnier invariably causes the church to suffer through a ridiculous parade of entrepreneurial types who act as though their personal charm can draw people to Christ. But you cannot manufacture converts by changing the message or stylizing the messenger.

This error leads to the harmful notion that a pastor’s conduct and speech should be shaped by the culture in which he ministers. Many preachers have such strong cravings for cultural acceptance they are actually willing to alter God’s message of salvation in order to achieve it. Subjects like sin, guilt, and repentance are regularly jettisoned so as not to offend or alienate non-Christians.

Such compromises do nothing to increase the church’s witness within the culture. In fact, they have the opposite effect. By creating celebrity preachers with synthetic gospels they only succeed in filling churches with unrepentant sinners. Instead of making the world more like the church, such efforts only succeed in making the church more like the world. This is precisely what Christ’s teaching in Luke 8:5–8 was designed to avoid.

The Nagging Question in Evangelism

The disciples, having a genuine burden that others would believe, must have been astounded that the masses were not repenting. The problem wasn’t Jesus’ ability to attract an audience—the crowds were huge, often numbering in the tens of thousands. But very few were repenting and embracing the Savior. The disciples’ own expectations of a global kingdom without end (Isaiah 9 and 45) were faltering. It must have been easy to lay the blame at the indicting, hard, demanding message that Christ preached (cf. John 6:60-61).

The Lord responded to the rising tide of doubt by telling a series of parables about evangelism. A year before He would give the Great Commission, Jesus told His first parable about a farmer sowing seed:

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

This agricultural illustration is a paradigmatic explanation of what evangelism should look like. It is designed to answer the fundamental evangelistic question: Why do some people repent and believe the gospel while others reject it?

The Invariable Sower

Luke 8:5–8 is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower. But that popular title is indicative of the widespread confusion we see today regarding its interpretation and application. The parable isn’t about the sower.

What is surprising about the farmer in the story is how little control he actually has in the growing of crops. There are no adjectives used to describe his style or skill.

In a subsequent parable (Mark 4:26–29) Jesus states that he who sows the seed is actually ignorant of how the seed transforms itself into a mature plant. After sowing the seed, the farmer “goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know” (Mark 4:27).

This ignorance is not unique to the sower in Christ’s parables but rather is true of everyone who sows. The growth of the seed is a mystery that even the most advanced farmer cannot explain. And that reality is the key to understanding the Lord’s first parable.

Jesus explained that the seed is the gospel or “word of the kingdom”, the farmer is the evangelist, and the soil represents the heart of the hearer (Matthew 13:19). The evangelist scatters the seed—that is, explains the gospel to people—and some of those people believe and receive life. How this happens is a divine mystery to the evangelist. One thing is clear, however: though he is the human means, it does not ultimately depend on him. The power of the gospel is in the working of the Spirit, not in the style of the sower (Romans 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:23). It is the Spirit of God who raises souls from death to life, not the methods or techniques of the messenger.

The apostle Paul understood this principle. When he brought the gospel to Corinth, he planted the church and left it in the care of Apollos. Later he described the experience this way: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). God was the one who actually drew sinners to Himself, changed their hearts, and caused them to be sanctified. Paul and Apollos were both faithful, but they most certainly were not the explanation for the supernatural life and growth. This truth caused Paul to say, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

This runs counter to the notion that the results of evangelism can be influenced by the cultural assimilation of the pastor or the style of music used at his crusades. The preacher who thinks designer jeans will make his message more palatable is akin to a farmer investing in a designer seed bag so that the soil will be more receptive to his seeds.

Jesus intentionally highlights the farmer’s lack of influence over the growth of the seed. The entire parable makes the statement that as far as evangelism goes, it simply does not matter what the evangelist wears or how he does his hair. Such externals are not what makes the seed grow. Anyone who argues that a preacher who imitates a particular segment of culture is better able to reach that culture, has completely failed to understand Jesus’ point in the parable.

All the farmer can do is sow, and all the evangelist can do is proclaim. As a preacher, if I thought someone’s salvation was contingent upon my persuasiveness or relevance, I could never sleep. But instead I know that “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). It is not coincidental that the New Testament never calls evangelists to bear the responsibility for another person’s salvation. Rather, having proclaimed the message faithfully, we are called to rest in the sovereignty of God—much like the farmer in Mark 4:27 who sleeps through the night after a day of scattering seed.

Christ’s description of the farmer provides the biblical model for evangelism. The evangelist must plant the gospel seed, without which no one can be saved (Romans 10:14–17). Then he must trust God with the results, since only the Spirit can give life (John 3:5–8).

The Invariable Seed

Not only is the farmer’s style irrelevant to the success of his crops but Jesus also does not suggest that the sower should alter his seed to facilitate growth. And this absence of discussion about the seed directly corresponds to evangelism. Jesus assumes that Christians will evangelize using the true seed—the gospel.

Most preachers outwardly profess that the gospel is an unalterable non-negotiable, but that doesn’t stop them from subtly softening its sharp edges. Modern gospel presentations frequently portray God as indifferent to sin and not its judge; the sinner as the victim, not the offender; the cross of Christ as the remedy to frustrations and unfulfilled dreams, not the propitiation for our sins; and a divine endgame that revolves around our temporal happiness, not our eternal state.

One of the primary refrains about evangelism today is that the church needs to update the methods without altering the message. But if we’re not faithfully preaching the truth about man’s sinfulness, God’s grace and mercy, the sinner’s need for repentance and faith, and the completed work of Christ, we’re not protecting and preserving the gospel message.

Believers are sternly warned in Scripture against tampering with the message (Galatians 1:6–9; 2 John 9–11). If a frustrated evangelist looks at how difficult his task is, or how closed his culture seems to be to the gospel, the problem is not with the faithful messenger or the true gospel. Rather, it lies in the nature of the soil into which the true seed falls.

Thus the sower and the seed are constants in Christ’s parable. The only variable is the soil—the receptivity of the hearer. And in the days ahead, we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of each soil type we’ll find on our mission field.